While on the way home from Iyawo’s Writing from the Womb class, I opened my Facebook App despite the ban I put myself on until I complete my dissertation proposal. The first post I saw was a posting from my sister Sofia Bautista Pertuz, the founder of the blog, Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees and Facebook group, Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees, which has over 2800 members to date. It brought me back to the Fall of 2012, when I was working on my personal statement for the application to my PhD program. All along she encouraged me, inspiring me and helping me to realize that yes, I could do it; she may not know this but she helped me quiet that little voice in my head that kept giving me excuses as to why I couldn’t do it. I wrote a blog my first five weeks in the program and she asked me to write another blog at the end of the year. I was so overwhelmed with the first exam process and life that I hadn’t been able to write that post until now and now I can post it on my own blog page.
Four years later and I am working on my dissertation proposal, done with my coursework and I am humbled. Not only was I able to maintain a full-time job, parent three children, two of which are teenagers, be a wife to a husband, sibling to 6 other siblings, an aunt to 15 nieces and nephews and lest we forget a daughter to a very needy Dominican mother. For the most part I was able to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle, making room for fun family days, romantic getaways, girls night out, writing classes for my fiction novel (yes! It’s actually one of my happy places – we’ll talk about that later!). Now grant it there were and are days that I drop a ball or two of the many balls that I have juggling in my hands. During the first two years of my program I was also on the parent’s association of my son’s school, with a leadership role, a mentor through the I-Mentor program, amongst other things. As my mother says, “Tu estas metia’ en to’”, in her Dominican slang. Yeah, it’s true but we learned it from her. If it weren’t for my fabulous husband who supports me in so many ways I couldn’t name them all and for the village that helps me with the children, I couldn’t do it. Now I am not sharing all of this to brag or boast or to impress you. I want to impress upon you that it could be done, it has been done and it will be done for those of you who want it.
Last Friday, I was on BronxNet’s Open Show as an award recipient of the 100 HW Graduate Fellowship and the host, Rhina, asked me, “how do you do it?” A PhD program, three children, a husband, full-time job, novel-writing, living life. My answer is simple. Ok. Maybe not that simple. There were definitely bumps, rocks and valleys along the way as life doesn’t stop just because you decided to pursue a PhD. I realized that my mental health is just as important as my physical health. Therefore, I listen to my inner voice and do the things that please me, inspire me and nourish me. I pray, I meditate, I hang out with friends, I eat, I drink, I make time for me and I find the happy places. And I go to those places as often as I can. It’s so easy to get lost in ourselves being in an academic program while juggling life events but you have to be easy with yourself. Forgive yourself, love yourself, take care of yourself as often as you can, and however way you can.
Practicing self-care is not easy but sometimes you have to be unapologetic with yourself. Sometimes it means being selfish with yourself. Sometimes it means going to Ghana with your daughter for 12 days and missing class. Sometimes it means missing out on the kids’ weekend activities to go on a romantic getaway or missing work to take a mental health day and going to see a play during the day. Other times it means doing absolutely nothing. Nada. Not answering the phone. Not looking at emails or Facebook. Yes, even Facebook. It can all get overwhelming and exhausting and you will need to find that right balance.
Along the way I have built connections with people in and out of the program, within and out of my research interests to build my networks and expand my knowledge base. I am so grateful for those that have been so generous with their time and information to help me succeed. Never underestimate the power of a small meeting or social gathering to begin connections that may last a lifetime. Fortunately I have been able to tailor some of my work to my research interests and have been able to craft out areas to help develop others while I am developing myself.
Because of Sofia, I was able to envision myself pursuing this degree and navigating systems and people in ways I never knew I could. As she completes her last phase of her dissertation process I send her love, perseverance, resilience and continued passion for the work that she does and continues to do. In my mind Sofia already is a PhD, the paperwork is just catching up. When Sofia was an undergraduate student at SUNY New Paltz (she graduated in 3 years by the way) she was very involved in campus groups and activities. My siblings and I were so impressed and mesmerized by her; so much so that we called her Popular on Campus (POC for short). It didn’t surprise me when in 2014 she became the Dean of Students/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. Sofia is almost done with her dissertation and I am so proud of her! You got this Sofia! Thank you for staying the course and not giving up!
One of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson says :
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Sofia, you got this and you will accomplish the task! Thank you for all that you have done for so many of us! Now back to this dissertation proposal. I am proud of myself for all I have been able to accomplish and for what’s to come. Pa’lante!