For the last 5 months I have been working on my Master Thesis. I must admit that it has been a tough period: I have faced many setbacks and I even thought about giving up. I have lived with a constant feeling of pressure and uncertainty. I didn’t know whether I was going to eventually succeed or not, and this forced me to put all myself into the project: all I wanted was to reach my goal, to prove that I was worth it. I kept working with passion and faith and last week I have finally defended my thesis.
Things went pretty well and now I feel released and satisfied.
Nonetheless I am not writing this post to celebrate my personal achievement. I believe that during these months I have had the chance to learn a lot and so I decided to share with you some of the conclusions I have reached.
First of all I want to admit that it has been hard work, really hard work. But I don’t regret doing it: every moment I have invested in creating, improving and refining my project was absolutely worth it, every moment has been essential for the achievement of the final result. Great results require great effort. I could have spent less than half the time on my thesis but the result would have been much poorer.
Lesson #1: if you want to achieve great things you need to work hard and continue working despite of failure and setbacks.
Secondly I have realised that the result is not exactly what I expected at the beginning. I have spent like one month planning every detail, imagining what the thesis would look like at the end of the work but still the result has been different. This doesn’t mean that I was not able to completely reach my goal, nor that the initial idea wasn’t a good one. The fact is that while you pursue a goal your awareness changes, you are able to better understand what you are doing and what you want to get. Defining what you want is essential, but one needs the elasticity to accept change, to embrace new ideas along the path.
Lesson #2: Don’t expect everything to go as you planned. During the process many things are going to change, and you must be ready to change your mind, to refine your purposes and goals.
Another thing I have noticed is that, especially during the first period, I was constantly feeling overwhelmed. I had this idea in my mind that the project was too big for me, that no matter what I wouldn’t have been able to complete it in such a limited amount of time. The problem is that I was looking at the whole work rather than at the tasks I had to do in that particular moment of time. And by doing that I was putting myself in a state of excessive pressure and anxiety. As the time passed I have decided to switch my approach: I started to define detailed to-do lists for my days and to set some deadlines for the most important tasks. This enabled me to work much more effectively and to put off some psychological pressure.
Lesson #3: when you face a very big project you shouldn’t worry about all the work you have to do. Divide it into small tasks and tackle them one at a time. This will help you to work more effectively and to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
At the first meetings I was dreadfully scared: my supervisors kept telling me that what I was doing was not what the expected from me, that I had to change this and that. Every time a meeting finished I felt stressed and hopeless: all I wanted was some sort of positive feedback, a gentle word to recognise all the effort I was putting on the project. But I was blind. When people criticize you, when they tell you to do more, to change things it is only because they care, because they believe in you and in your abilities. Only those who don’t care tell you that everything is ok, that all you have done is perfect. There is always room for improvement and you should thank those who encourage you to overcome your limits.
Lesson #4: negative feedback is the best thing you can find. Only by understanding that your work can be improved you can find the motivation and the willingness to overcome your limits, to reach higher standards*.
What do you think about this post? Have you ever faced a big project? What did you learn out of it? Please let me know in the comments below!
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* As a reader let me notice, this point is not particularly clear and might lead to misunderstandings. When I talk about negative feedback I am referring to “constructive negative feedback”: those comments that makes you aware of how to improve your work, of what you could do more. That feedback that takes your work as a starting point and enlightens what could be done in order to improve it. On the other hand sharp feedback like “all you did is wrong” and “there is nothing good here, you should better start all over again” is absolutely useless and thus should be avoided.