In James Hayton, PhD’s post, “Never Let a Disadvantage Become an Excuse”, he provides practical tips on how to overcome one’s weaknesses or handicap in the pursuit of a doctorate degree where one might fall too easily into the desperation that comparison to the benchmark or standards or even other people in your cohort foolishly leads you to experience.

When I started my doctoral journey straight out of a dizzying fourteen-year tour of duty in the corporate world, I realised that I entered a foreign land, a new sport, and a new world. To succeed, one must master the land’s language (math, logic, and the prevailing rhetoric of economics) rather quickly, the sport’s rules, forms, and levels of mastery, and the new world’s complex landscape.

You see, I was never in the Math Olympiad or MTAP as some of my classmates did in grade school and high school. Nor was I the best in basic economics, whether in high school or university. The only math courses I truly enjoyed over two decades ago were Number Theory and Symbolic Logic. Instead, I dabbled with far too many extra-curricular activities believing these give an approximation of how the real world works.

I knew then that my foray into economics came with a petrifying handicap in the very language that models our economic behaviour. I knew too well that the rules of the new sport I so badly wish to pursue at the elite level are different from the distinctly codified culture of the corporate world. I also knew very well that the terrain of the academia which I am now still learning to navigate efficiently given its nuances–its quirks–would be unfamiliar and mystical especially to the untrained scholar.

All of these are sources of handicap in the highest, boldest and, one might say, the crazy pursuit of knowledge in economics. I still wrestle with it sometimes. But keeping my two feet planted firmly on the ground has kept my eyes wide open to it, allowing me to embrace that which makes me weak–to turn the unfamiliar, the new, the challenging into a daring commitment to conquer my handicaps and hopefully transform these into new sources of inner strength and self-mastery.

To deal with my own disadvantages, I work twice or thrice the “minimum” requirement:

– drills on real analysis, calculus—lots of it in between readings and writing even when there were no requirements to be submitted

– read widely about not only the courses I am enrolled in; diversified my reading to include trade books about the latest issues on economics that have reached the mainstream press

– talked to mentors about the quirks of the academic life and sought active feedback on how to be good at it

– sought the help of my classmates, while generally way younger than I am are more experienced in the technical aspects, like math, of the discipline

– kept an open mind that any kind of learning is still learning no matter its size and scope

…all of which have regularly led me to sleep late and work on weekends without an iota of regret.

Never let disadvantages become an excuse–embrace them, so they become advantages. Intellectual humility goes a long way in not only keeping us who are in this journey (and even those who are not). Do not succumb to diffidence; rise up to the call with a clear mind, an open heart and the will to overcome disadvantages. In the end, we have the world to gain and very little to lose, if any at all.

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