On a recent flight from Chicago to my home in San Antonio, I sat next a gentleman in his late 40s. I landed a first-class seat because of flying United Airlines frequently.

When the flight attendant asked for our drinks, I ordered a white wine, while the man next to me was happy with an iced water. After a few minutes, he and I struck-up a conversation, and I jokingly asked why he decided against an alcoholic drink.

He quickly mentioned that for 26 years he drank any alcoholic beverage near him.

He said, “I was a big time alcoholic!”

But … he had been sober for nearly 3 years now, and he vowed never to drink again.

Interested in his story, I asked how he overcame the desire to drink alcohol.

He said, “Trying meant getting drunk … Doing meant sobriety.”

This is a powerful message that applies to many aspects of my life. It’s easy for me to tell others I’m trying to do this or that, but the fact is, in many cases, there is very little action … or doing.

Trying Story

After a couple of years into my doctoral program, it was time to work on my dissertation. As part of this effort, I enrolled in a class where the dissertation steps are discussed in detail. I quickly learned that completing this academic artifact is extremely challenging, if not impossible.  

In fact, nearly 60% of students drop out of doctoral programs even after completing all their course work. These students receive the ABD designation on their transcript: All But Dissertation.

Here are some ways I was trying to complete my dissertation:

  • I read many articles related to my topic. In many of these cases, I read the articles without taking good notes, but this busy work made it feel like I was progressing.
  • I would call my Chair as scheduled and report my progress, but there was little advancement made from the previous time we had spoken.
  • I would contact other doctoral students and complain about the many guidelines we needed to follow, such as getting approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct our study.

As you can see from this list, I was trying to make progress, but the results were insignificant because I was doing very little.

Time for Action

After I had a conversation with one of my committee members, my dissertation began to move quickly. During this talk, she halted my complaining session, and provided the following advice:

Look … I hear you making a ton of excuses as to why you are stuck. Until you decide you own this dissertation, you will not go anywhere. It’s time you start doing the work, which means you have to follow the requirements. More than anything else, though, you have to really want this.”

That was it!

This committee member made it clear I was falling short of expectations because I was blaming others. That same afternoon, I jotted down the work I would need to be doing in the coming week, and I kept this plan for 43 weeks.

 In October 2006, I completed all the doctoral requirements, including the dissertation.

The advice shared by the gentleman on the flight from Chicago is a game changer. We must be willing to accept the challenges that lie ahead, and then we must take action.