Dear Rachel,

Two years ago, I finished a course of studies that I have been doing for three years. It's a highly advanced certificate program. That is, I would have finished it, only I stillI really want my degree have a few course papers left to do. I can’t graduate without them, yet I can’t bring myself to do them. Every time I try, I just feel stuck and can’t face it. I know it sounds silly. And when I try sending a proposal to my advisor, he tells me that it’s not good enough. I really want my degree and what’s worse, if I don’t finish soon, I’m going to have to return my scholarship. I don’t want someone else to write them for me even though I know that’s an option. What can I do to get motivated?

Wants to Graduate

Dear Almost Graduate,

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. I hear of many students, in many typesYou're not alone of degree programs, stalemated because of incompletes. But papers are par for the course, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, the more you procrastinate, the harder it gets.

I want to commend you on maintaining your integrity and not resorting to, however socially acceptable they are, duplicitous means of getting your degree. The Torah (Deut. 15:20) says, “Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue.” In other words, the means cannot justify the end, no matter how worthy.

It sounds to me as if you’re motivated enough. The possibility of not getting a certificate that you worked hard for sounds pretty motivating to me. Unfortunately, many times, things that are subject to our self-discipline are often left as incompletes. Incompletes are loose ends that eventually tangle us up and tie us in knots.

In Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), Yehuda ben Taima tells us “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.” I think this is good advice for any matter. You have to take the bull by the horns and just do it as quickly as possible with as much investment as you can make. There are many things we don’t want or like to do, but have to do them to meet our goals. For you, this is one of them.

Some suggestions:

  • Either meet with your advisor and ask for more direction or switch advisors to someone who will be more encouraging.
  • Get the help of a friend or tutor to help guide you through the process you’re having so much trouble with.
  • Set yourself a deadline for each paper and treat it the same way you would a test. Whatever you have accomplished by that date is all you can do.
  • Do a little bit at a time by setting yourself a measureable daily goal. You will work from, say, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on your papers until you finish them. Every day, write at least one page of material.
  • Believe that you can do it. Have a picture of yourself in your mind celebrating after handing in all your papers. When the Jewish nation was about the enter IsraelDon't be a perfectionist after leaving Egypt, a recognizance committee of spies was sent to investigate the land. Ten of the 12 spies sent said they thought it was impossible to conquer the land, and the Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert as a consequence. The spies had reached this conclusion using bad logic and misinterpretation, and not believing in G‑d’s promise. The nation had to spend 40 years in the desert in part so that the people who did not believe in themselves had died. You can’t conquer anything—land or degrees—if you don’t believe you can.
  • Get together with other students in the same boat and form a support group. Support groups are wonderful at helping individuals through their mutual crises.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Aim for doing the minimum you need to pass so you can get your certificate. This is not the time to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

No matter how much you dread something or how hard it is for you to do, the reality is that if you do a little bit at a time, over a period of time, you will accomplish your task.

Visualizing you with your diploma in hand. You look great!