I love Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rejection of being described as a “self-made” man. He’s responded to that thought in many interviews and talks but writes emphatically about it in the foreword to Tim Ferriss’s book, Tools of Titans:
I am not a self-made man.
Every time I give a speech at a business conference, or speak to college students, or do a Reddit AMA, someone says it.
“Governor/Governator/Arnold/Arnie/Schwarzie/Schnitzel (depending on where I am), as a self-made man, what’s your blueprint for success?”
They’re always shocked when I thank them for the compliment but say, “I am not a self-made man. I got a lot of help.”
He goes on to describe the practical help and support he got from others, the inspiration that motivated his journey and keeps him going. It’s worth reading the whole piece. I like that recognition: working hard, but knowing that he couldn’t have got that far without the help of others.
It resonates with what I think about the journey of a postgraduate researcher. A PhD demands a lot of work from a candidate and the result is a huge success for them – but it wouldn’t be right to say they were self-made. Every candidate has supervisors supporting them; every candidate has friends and family who want them to succeed. Every candidate has influences and inspirations that have prompted their journey or helped keep them on track.
In preparation for the viva it could be helpful to reflect on these two elements: the work you’ve done and the support you’ve received. For the work, recognise that you couldn’t have got as far as you have without your efforts; you did that work, you built your knowledge and talent.
For the support, thank those who have helped you get to where you are. Reflect on the things that got you started, the ideas and inspirations. If appropriate, ask for help one more time as you prepare.