Last Christmas Eve just after dark, without warning, there was a power cut in our neighbourhood.
In our house our whole evening changed. Plans for a festive dinner and a movie were abandoned. We made sandwiches by torchlight and ate them nestled under blankets. We read with candles and kept busy with little jobs so that we didn’t think too much.
When I did think I could only worry and imagine the worst. What if the power didn’t come back on? Would everything in our fridge and freezer be ruined? Would we be able to celebrate Christmas the next day?
Over the course of a few hours the power kept coming back on and then shutting off abruptly. Then it stayed off again for a long time.
What now? What should we do?
For half an hour I just panicked. Then by torchlight I got out my notebook and wrote:
We’re fortunate enough to have torches. The power will get fixed at some point. We’re fortunate enough that we could buy more food if needed. We can still find a way to celebrate. We can find other options. It’s not ideal but we can figure it out. We will still have Christmas.
I felt better. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew that whatever did happen we could do something.
Moments later the power came back on and stayed on. I felt a little anxious for the next few hours that it would go off suddenly, but the problem was resolved. We went to bed and the next day was Christmas, just as we’d planned.
On Christmas Eve I was catastrophising the situation. Something went wrong, suddenly, and all I could do was imagine the situation getting worse and worse.
The power cut hit me out of the blue, completely unexpected, but for the viva some potential situations can be anticipated. And depending on how you view things, you could believe that you have a future catastrophe. What would you do?
You could forget something.
Your examiners could ask a tough question.
You could doubt yourself.
There could be a delay.
And so on. Lots of things could happen. They could happen. They might not. And even if they do they’re not totally beyond your power to resolve or do something about.
A delay could be uncomfortable, but you could find a way to use the time. If you doubt yourself at any point then you can find a way to remember the contribution you’ve made in your thesis and the talent you’ve developed as a researcher. A tough question or a forgotten detail will not disqualify you from achieving your PhD; taking a moment to think is probably all you need.
Expected and unexpected “catastrophes” are not always as terrible as they first appear. A problem or situation may not be as dire as it seems. Even when confronted with a tricky situation you have the talent and knowledge to do something.