For the sake of argument, please take a look at this word. I’m going to assume that you’ve been very kind and complied, not only having read ‘this word’ but noticed that it was displayed in blue font. Even though we’ve just read the same words in the same hue, we may not be having exactly the same experience of “blueness” due to a variety of factors (see this short video). Essentially, perception varies, whether due to semantic differences or life experience.
These subtle differences in perception extend to how we respond to and make sense of the world at large. Four years ago I played a game in which my friends and I delved into how we perceived each other. We were all posed a question about each player in turn and invited to respond. The catch was that we had to pick our answers from multiple choice options which often failed to perfectly capture the person in question and in many cases were just plain bizarre. It was entertaining to compare each person’s choice and the reasoning behind it, and more interestingly how they did not compare.
While I cannot remember what this game is called, I can remember what was said about me. One of the questions was something along the lines of “which of these best describes ?'” The choices included “synchronised swimmer” and “marathon runner” both of which were chosen to describe me by different people, divergent perceptions yet again.
The marathon runner response particularly surprised me, I’m no athlete by any stretch of the imagination nor was this the response that I had chosen to describe myself. Perplexed, we asked the player to elaborate, they volunteered that I was like a marathon runner because of my game plan for becoming a psychologist: to complete a four year Honours degree and then pursue a further two to four years of post-graduate study. This person’s observation was scarily astute. If I remember correctly, they also predicted I’d manage it, and four years later they were proved right!
Life would be boring if we all perceived the world in the same way and if there was only one right answer, a fact this game capitalised on. That’s what I like about psychology, we search for common threads while appreciating the individual differences that come into play.
You might be a synchronised swimmer, but I am a marathon runner. I like to start early, plod away at things, think first, act later and set long-term goals. So hopefully the marathon that is the journey to becoming a psychologist will suit me. Indeed the process of completing a PhD is a marathon in and of itself.
Now I’m at the starting blocks of my clinical PhD, the track stretches before me and I’m the first to admit that it’s an odd race. The finish line is set, the 27th of February 2016, but the ‘placing’ I’m aiming for continually shifts. Will I earn a completed PhD and a career as a practicing psychologist and academic, or maybe I’ll focus on one more than the other at first? Where will I be working? At my uni, another uni, a private practice, in the public sector? Who will be there as I cross the finish line? Will I be the same?
It doesn’t take amazing powers of perception to realise there are a lot of unknowns ahead and no clear multiple choice response to pick. Ordinarily I like to have something concrete to aim for, but in some ways having no idea what lies ahead is a relief. Where, what and who I will be? Anything is possible. I’ll get back to you in four years’ time.