Do you ever feel yourself falling into the trap of obsessing over posting the perfect picture, rather than something that reflects your actual perspective? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t post a selfie because you don’t look “Instagram-ready”? Because your study life doesn’t look like a scene from Gray’s Anatomy rather than the spread of papers and spilled coffee it really is?
I have a blog and an accompanying Instagram account on which I post pictures, quotes, and the occasional meme. My goal was to provide honest insight to the daily life of a DPT student and give my followers an idea of what to expect, should they follow the same path.
I have to admit, it’s hard not to fall into the trap of obsessing over the perfect picture rather than simply posting what’s real. I suspect you know the feeling.
Instagram takes a lot of work—the more I learn from my peers who have found success with their accounts, the more I’m realizing that uploading a high quality picture is just a small piece of the pie. It takes following the right accounts, online networking, liking hundreds of photos per day, using the right hashtags, employing just one or two types of photo editing for all of your pictures (across three different apps, mind you).
Are you as tired as I am just reading about it?
I can’t speak for any other health professions student, but I know that sometimes my pictures come off as though I’m living the perfect life in my DPT program. And that just isn’t the case (is it even possible?). Grad school isn’t glamorous. It takes a great deal of mental stamina, perseverance, late nights, learning from mistake after mistake . . . after mistake after mistake, financial budgeting, time management, and the list goes on.
Grad school is messy—packed schedules, stained scrubs, and never quite feeling like I’m caught up on . . . well, anything, really. Grad school is figuring out where to invest my time—do I take notes on that 10-page reading or do I watch a YouTube video that’ll teach me the information in half the time and allow me to do my laundry simultaneously? (Honestly, I almost always try to fit in both.)
I’ve learned that grad school isn’t all lattes and cute desk accessories, but let me tell you why, in just 4 months, I am confident that I am in the right profession and can see that grad school is so worth it. Maybe this is your experience, too.
My program offers a 1-week clinical experience in the first semester. We then have these experiences a few more times over the next two years, but I suspect (read: hope) that the first one is the most nerve-wracking. Some of my classmates and I joked that we would essentially be reliving our shadowing days and we prepared ourselves for a week of observation and the occasional question.
Instead, our clinical educator (CE) hit us with question after question; we were constantly quizzed to test our knowledge and I LOVED IT. Not only is this how I learn best, but my teammates and I were right more than we were wrong (or at least our super nice CE let us think that we were), and we were happily amazed at how much we had not only learned, but retained, in just 4 quick months.
We were starting to feel like clinicians, and it turned our work into a lot of fun. A couple of weeks after that clinical, we had an introductory class on gait analysis. We were then encouraged to note the gait (the way a person walks) of the people around us; we were to try and pick up on individual differences that may go unnoticed to someone who wasn’t going to be tested on it 3 weeks later (were finals really just two weeks ago!?). So far, we’ve gained only a surface-level understanding of gait, and yet I feel like a super-genius when I can correctly identify what muscles might be weak when my sister’s right foot hits the ground more heavily than her left, or speculate why my brother “vaults” when he walks, and why he’s always done so.
Before I completely nerd out over the didactic portion of the program, I should touch on the intangibles, which are also a huge part of what makes grad school worth it. My program has us work in teams often and that experience is invaluable. I am regularly in awe of the vast knowledge that my teammates hold individually, and when we come together, we feel unstoppable. Even when we get questions wrong, we are quick to categorize it as a “learning opportunity” and move on. My teams are hilarious, helpful, and really push me to grow in my confidence.
What I’m trying to say here is: PT school is not always as it appears on social media, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in everyday that makes it worth it to live it with purpose and intention.
When a professor brings your class candy to get you all into the Halloween spirit. When you can help a teammate who has been there for you all year to master a concept that you find particularly interesting. When you have a really solid work out. Sunny days. Cozy rainy days so that I can justify lighting every candle we own to “set the mood” for my #studyvibes.
Grad school is hard. But maybe that’s part of the fun.
The "real" image: beyond social media anxiety
Those headphones that just happened to be in the background of my picture? I placed them there, very carefully angling them so that they would come out just right for Instagram. The vines gently draped across the bedspread? There’s nothing random about that—I’d picked the colors, the seemingly casual placement, and the associated hashtags before even considering taking the picture. And then, I took about 40 before settling on one.
Social media is a great way to those accounts simply for their aesthetic and color themes. There’s nothing wrong with wanting photos to look good and increasing follower count for the sake of reaching your target audience. However, I want to reiterate that what we’re seeing online is through a heavy filter (VSCO HB2 is my favorite) and that anything that produces feelings of jealousy or low self-worth should be taken with a grain of salt.
You and I both know that, sometimes, what we see on social media isn’t real. That knowledge can’t sufficiently suppress our impostor syndromes, feelings of “I should be doing more,” and just general self-doubt. I get through it by reminding myself of that every time I log on, by taking regular breaks from my social media accounts, and by spending as much time as I can being present and trying to process what is going on around me in real-time—not what the Instagram algorithm thinks I should be seeing in that moment.
Grad school is friends and coffee and exploring the city and pretty pens and free food at conferences, sure. But grad school is also stress and tears and uncertainty and ambiguity and persistent impostor syndrome.
And, boy, isn’t it all worth it?