I am enough (or Goddammit, I don’t want to sit my PhD comprehensive exam)

Laura Paskell-Brown studies and teaches psychology in New York. She facilitates women’s circles and is active in Women of Spirit and Faith

How many times have I opened a women’s magazine and read an article about how I should love my body just the way it is, only to flick the page over to another stick thin model with big boobs?  It’s such an obvious contradiction that I hardly notice anymore. It’s just another thing that we put under the title of “Crazy s**t we think is okay”.

And how many times have I sat in my graduate seminars and heard about how the testing system is destroying natural creativity, only to be asked to sit another exam – just to check that I was listening.  This move represents a contradiction so deeply embedded in our culture that for years I didn’t even see it as a contradiction. It was just school. The classes I took gave me readings that dreamt of a new kind of educational system, but the classrooms themselves looked eerily familiar. School gave me a lot of things to question and not a lot of answers.


So I’m sitting in meditation the other day and I just start crying. This is not a rare event these days. Giving my consciousness permission to work through my “issues” appears to have opened some kind of holy floodgate. This time, however, it started as a physical pain in my heart.  That beautiful, pulsating organ wanted to tell me something, and it went like this: I want to believe that I’m enough. I want to embrace the idea that the Universe made me perfectly. I have (briefly) experienced these things and so I deem them to be true. But everywhere I turn there’s some new reminder of where I’m lacking, where I’m not yet sufficient, where I need to prove my worth all over again. Help me.

As the feeling reverberated through my being, I knew that this was about my upcoming exam that will enable me to move onto the dissertation stage of my PhD.  Why is it, my heart seemed to be asking, that after twenty five years of school, someone still wants me to prove I’m worthy of participating in the world?  Am I not enough now? Do I really need more time to show that I can give?  That I am capable of contributing?

Can you tell I’m angry?


So what would Jesus do? I don’t really know, but I do know what Occupy did. One thing I loved about Zuccotti Park was that nobody met you at the entrance asking for your activist resume.  It didn’t occur to us that we weren’t qualified to help create a new world. After all, how much more of a mess could we make of things?  It seemed perfectly natural in that situation to welcome anyone into a working group as another pair of hands. You were just happy to have the help.

Because let’s be clear about this: the world is not in good shape, and we really can’t afford to be so picky about who we accept assistance from.  History will not thank us for convincing a generation of children that they aren’t smart enough to pitch in. Sure, things didn’t always go smoothly in the Occupy camp, but then neither do they in workplaces where everyone was carefully selected after the fifth round of interviews.

Which brings me to my final point. Many of us involved in the current politico-spiritual movement have placed the idea of “abundance” at the core of our belief system.  We posit that conflict and competition are based on the misplaced assumption that there is not enough to go around. Here I’m just shifting my focus from abundance in the natural world, to the abundance within us. From what I can see, there is no such thing as smart and no such thing as dumb. We are all capable of extraordinary things; it’s just that some of us know it and some of us don’t.  And exams – in whatever format they come – are based on scarcity mentality. Even if the topic is “Why tests should be abolished”, the message of an exam is that one person needs to prove to another that they have something inside them.

You wanna know what’s inside you? Inside me?  The whole freekin’ Universe. Yes, that’s right.

Because – as physicists (and my meditation practice) have now proved – we are all connected. And the best bit is that while this awesome power is in me, it’s not of me.  That means you can test it all you want, but it’s not going to help. Because if it’s in there, that’s only because I’m connected to the Universe and if it’s not there that’s because I’m not yet connected. And taking another test ain’t gonna help me get connected.

Instead, when competitive classrooms become connected communities – as the classroom that was Zuccotti Park showed – we are ALL able to draw from the creativity that flows through every living being.  We step into our natural spiritual authority and throw away small ideas about ourselves and how our collective future could be shaped. We create the world as the Divine Beings we are. In love, with love and for love. Not so we can pass the test.

If we want people to shine, it’s time to stop messing around with exams. It’s time to listen to our hearts. It’s time for our educational experience to reflect Who We Really Are, not the divided, disabled beings we have become.


So do I take the exam or not? Suggestions welcome.



  • Tegan

    I love so much what you brought up about Zuccotti Park here- how everyone was accepted just as they are, and there was always a place for them in the community. You didn’t have to take an exam or prove anything because if you were there, it meant you cared and were willing to help and wanted to connect, and that was enough, and YOU were enough. That’s something that’s so rare in our society- instead, we constantly come up against circumstances that require us to prove ourselves and make us feel that if we can’t pass test after test after test, then we’re NOT good enough.

    As to whether or not you should take the exam, I think it really depends on whether you feel this is a step that you should take in your life and whether you feel that it will benefit you on all levels (physically, emotionally, spiritually). If taking this exam is going to lead you somewhere that you really want to be, and it’s just a difficult obstacle you need to overcome to get there, then I’d say to go for it. If not, then don’t- it’s really up to you and how you feel, and I fully support you in whatever you choose. You are wonderful and you are enough. ♥

    • laurapb

      Thanks Tegan! What a lovely series of things to say!

      You know, I feel very torn. Many people are saying that my passion for this is precisely the reason I SHOULD take the exam: so i can do my dissertation and then be able to pass this stuff onto my students. What I’m wondering though is if that’s the only (or even the best) way to help my students. Isn’t not sitting the exam an educational experience I can offer my students too? Wasn’t Rosa Parks’ decision not to stand up more educational for those around her than if she’d gotten off the bus and then written an article about it later? I’m a student of developmental psychology, and according to the Lave’s Community of Practice theory, what we say is the least important aspect of how we teach the next generation. What matters the most is the community of practice that we set up. So if we tell people that education is a tool for liberation, but in an oppressive environment, what we actually teach people is about how to accept oppression whilst talking about liberation. Just as talking about democracy in an environment that’s totally undemocratic is not the way to teach young people how to run a democracy.

  • Sara

    I was in your exact position…literally…and after the constant horrors of doctoral student abuse, misogynastic behavior of classmates and faculty, the tears, the panic attacks, and a very, very embarrassing episode of sobbing in a random administrative person at the university’s office where I said “I realize I am nothing, but I really need your help” – and her turning to me horrified and saying something like you are ‘wonderfully made and no one has the right to make you feel as if you are nothing’ … I realized that no one in fact had that right and I had the power to stop it. I didn’t have to take the exam or finish the phd to feel good about myself… that was 3 years ago… I have never regretted that I didn’t take the exam, and have often been grateful to not be a phd required to secure my own funding… BUT… that is my experience and what has been best for me. If you will feel emotionally, personally and professionally fulfilled from surviving comps, then that could be the right decision for you.

  • Sara

    oh – and I think this is the most accurate statment about doctoral education EVER, eloquent and perfect “So if we tell people that education is a tool for liberation, but in an oppressive environment, what we actually teach people is about how to accept oppression whilst talking about liberation. “

  • http://theAssistant.me Jasmine

    I love your process, Laura and girl, can I relate! The question that comes
    up for me as I listen to you, and ponder my
    past scholastic pursuits now is – what
    do I hope to do with the knowledge I receive
    to apply myself and gifts to embracing and contributing
    in a purposeful way to this world.
    Ultimately, I have learned it is not the degree I get paid for
    but how I use it to help myself and others do things with that degree. I
    know that applying myself to something in a
    whole hearted way is what matters to me today.
    That often includes things I wholeheartedly don’t
    want to do in order to eventually get to my ‘happy place’.
    But as long as i keep hearing from some people
    that it is possible to “love what you do, and work with people they actually enjoy being around
    I will keep meditating and digging deeper
    to begin with creating that place within until it has no choice but
    to spill over into the universal plane.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Yvette Warren

    Dear Laura,
    Wow, what an epiphany essay! Thank you so much for sharing this part of your spirit with us.
    The question always goes back to, “How will you best serve the purpose of your one wild and wonderful life?” In this country, at present, being a “doctor” of anything makes you part of our own “Brahmin” class. You will be recognized as an authority on whatever it is you have sufficiently expounded upon. We “let” you teach others whatever it is you want to impart to them. You are an “expert”.

    You are perfect, but the unenlightened are too frightened to see this without someone else saying so. I have a philosophy that we can’t effectively fight anything that we don’t fully know. The other “doctors” will share with you their innermost secrets only if you are seen as “on their level.”

    Who do you want to influence? Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen probably wouldn’t hold any sway with the U.N. if she didn’t hold a degree in psychiatry. There is no doctorate level of life; there are, however, degrees and credentials you can obtain online, which are fully certified degrees. I am a legitimately ordained minister in the Church of Universal Life, without any official Divinity training. This may allow me to perform weddings and start my own religion, but won’t get me a major pulpit.

    It seems to me that your thesis is mostly written by your incredible spirituality search efforts. There may be a way to get straight to this stage. Perhaps with Western Governor’s University or a similar online degree program.

    Blessings to you, Laura. Whatever you do about your credentials, please keep your wonderful work going. I’ve never met you, but I love you, just the same.

    • laurapb

      To all the beautiful ladies who responded so thoughtfully and kindly. It makes me so happy to be part of such a supportive and loving community. However this goes I know I’m fine, because I’m now connected to Her through you guys. I love you.

  • http://www.rochellespencer.com Rochelle Spencer

    This was a moving article. To speak to the “Powers that Be,” to be taken “seriously,” by the Establishment, we need that credential, but I often ask the same question: by taking these exams are we validating some of the very ideologies that we reject in our writings?