First of all, Lisa and I have started a new blogging project, and I’m very excited about it. It’s about knitting, travel, and the intellectual life. It’s called Graduate Knits. We aim to update once or twice per week, posting knitting-related content that’s relatable to everyone, knitters and non-knitters alike (yes, the world can be divided into these two types of humans).
Oddly enough, we started Graduate Knits during the very same week I decided not to pursue a doctoral program this fall. After several months of contemplation and much pestering of friends and loved ones for advice, my mini quarter-life crisis has come to an end, and the major development is that I’m going to move to DC to find work rather than move back to Indiana to continue school.
The basic truth is that I’m more likely to finish the program if I feel confident about starting it, and I just don’t; it’d be better to wait a few years and enroll if I feel more dedicated to the idea than waste money trying it out now only to quit in a year (and be less likely to ever start again). I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot here, and I don’t particularly want to spend money on something I don’t feel so hot about. At its core, the choice is not about finances, but finances do play a role in the decision; I don’t feel the level of passion I know I should be feeling, so I’m not going to force myself. I know I’m capable of feeling passionate, and grad school isn’t doing it for me anymore–at least not for the right reasons.
I have lots of issues about academia and, perhaps despite outward appearances, had to push myself pretty hard to survive my master’s program. Lots of my friends and family members think I’m just the perfect type to be an academic, but in reality I had a difficult time in graduate school (as everyone generally does). It wasn’t the best fit for me. I’m very hard on myself, and I don’t want to spend my life being hard on myself when I can never be satisfied; I need to learn to relax and being loving and caring towards myself, and part of this is consciously choosing the best type of environment for my personality type. At this time, I’m just not interested in subjecting myself to the stress, pressure, criticism, exhaustion, and tumult of a doctoral program; I don’t feel passionate enough about the program I was considering, and I don’t feel clear-minded about the direction or purpose that was motivating me to consider enrollment. I’m tired of pushing myself to be something I’m not because outside forces and influences are telling me I should. Overcoming the compulsion to set unreachable goals for myself and putting myself under insane amounts of pressure won’t happen overnight–I’ll carry this issue into the workplace with me and it haunts my personal life, too–but I know for a fact that academia is an enabler; it’s just not a healthy environment for me. I refuse to be responsible for putting myself back into an environment that is detrimental to my mental health. The rewards just aren’t great enough.
Really, I’m not so sure why I was taking the decision so seriously. I’m only 28, and there’s plenty of time to do a doctoral program in the future if I have a change of heart or magically become healthier. But life is short, and I’ve never been a careerist. I don’t need a doctoral degree to find job satisfaction, so I’m not going to push myself to endure the pain and tribulations to earn one. I don’t care about the title or prestige, and there’s not even job security at the end. I don’t want to be at the whim of that job market, possibly ending up in the middle of nowhere working as an adjunct. I feel too young to be doing something so intense right now, and I already feel burnt out from my master’s program and my research. A major highlight–if not the major highlight–of my master’s program was working on the exchange and cultural programs I was working on, and the major draw about starting school in the fall was the chance to work on the exchange and cultural programs at the school of education at Indiana. So, why shouldn’t I just try to find work like that?
Of course, there are tons of benefits to pursuing higher education which I don’t need to elaborate about here, and I’m clearly not making a life or death higher education choice here. And, of course, being on the job market in DC isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but looking at the job listings gets me all excited and pumped up about the new possibilities for my future. So, really it’s just simple: I’ve realized the difference between what I think I should do and what I want to do, and what I want to do is not enroll in a graduate program. I think stepping away from the insanity of US work/academia culture has helped me grately, and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to spend three years of my mid-twenties outside of the US. It’s been a formative time, and I’ve gained new perspectives about myself and my idea of the “good life,” however vague and/or hackneyed that may sound. I applaud anyone who’s committed to pursuing formal education, but at the moment, that’s no longer my path. And I feel empowered by that fact!
Here are some interesting articles and resources exploring change, personality, and decision-making that I’ve come across over the past few weeks. Some of them are specifically about doctoral studies, and I really like this one about the general virtues of quitting. This TED Talk from Dr. Ruth Chang is great, and she also did an opinion piece about the same subject, “on a par” decisions, for the NYT. I’m happy to share these with you and would love for you to share additional resources with me in the comments.
I need to express my most sincere thanks to Caitlin, Liane, Kate, Sarah Kate, Lisa, Mom, and Maria for helping me with this decision. I’m also deeply grateful to Lauren for her wisdom and support. I’m the type of person who really hates change and decision making, so it’s always heavier for me than it should be; I can’t say how much I appreciate your kindness, love, compassion, and brilliance. You women!!!
Finally, I acknowledge that having different options for what direction I take my life and being able to make choices about it are huge luxuries. And I acknowledge that all of my friends, mentors, and family members just want what’s best for me and will love me no matter what I do–it’s time for me to feel the same way!
Thanks for reading, xoxo