Over the course of the last few weeks, I have wrestled with and done a lot of soul searching on whether or not to continue in my pursuit of doctoral studies. I made a list of pros and cons, I enlisted the wise counsel of several people I really respect, I read just about every other blog post ever written on why you should and shouldn’t quit a Ph.D. program, I prayed about it, I thought about it as I held my daughter sleeping in my arms, and then as Christmas break ended and the start of a new semester began, I went to class last week.
As I sat in my first class last Tuesday night and listened as the professor went over the syllabus and the requirements for the semester, it hit me and I knew the answer to the question I’d been asking myself for the last month. Sure, I was afraid to admit the answer for a couple days, but I knew what I needed to do.
When I applied to graduate school this time last year, I was in an entirely different place in my life. The lovely and talented wife was pregnant, but we didn’t know it yet. And then January 25th rolled around and we got the best news we’d ever received in our married life together when we found out we’d be having a baby. Fast forward a few months and I had been accepted to grad school. Not knowing all that fatherhood would bring into my life, I decided to go ahead and give the Ph.D. program a shot. As August arrived, Annaleise was 8 months pregnant, I destroyed the side door to our home (should have seen that one for the omen that it was), and I began taking classes. I thought to myself, if I can get through these first few months of graduate school while having a baby and making the adjustment to fatherhood, the next five years of studies will be a piece of cake. And so I slogged my way through it.
Despite not being extremely passionate about becoming a scholarly researcher, I managed to enjoy myself and stay pretty well on top of things (reading all of the reading assignments, completing all my written assignments on time, etc) for the first month of the program. That is, until September 23, 2010… the day my life changed forever with the arrival of our beautiful baby girl. She came on a Thursday and I had a paper due the following Tuesday. I did not complete the paper on time, asked for an extension for the first time in my life, and turned it in a week late.
From that point in the semester on, I started but did not complete every single reading assignment and I was lucky to begin working on any of my papers and other assignments more than 24 hours before they were due. In the process, my daughter was growing up before my eyes and I felt like I was missing more and more each day. I managed to finish the semester with an A in one class and a B in another… all in all a pretty good semester considering everything else I had going on.
However, despite what the two grades on my transcript seemed to indicate, I hadn’t given my best to anything in my life since the beginning of the program. My work had suffered, I wasn’t giving my wife and daughter (or the rest of my family & friends for that matter) the attention or time they deserved, I was neglecting all of my civic involvement (sorry fellow Rotarians), and my involvement in our church had plummeted severely. And to make matters worse, I hated the fact that I was enrolled in those classes but not actually pouring myself into the learning.
After the semester was over, I knew in my heart that I would probably not be going back in the spring though I was afraid to admit it to myself for the fear of the stigma of quitting. And then I REALLY enjoyed my time off over Christmas break. I read two books, I spent a lot of time with Annaleise and Izzy, and I did a lot of things that I wanted to do and that were important to me. And I enjoyed it all… a lot.
When it was all over and it was time to go back to class, I knew what I needed to do even though I wasn’t ready to admit it yet. However, after class last week I was finally able to be honest with myself and say that the cost of giving the next five years of my life to a degree that I want but really don’t need just wasn’t worth it to me at this time in my life. And so I made the choice to drop out of the program.
After making that decision, but before actually dropping my classes and emailing my professors, I felt like a hundred pound weight had been lifted off from around my neck. I felt free again. Free to spend my time on things that were important to me as a husband, father, friend, and man not on things that were important to me becoming the best Ph.D. student I could be. And so on Friday afternoon, I logged on to OSU’s website and officially dropped my classes for the semester. Shortly after that, I emailed my professors and let them know. And it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time.
In the end, even though I know I could have pushed through and made it work the next few years, there were just too many other things that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice between now and then. I realize that I will not have a Ph.D. now and there will be career and professional opportunities that will always be just beyond my reach because of that, but (as cliche as it sounds) I am confident that I will not look back at the end of my life and wish I’d had more professional success.
And so here I am, a college dropout, who all of the sudden has a whole lot more time and cognitive surplus on his hands. I don’t know what else 2011 has in store for me, but I know two things for sure: 1) I won’t be writing any more problem statements and 2) APA style is now dead to me… at least for the next 20 years or so.
To quote an email I received over the weekend from another guy in the Ph.D. program who also dropped out this semester for reasons similar to mine, “Sometimes it takes a journey like this to understand we can’t do it all.” Amen sir. Amen.
And with that, I happily cross off #2 from my 30 before 30 list.