This morning I was reminded of the fact that today marks a year since I defended my dissertation. It was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life and it was one that I didn’t really prepare for. You heard that right. I started practicing what I would say about two hours before it happened. I did horrible on the practice tries and my voice was shaking because I was so nervous. Afterwards, I just sat with a glass of my favorite wine and waited until I saw the email that confirmed I had passed. It was an incredible feeling. I wrote around a year ago that what I wanted to have a more permanent home base and that I wanted to seriously consider settling down. I moved several times and finally settled down and started working in my field. I started three new jobs and had an entire life overhaul. I’m a bit closer to believing that finishing the degree was worth it in the long run. I would still be paying back the loans regardless of whether I finished or not. I’ve traveled to several countries and decided to work a more flexible schedule. It’s been a roller coaster with a lot of changes. I’m still writing a lot but most of it is in response to my students and the traveling bug continues to bite me. I’m curious to know what the next year will bring.
Getting a doctorate was to date one of the most stressful projects that I have done. I balanced school with multiple jobs, moving across the country, and also trying to have somewhat of a social life. My dissertation class was a Pass/Fail format and there were a few times where I didn’t know if I would pass the class for the quarter. I would plan to get a lot of things accomplished every quarter and it would be so difficult to stay focused and write in the fact of competing priorities. It was the end of year four and and I hit a wall. I was tired of looking at a computer screen, reading articles, trying to sound intelligent, and keeping up with discussion posts. I don’t know what the final straw was but I was done. I wanted to quit so badly because it was just too hard. But one thing that I remember was the fact that I had spent so much time, energy and money that not completing would be a complete waste. Not to mention the fact that I would still owe money in student loans. I realized that I was getting in my own way because I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do next after I finished. I knew that I wanted to teach but I had no idea about what the next steps would be. I was sabotaging my own progress because I had a fear of the unknown. Once I figured it out everything made a lot more sense. I gave myself permission to finish without knowing for sure what I would do afterwards. After this realization the road got a lot smoother. I finally started to get the approvals that I needed and things started coming together. Within a year and some change I successfully defended my dissertation. I say all this to say that a fear of the unknown keeps a lot of people from their potential. It paralyzes them from taking the next step because there are no guarantees. But in life there aren’t any do-overs. We have one shot to get it right and it only makes sense to give our dreams 110%. Go hard or go home.
It’s weird to get a PhD. I know a lot of people don’t say it but achieving something like that makes you look at life differently. While my overall goal was to use the degree for higher education, I’ve found myself in the same field I’ve been in for the past 6 years. After all that time and energy spent and all the late nights and revisions and I’m not exactly working in my field full time. I need to have a strategy and to find out a way to maximize this new education level. This summer I plan to be more focused on having a plan and implementing it. I want to do more things and working on creating new opportunities. But I need to be more disciplined and consistent in order for it to work.
The past few weeks have gone by extremely fast but at this point I’m at the end of my doctoral journey. It’s been a long six years and I can’t believe that I have been in school consistently since 2008. That’s an entire decade of my life that I can’t get back. I haven’t even decided to real if it’s been worth it. However, I think that so far it has. I’ve had the opportunity to work full time and live in multiple places while working on my education. But now it’s time to make new goals as the ink on the new initials after my name continue to dry. I need to find something meaningful and while traditionally I’ve found that in education, I’m open for a change. If I’m being honest, I’d love to spend some dedicated time addressing my rotted carcass of a love life but that could be problematic and it isn’t a guaranteed win. It’s a hope. Needless to say, I have to fill my time with other things than school at this point. It’s going to be weird not having a paper due or assignments to complete. Right now my focus is on my job search and figuring out where I’ll be living next. I want to enjoy the feeling of completing the highest degree that one can earn but it just feels somewhat hollow at this point. It’s not a letdown but it’s just weird. I want to start writing more on a creative basis and I’ve been doing better so far this year with making in-person connections with people. I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect and have already traveled to Europe once this year. I would love to do more traveling but most of all I think I also want a real “home base” for once. Like an actual home/apartment where I live permanently. I want my life post-PhD to involve getting settled down at some point and moving to a different chapter that could possibly include marriage and kids. However, it’s going to take a huge shift in focus and being deliberate in creating the life that I want. I’m determined but I need to plan so that I know the next thing I’m working towards. I have to fill this empty space of time.
I’m wholeheartedly convinced that most people don’t understand the blood, sweat and tears that goes into getting a PhD. For some it’s an easy process and for others it’s long and exhaustive. I first started at the tender age of 22 and I am nearing the finish line 5 years later. It’s been a series of rejections one one after the other. I once went back and counted and for just one phase of my dissertation I submitted revisions 39 times. It was crazy. I even had to change my topic which set me back as well. But I feel motivated to push forward and to remember why I started. I’m ready to transition into something different and possibly more fulfilling. I want to be free and I want something that allows me the flexibility to live wherever I want. Life goals.
So today I started a new job. Not a hustle or on a “as needed” basis, but a real job. It’s something that I’ve (halfway) actively pursuing since early last year. While I’m excited about new opportunities, I’m also hesitant. I love flexibility but it’s time to have something resembling security with health insurance and a 401K. I’ve met so many people who settle for a “regular” job, they put in their hours, go home, raise a family, take a vacation once a year, retire, and die. Not a bad plan, but definitely not for me. This job is not where I want to be for the rest of my life. It’s a means to an end. And if I have to sacrifice by waking up early EVERY morning in order to get stuff done and to meet my goals, so be it. I’m not a morning person but I’ll be one because what I want to be as a professional is bigger than pushing the snooze button on my alarm clock. There’s a saying that says one has to be willing to do what others won’t do in order to get what others won’t get. In my case, getting a regular job is doing what others are doing. However, my special twist is that I’m also pairing it with three additional jobs and an increasingly challenging doctoral program. With the end goal of being in a very very good professional place by the time I’m 25. The biggest challenge will definitely be balance and making sure that I don’t get in my own way. I’ve made some hard choices and there are plenty more to come. But, as I tell my clients, settling feels good for the moment but you never get any lasting results. Being deliberate and planning takes time, effort, and sacrifice but it sure beats waking up one morning and realizing that you’ve wasted your life. At least in my opinion.
As some of you may know, I made the (somewhat) dumb decision of continuing my education after my post-graduate program. So now I’m doing a doctorate. I’m a little over a year in and while I’m not crazy about school, I’m doing it for a variety of reasons related to increasing my credibility as a professional. Getting married would have a similar effect but I don’t believe in counting eggs before they hatch so a doctorate it is. Schoolwork up to this point has been ok. I decided that after finishing college with a 3.7 cumulative GPA and finishing graduate school with a 3.9, I wasn’t going to worry as much about grades in this program. I don’t know of one person who brags on their doctorate program GPA. People just care that you finished. Plus, a 70 is a passing score. The biggest part of doing a doctorate is starting and completing a dissertation. Basically a huge research project where you study a topic in depth. Who hasn’t figured out a topic yet? Me. I would love to study something fun but getting a decent sample for qualitative research would be incredibly time consuming. I’m considering the quick and dirty route where I pick something fairly easy that does the trick without me having to overextend myself. But doing this would mean that I would do a fun dissertation on my next doctorate or masters in some off the wall random topic. So I’ve given myself a deadline of February next year to figure out a topic. I know it will have something to do with couples, relationships, therapy, consultation, and effectiveness but I’m not sure of all the details. A topic that I could write a book on might also be something worth considering. But that being said, I need to figure it out. Soon.
Recently I have come to the conclusion that I really really really hate school. At least the regular kind. This epiphany comes on the wake of realizing that I have total of over 29 pages to write in the next week or so. While I prefer these 12 week quarters to the 10 weeks that I had in graduate school, I still don’t want to do the work. One of the challenges of distance learning is that you have to be so disciplined because you don’t attend class every week. I think that my irritation with school comes from the fact that this is only my 5th consecutive year of traditional education. Being homeschooled, I had the freedom to learn what I wanted to learn without any restrictions or guidelines on how it should be done. My high school education was done through a correspondence course that included many of the typical subjects but all the tests were open book. No big deal. It was only in college that I actually had to learn to study in order to learn the information required to pass tests. However, after a certain point, tests were obsolete and all methods of examination were by essay. I remember a final exam that was six blank pages with one question per page and it was the expectation of the teacher that each page be full with writing as you answered the questions. I’m sure that my annoyance with school is partially due to the fact that I have a slight problem with procrastination. I say slight because although I don’t usually wait to the last minute, I still put it off more than I should. I have a lot of respect for people who have completed a doctorate and now I understand why so many people insist on being called by their title of “doctor.” That being said, I’m taking a break from school after this doctorate. A very long, and a very much needed break. That being said, let me return to this very large, endless, and pretty much pointless pile of papers to write.
I’m going to be pretty brief in this post. One thing that I have really noticed in the last few days is the way that people use their titles. There are some people that insist on being called “Dr.” and others who are perfectly fine with just being called by their first name. One thing I noticed that was different about Colorado as opposed to the South was the use of titles. My teachers (all of who had doctorates) insisted that all the students call them by their first names. This was sorta weird, but also refreshing because it really humanized them. It became a “we” in the classroom instead of “us” and the “teacher.” I’ve noticed that people tend to make up titles for themselves. One of these examples is an individual who has received an honorary doctorate but still uses the title. Now correct me if I’m wrong but it seems that the key word is “honorary” which implies that they did not put in any work and did not complete the requirements necessary to get an actual doctorate. YET, they still call themselves by that particular title for a variety of reasons that may primarily be tied to the fact that they want recognition and credibility. As a doctoral student myself, I think I’m more sensitive to people who use titles that a. don’t mean anything or b. did not earn them. But that being said, I think that after I finish this degree, I’m going to insist that everyone use my title for two weeks and then I’ll drop it and go back to my regular first name. But then again, maybe not.