Saturday, September 22, 2012

This is Hard: Part One

What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step of something better.
—Wendell Phillips

Two weeks ago, I withdrew from my Ph.D. program. 

(Oof, that was hard to write.  To see in black and white like that, it's still a bit jarring.  Knowing a decision is right and feeling an immediate happiness about it are not necessarily synonymous, I'm learning.)

It goes without saying that this decision was not an easy one.  I hung on to that program, clinging by my fingernails for so long, trying to convince myself that this was what I wanted.  This was what I wanted.  Right?  

I thought it was.

Let's get right to it.

It was a heart-wrenching decision, yes.  One that I put a great deal of thought, tears, and sleepless nights into.  But, as soon as I made it, I knew it was right.

I finally came to that place I was afraid to go for so very long.  That place of questioning this path I was on; a place I didn't ever let my mind travel, always halting that train of thought before it gathered steam, afraid of what I might find if I did.  Gradually, I let my mind go there and it led me to admit to myself that my long-term goals had changed, and a Ph.D. was no longer what I wanted.  While I do love to teach, I am not equally keen on research.  The thought of committing myself to a career in academia, to a job that held research, publishing, and securing outside funding in higher regard than the quality of my teaching made my sad.  Weary.  Not at all excited for the future.  

So the bottom line is: I know I want to serve students through teaching and advocacy in some capacity someday, but the job description and lifestyle - both now, but especially later on - that come with a tenure-track position is no longer what I want.  Given all of this, both the time and financial commitments of finishing the Ph.D. would have been too great for me and my family.  

And then, after a great deal of self reflection, having finally admitted to myself that I was continuing down a path I knew wasn't right for me, I wondered why I was still on it.

I had slowly (omg so slowly) accepted that I really truly did not need a PhD to do what I want to do, but I had stopped there.  So then, I had to ask myself the hard, and yet so logical, next question: then what are you doing, Ella? Why are you still trying? Still trying to make everyone think you will finish?  Telling people this is what you want?  

My answer, when I finally came to it, was sad:  It was simply because I was afraid of what people would think of me if I stopped.  I finally came to terms with this, recognizing how deeply flawed it was, and in that instant I knew in my heart that withdrawing was the right decision.  

The more I thought about all of this -- all the years I'd put into this program, the questions I would inevitably have to face, the reality of my decision -- the more I realized how much being a parent has changed me. Would I have finished if I hadn't decided to start a family mid-way through my doctoral program?  Maybe, maybe not.  But more than that, being a parent showed me so much more about what is important in this life - that's what had changed most. All those things I wanted to teach my daughter about life? About living her one precious life?  I couldn't just tell her about it, tell her how to do it.  I had to live it.  

I had to show her.  

Do I want to teach my child that continuing with something you feel isn't right for you just because you're afraid what other people might think or say is how you should live your life?  No.  I want better for her.  I want her to be true to herself.  I want her to have enough faith in herself to make the hard choices - those choices that will bring her closer to living a genuine, true-to-herself life.  

I have to show her.  

And in doing so, I will live a more true-to-me life.


The decision was made.  There was a sigh of relief... followed by a stomach twisting urge to hurl, and expletive after expletive running through my mind.  Oh dear God, I'd have to tell my advisor.  I'd have to tell my parents.

I'd have to tell... everyone.  

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver


Lauren said...

Welcome to the bright side! It gets easier. Congrats!

Jessie said...

You are so brave! Congratulations, it was a great move for you!!

Abby said...

I'm proud of you! A brave decision, made for all the right reasons! :-)

Alyssa said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I wish I had the guts to do what you did. So proud of you for following your heart!

Dawn said...

I know that this was not an easy decision to make and applaud you for doing what is best for your family.

Missy said...

I'm glad you are happy with your decision and are at peace. I love doing research, so I am glad to be where I am, but I meet so many people who start a program only to realize it is not right for them and then are never really happy. Congrats on finding and following what really makes you happy.

Summer said...

Ella - I can only imagine how difficult this was for you. You are so amazing for doing this for yourself and your family. What a great example you are setting for Eliza!

Chelsea said...

So brave, Ella! Don't be ashamed by your decision. You should be proud that you were able to really consider what YOU want and what is best for your family. Knowing how stressful it was getting for you, I am so happy that you can now move on to better things! Congrats!

Wendy said...

you are super brave and I commend you for going with your gut and following your true interests. There are so many paths and opportunities in life that sometimes are taken and sometimes are passed. You have nothing to be ashamed of because in the end, continuing on your studies and unending papers for something you have lost your passion for will just eat you up slowly inside and affect you as a person, a mother and a wife. You made the BEST CALL and I'm so proud of and happy for you!

Eliza's Stats

Birth: 8 lbs 5 ozs
Going home: 7 lbs 10 ozs
5 days: 7 lbs 13 ozs
2 months: 12 lbs 6 ozs
4 months: 17 lbs
5 months: 18 lbs 12 ozs
6 months: 20 lbs 13 ozs
9 months: 24 lbs 3 ozs
12 months: 26 lbs 13 ozs
15 months: 28 lbs
18 months: 29 lbs 3 ozs
2 years: 32 lbs
3 years: 34 lbs

Alice's Stats

Birth: 8 lbs 11 oz
2 Months: 13 lbs 10 oz
4 Months: 17 lbs 15 oz
6 Months: 20 lbs 4 oz