I'm a quitter and that's ok


I wrote the following on my blog on Tuesday and then took it down as I was unsure if I wanted it to be up. (Of course, it went out on all of my RSS feeds so it didn’t really matter…)

I’ve had misgivings about my PhD work since before I started. More than a few people have questioned why I am doing it. Not that it isn’t interesting to do and such but more along the lines of “This is six or so years of very hard work. What are you really going to get out of it?” I’ve given various answers to this question but I am seriously reconsidering it today. It isn’t that I had a particularly difficult day or week in my program. Things have gone fairly well during my first month of the program. Japanese is hard but just takes a bunch of work. The two doctoral seminars are not horrible. That said, I think the cumulative effect of the work and realizing that the next half decade will be more of the same is making me reconsider whether this is something that I really need to do. The additional fact that academic jobs are insecure and hard to come by (combined with the fact that I have an excellent tech career still) does not help. What is it that this degree will give me, besides the diploma and three letters after my name, that I want? Do I want to teach classes as my daily job? It might be interesting but it has never been a driving interest. I am much more interested in writing, whether it be full books or otherwise. I’d like to see a book with my name on it from a mainstream publisher of some sort. That is something that keeps coming back to me. I realize that I don’t need a degree to do that though. A degree certainly wouldn’t hurt in that regard but I’m friends with enough writers, both fiction and non-fiction, to know that what you need to do in order to get published is luck and to write, write, write. I’m having a hard time visualizing my life after getting a degree and what I will do with it that is both interesting and realistic. If I wind up teaching undergraduates all day at a small college instead of working in engineering, in either instance, I still only get to work on my own writing or research in the evenings so what is the difference? Frankly, the main thing that seems to keep me from seriously shelving this at this point is the idiotic feeling of how it will look to others and my own potential regrets. I’ve been waiting for the last two years to start working on a PhD. Now that I’m doing it, I’m actively wondering why I am. I don’t want to seem like a “quitter” to people but I also don’t want to put years and years of work into something that I’m not 100% committed to doing and have a clear goals that it will meet. R points out that I’ve been wanting to do this work for a while and that I clearly haven’t been working towards other goals, such as writing, during the last two years (we’ll leave aside my ordination since that’s another matter). Being in the program forces me to focus but is that enough of a reason to do that level of work instead of just finding my own discipline and doing things on my own? I dunno. So, I guess you’ll see a post within the next few days that let’s you know what I decided.

After writing this, I spent the rest of the week really thinking about it and whether I was just being overly nervous, disliking the changes in my life, etc. On reflection this weekend (after reading quite a few academic pieces for a project), I realized that I simply didn’t want to spend the next five plus years of my life doing this after all. I want to keep learning, taking classes and doing things, but I really didn’t want to narrow the focus of my life to doing the PhD and working to support that (financially and otherwise) for half a decade or more. I also realized that I was not enamored with the career that I was potentially building for myself to follow the PhD.

As I mention in my original post, there are things that I want to do but most of them really don’t require a doctorate. They simply require the diligence and commitment of doing things instead of wandering through life. I already have a successful career and I really do enjoy much of what goes on in the tech world and I don’t want to lose that either. So I’ve made the decision, and told the GTU officials, my advisor, and my professors, that I’m leaving the program effective immediately.

We’ll see what I do from here on out but I thought I would mention it here. I do plan to continue to take various classes in a variety of programs (such as hands-on classes at the Crucible, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training, maybe some more programming classes, and my seminary work) but nothing towards a specific degree at this point. I also want to spend more focused time studying the Dharma as a practitioner, not simply focusing on the scholastic side. I’ll be satisfied with my existing Master’s degree.