What a year. I have been doing a Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford for the last year and it has been a ride. Where to start?
It was one of the most amazing, stressful and life changing years of my, thus far, short life. In the beginning it was an adventure that I jumped into with wide eyes and anticipation. I tried to hit the ground running but slowly began to realize that a PhD is a marathon, certainly not a sprint. There were plenty of adjustments to be made. Through it all the only thing that remained constant and ended up being a strange place for me to ground myself was in my thesis idea. That is saying a lot but also not saying much at all. It says that my dedication to the idea of the project is/was immense, but not saying a lot because the first year of the thesis project is highly unstable and uncertain.
Throughout the year there were other developments and realizations that accompanied the academic process. It was academic, intellectual, personal as well as spiritual growth. As the year carried on I began to discover that my goals were shifting. I no longer wanted to become a history lecturer, I no longer wanted to write history. The academic and intellectual challenges were fantastic! Entering into the D.Phil I felt highly unprepared, so the learning curve was steep but I think I rose to the challenge. As the year went on I developed more critical, analytic and creative thinking. My understanding of details and theories changed and I began to understand the importance of WHAT ACTUALLY WAS important. That isn't to say that I didn't possess or employ these qualities previously, but they were refined significantly.
As the year went on and the stress began to mount it was difficult to maintain the level of motivation that is necessary to achieve the task at hand. It slowly became clear to me that the reason for this was that my end goal had shifted dramatically. If I didn't want to write history and I didn't want to become a professor, then why was I continuing on? A PhD is a massive undertaking. It will be your number 1 priority and focus for 3, probably 4 years. It will take all your money, exhaust your creative intelligence and destroy your liver. But the struggle makes you feel alive. Us D.Phils often joked that we must have some sort of dormant self-loathing in order to punish ourselves so severely. So where am I going with this? The point is, if you don't have an end goal that drives you...it is difficult to keep going in this endeavor. So I began thinking about leaving. A HUGE HUGE decision that would change the course of my life and career. In the end I have chosen to leave. I love academia and I love intellectual development, but my life's priorities have shifted dramatically and I can no longer (nor do I want to) continue this pursuit. It is time to shelf my mortarboard and box up my graduate gown and tie until my life can afford me to pursue the PhD as a hobby of sorts that focuses on my own development. The time has come for me move on to the next chapter of my life, because frankly, I am ready.
Throughout the process of this year, I learned to listen to myself, trust myself implicitly and to listen to that inner voice that guides you. I feel incredibly fortunate that my upbringing has encouraged such self-reflection and self-belief. Thanks to my parents, who encouraged such spiritual development, I have the courage to walk away from an opportunity like a PhD at one of the best universities in the world, with arguably the best historian in my field because it truly is not right for me at this time. It wasn't easy and I had to do a lot of soul searching and maintain brutal honesty with myself at my most vulnerable points in order to come to this decision. A truly scary but defining experience, but I had to be sure of what I was doing. Some people will say that I quit, that I couldn't cut it, couldn't hack the intensity and stress. Haters gonna hate y'all. I know that I made the right decision for me. And it took more courage and humility than I had anticipated, having to put aside pride and the ever present stubbornness. What an amazing learning experience.
So what now friends?
A career. I think Public Relations is the way to go for me. Time to gear up that stubbornness and perseverance to head out into the job market. I'm feeling confident and stronger than ever. Let's do this.
p.s. A special shout-out to all my friends and family who encouraged me, challenged me and in so doing, supported me. I needed the critics and skeptics just as much as the advocates.