If, at some point during your doctoral studies, you do not think solidly about quitting…I mean plan out your life for the next year, finances and all, as though you were to walk into your department chair’s office the following morning with a typed letter on your best stationary (or a hand written note on a post-it depending how busted your give-a-damn is) and explain to him or her why you are taking a permanent leave…then I might not trust you.
Over the past month I have thought considerably about why I am still here. Now, here is the part where I spoil the ending because so many of my professors and colleagues read my blogs and are probably thinking they need to check on me, don’t worry folks I’m staying. But I was seriously thinking about it. I looked at jobs I could do given my educational background and experience and I wrote out a 6-month plan for having my first book done. The idea was so appetizing I could all but taste it on my lips. I do not consider myself the type of person who needs to finish just to say she did. In fact, I take great pride in not being afraid to leave nouns (people, places, or things) that no longer serve me. So I had to figure out did this work still serve me? What did I stand to gain besides three small but powerful letters at the end of my name?
I was seriously entertaining quitting. I was wearing my best outfit, I had my best bottle of aged red aerating and the most decadent meal was being prepared. I was being a most gracious host and thought, well you’ve learned some great things the past three years you can walk away knowing it was not a total waste. And then…
I had to remember why I started. In my personal statement for admission into my program I wrote:
Though my career path has changed many times, my goal has remained static: I want to inspire people…USD’s PhD in Leadership Studies’ international study requirement shows the dedication for grooming new world leaders. We must reach beyond our own frame of reference and stretch into the unknown, and the unfamiliar to find growth as leaders. We must do it as leaders before we can expect those who follow to accept change. I strongly believe that embracing the idea of a collaborative global community, especially in helping professions, only aids in the building of an effective and inventive leader. Lastly, one of the four types of knowledge USD instills in its Doctoral candidates is somatic knowledge. In my growth as a leader, I have come to rely more on my intuition, and essentially faith in my decision making. It is faith that guides my work as I counsel college students through anxiety, depression, grief, and loss; faith that I am a capable practitioner, faith that my knowledge and training will prevail over personal bias or limitations, and faith that I can make a difference in the life of a student. In a profession that is often heavily reliant on empirical proof, research, and reliability, it is refreshing to find adherence to something as powerful, yet unintelligible as faith.
That is why I am here. It is much less about the PhD and what that means and more about learning and receiving training from people within an institution who share my vision of leadership and change. I was reminded of conversations particularly with my Org Theory professor and I told him how I understood leadership and relate it often to biological metaphors. I often use the sciences (biology and physics mostly) to make sense of my experiences and here was a place, and a person in a place, a person in a place in a space that not only understood me but supported my thinking and pushed me to consider even more. So, it’s changed a bit. I came for the degree and am staying for the community.
Dr. Avery (sidebar, she is such a gem…she does not know it yet –or maybe she will shortly–but I am going to make time to talk to her at least once a month because she anchors me. Not just academically but in a lot of the very important ways.) Anyway, Dr. Avery asked me “When your dissertation is done, printed and bound, what do you want it to say about you?” I did not have an answer for her, but as I was talking it through with Nicki last night in a chat about Kegan I realized this dissertation is my work. Not just my research but my work. It will be evidence of my own desire to balance the both and; embededness and differentiation. To be both I and We and the same time over and over again in new ways. So what it will say about it me is that I and We existed in that way at that time never to be replicated again. And more so that through my own work (and work) people came to understand their own embedded|differentiated selves. That perhaps we push a little harder for connection. What that says about me? Well perhaps that I was simply the medium for which something greater was uncovered. It will be a hallmark, and that I find great peace in.