Back in 2009, I thought I needed a PhD to change the world. I wanted to write books and journal articles and conduct research that would totally redefine the way we view leadership. So what did I do? I applied to a PhD program, got in, took out a $10,000 loan and went back to school. I even went part-time at my job so I could use as much time as possible for research and writing papers.
But after the first semester, I already knew the program wasn’t for me. The material was difficult, which I’d expected. What I hadn’t anticipated however, was the way school would take over my entire existence. I couldn’t stand the constant research, statistics and math. I quickly learned how emotionally and financially taxing a PhD program would be on my life. And with so few opportunities out there for full-time teaching in the nonprofit field, it really didn’t seem worth the time or the money. So I quit.
Immediately, I began to feel like a total failure because my decision to pursue a PhD had been very public – on my blog and in my circle of friends. I had told all of my colleagues and peers about my goal to become “Dr. Thurman” only to end up quitting soon after I started. The discomfort was inevitable, but as soon as I quit the PhD madness that was dragging me down, I was inspired to fulfill my purpose using other means. I learned that I didn’t need to have those three letters behind my name to make a difference.
In my professional fantasy world, I fancied that being “Dr. Thurman” would open up doors for me that wouldn’t have otherwise opened. I imagined that I would be afforded a bigger voice and a larger platform for my ideas as a result of my advanced education status.
Deep down though, there was also a tinge of fear at work.
Fear that if I didn’t keep going with my education, that I wouldn’t know enough to be able to lead other people. When the truth is, NONE of us will ever know everything. There will always be something new to learn, which is really just supposed to make life fun.
What’s most interesting to me now, as I reflect, is what I did after I quit my PhD program.
I did start changing the world – on my own terms.
I wrote a book to help people build meaningful and rewarding nonprofit careers. I quit my job and went completely out on my own to work on projects that I believed in. I got serious about coaching people on how to access their own leadership skills. I started this blog to fulfill my personal mission to encourage women to live their ideal lives. I started speaking more and doing more and risking more and becoming more of the person I was meant to be.
Now, through my work, I have the incredible privilege of being able to touch thousands of people, which is much more fulfilling to me than getting an occasional byline in a peer-reviewed journal that only a few will ever read. For instance, my 31 Days to Reset Your Life program has helped hundreds of women (and men) get unstuck and back on track with the lives they really want.
We often think of expensive, advanced education as a means to an end. We even refer to jobs that make us miserable as “paying dues.” But it’s important to remember that there are always other means, other ways to get what we want. Once we accept the responsibility to do what we are called to do NOW – right now, without waiting until we’ve “arrived” – we will begin to see alternative ways in which we can live our best lives. We will realize that we do not need any external validation to give us permission to follow our dreams.
And in the process of living out our own true purpose, we will, in turn, encourage others to do the same.
Questions for Reflection:
- Have you been operating on the assumption that you HAVE to do things a certain way in order to reach a particular result?
- Write down one idea for how you can “break the rules” and still get what you want out of life.