My Week: Letting Go

I have been working and going to school full time for about 11 years, the majority of my adult life. In the beginning it wasn’t really a choice; if I wanted to go to college, I was going to have to work for it. But then it became a habit. If I wasn’t in school while also working I didn’t feel happy—I felt empty and unfulfilled.

For the past three years, I have been working toward a doctorate in organizational leadership. The plan was to begin my dissertation this summer. For a variety of converging reasons, I have decided to withdraw from the program with the intent to re-enroll next fall.

This program has become so much a part of my life. I have worked harder than ever, and have pushed open many intellectual and emotional boundaries along the way. It was a labor of love, and every successful moment was well worth the many difficult periods of time that preceded.

Next week, others in my cohort will be enrolling in their final semester of classes. Their dissertation committees are formed, their concept papers are written, and they will walk through a congratulatory procession among our colleagues. I won’t be there in body, by my heart will sing for each of my classmates as they advance to candidacy.

This weekend, I completed work for my research assistantship and turned in my final timesheet. Tomorrow I will submit my official withdrawal form. It’s official.

Yesterday, I felt a deep sense of inner peace that I haven’t felt in a long time. I didn’t feel hurried or full or obsessive thoughts about everything I need to do. I felt like everything was flowing beautifully.

I hope to sustain these feelings into perpetuity and to cultivate increased awareness and lovingkindness as I go about my day – every day. That clarity and peace will lead to a dissertation topic that I can fully embrace by choice, rather than submit to one that I develop under the pressure of limited time. But most of all, these feelings will contribute to a better, more beautiful, and more complete life that is not dependent on the rush of academic pursuits.

The Top 10 Things I Have Learned as a Ph.D. Student

1. Everything I have been taught is a lie, or at least an illusion.
2. Wisdom and understanding are more important than knowledge.
3. Truth is an elusive mystery.
4. I am not as smart as I thought I was.
5. I am smarter than I thought I was.
6. Lao Tzu and Socrates were right – the more I know, the less I understand and the only true wisdom is knowing that I know nothing.
7. My mind is but an ornery grain of sand on the splendid beach of scholarship.
8. I can’t imagine having enough time to thoroughly explore and learn everything that interests me.
9. Learning is a process of awakening.
10. Qualitative research is just as valuable — to me and to others — as quantitative research (yay!).

The Othering of Me

As a Jewish student at an evangelical Christian university, I have learned a lot about myself. This experience has both strengthened my Jewish identity and increased my understanding of what it truly means to be part of the outgroup. During my first residency in September 2010, I sat in my car and cried during lunch. It took all of the strength I had not to drive home, abandoning my dream of pursuing a doctorate. Because of one bad experience that day, I continued to interpret every experience in the program through the lens of being a Jew rather than as a complete multidimensional person. Being the outsider heightened my sensitivity, and I had difficulty bonding with other students in the program.

Today, I consider many of the students in my cohort and the program overall as some of my most valued friends and colleagues. I hope that we have learned from each other over the years, and that we continue to see differences as opportunities to learn about each other and ourselves.

To them, and to you, I wish a Merry Christmas.

Social Change or Social Justice?

I am starting to articulate the basic outline for my dissertation in the field of organizational leadership. While I have thought through the possibility of many topics, the recurrent theme is leadership in social justice or social change organizations. I am finding that the term “social change,” or more specifically “progressive social change” more easily resonates with a broader audience. I see these as terms as interconnected; perhaps social change is the process and social justice is the intended outcome.

What are your reactions to these expressions? How have you seen them used? Do you associate any specific positive or negative ideas with either one?

Scholar Stomach

A student colleague recently explained the tummy softening and bulging that often emerges through the course of doctoral studies using two simple words – scholar stomach.  Looking around the room, and especially down at myself, I realized that this was truly a phenomenon. Naming the phenomenon gave it power; it transformed something from a personal experience to collective understanding. This helped me to develop an awareness that led to the critical conscience necessary to compel me into action. I committed to a daily Pilates practice upon returning home, although that commitment waned in a few weeks. Scholar stomach remains.