Recently someone invited me to consider getting a doctorate degree. This is almost five years after graduating a masters program and swearing I was done with school. So naturally I’m considering it, yay, even beginning to obsess over the idea.
This decision is large, time consuming and expensive. As I’ve been pondering the idea itself, I’ve been noticing patterns and frameworks that have guided me in my decisions throughout my life.
There are five broad categories to how people make decisions
In this framework, I want something, so I get it. This framework speaks to what Freud would have called our drives, our libidinal desires, our at times animalistic cravings. We all have them; we’re flesh and blood. Decisions made to support a desire are not necessarily wrong, but decisions driven entirely by desire can be dangerous and harmful to self and others.
Let’s be real. Desire-based decisions are why I eventually got into an active recovery process.
In the case of a doctorate degree, there is an element where I am considering my desires in the matter. Do I want to teach long term? Do I want to teach at this particular school? Do I want to teach in this field? Do I want to even study teaching or counseling, or would I rather study addictions and yoga?
Decisions made based on logistics are driven by practical needs. The practical needs often have a financial component to them. We moved to the house we did because we could afford it. I studied at the school I did because it was close. I picked the field I did because I knew I could do it. I chose not to pursue any opportunities to live and study abroad in my undergraduate degree because I believed I had neither the time nor the money for that. In retrospect, I wish that decision had been guided by other factors.
In the case of a doctorate degree, my first instinct is to find the cheapest, shortest, most local program and enroll in that one, for sheer convenience sake. But then, when I have done what is cheapest, because it’s cheapest, I have later regretted not having a higher standard. When I’ve opted to see the cost as an investment and spend more, (as in the case of my macbook pro) I have generally been quite pleased with the results.
Decisions made by concession, or by inaction, are perhaps the most difficult ones for me to sustain with a grateful and content heart. Through passivity, I allow my life to be shaped, to be chosen for me, and this is one of the most difficult perceptions for me to manage with a grateful and contented heart.
My melancholy thought pattern instinctively reverts to the perception that much of my life has been chosen for me. The most significant decisions in my life were made for me by someone else, and at times I question their ability to make those choices.
A concession choice can be made out of fear, apathy, lack of information, or from a place of damaged self-concept. Perhaps one is afraid to make a decision because they don’t believe they can. Or perhaps they are afraid they will not be able to live with the consequence.
At other times, a concession decision can be made because a person lacks actual power. For example, as a minor, I was homeschooled. That was a choice my parents made for me, and I lacked power to effectively challenge that decision.
When I make concession choices, I tend to feel like I am living someone else’s values or dream. In the case of a doctorate program, this element has a strong presence. I was planning on being done with school! I wasn’t actually planning on teaching either. These opportunities were handed to me. And I do love them, and am quite grateful to be here. Still though, at this point, the doctorate program would be someone else’s idea so I can support someone else’s program. A doctorate program is an investment of so many things; one could dubb it a calling. But if I were to enroll this month(which I won’t) it would feel like someone else’s calling.
Living someone else’s calling is the fastest way to waste your life, except for using drugs.
A loyalty decision is made because of a relationship. I have a relationship with this person; I’ll do whatever they do/want. I have a relationship with this brand of product; I’ll use that brand of product regardless of other brands or my brand’s performance. I have a relationship with this denomination of church; I’ll stay within that denomination come what may.
In my case, I have opportunity to re-evaluate my relationship to my school and to my program. If the relationship is the calling, then I could see making extensive, even extravagant investment into this program because it’s this program. If the relationship is not calling, if rather I am utilizing the program for my own ends, then I need have no hesitation in finding a program that better suits my needs, relationships be damned. Neither one of these feels just right just now.
A decision like this is made out of one’s deepest, most important beliefs, regardless of outcomes. This is where you do what you believe is right, no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular or personally disappointing.
In truth, these may be the rarest of the decisions that I have made. My desires are typically too loud and the logistics so alluring and deferring to established loyalties too convenient.
But in the case of a doctorate program, I’m discovering several significant convictions that must be factors.
I’m done taking on more debt. Doctorate programs at the good schools are really expensive.
I want to be present with my kids in their formative years. Going back to school sucks every spare moment from one’s life.
I’m already so saturated with privilege. Much as I love the idea of more learning, a big part of me would be really uncomfortable turning into another white male entering the upper echelons of higher education while my wife stays home with the kids and dishes.
If I did a doctorate program, it would be more work I couldn’t really share with my wife or kids, other than to come home with stories about what I did all day. I think I want them to have more life than that.
So then, I’m feeling a growing desire to enter a doctorate program, score another notch, scale another mountain, ascend one further level toward self-actualization. Logistics are against me. Concession and Loyalty say I should do it. Conviction is pulling hard at me.
I wonder if I can be strong enough to live by conviction, to do what is right, come what may…