I have a masters degree. I also have a fair body of original research reviewed and approved as a dissertation submission. What I am missing from completing a Ph.D. is going back and sitting through some classes: paying the money and doing the time.
Does this make sense? After all, the hard work is already complete. Why not finish?
This has been an absurdly difficult question to answer at times---I know because I'm asked often. The underlying facts add some structure: I had a one-year-old child, I was working a summer job, and I had the opportunity to convert to full-time employee by converting a research paper I was polishing into a Masters thesis. As time went on, there was certainly no financial incentive to advancing my degree; I was fast-tracked as an effective generalist rather than a specialist, and taking the title at that point might actually have limited my prospects. Taking time off to take the classes and pay tuition while not earning income would likely prove to be a hardship and did not seem like it would provide a reasonable "return on investment."
So, yes, it's a good rationalization---and it is true---but is it the entire truth?
This new job interrupted longstanding practice of Aikido. Now with the job and little to no leave or savings accumulated, I was invited to return to take my black belt test. I hadn't sought out a new dojo for local practice yet; I was concerned I couldn't prepare. I sent along my regrets; I didn't feel I would be ready. Sometime later, a visiting friend brought me the belt from my teacher with his instructions to put it on when I felt ready.
During the ensuing years, I practiced as an Aikido nomad, showing up here and there with some talent and a white belt. It's detailed elsewhere in the blog, but somewhere after around 15 years of practice, I did spend a year within another organization and made the first-degree black belt "official."
Again, the circumstances are true and the decisions were rational, but there is something eerily similar to the Ph.D. story, no?
What is Going On?
Set side by side, the two stories would seem to show "stopping short" of some intended goal. The self-helpsters might even speculate that there's an underlying "fear of success" leading to these situations. Honestly, I wondered the same myself for a bit---I mean, it makes sense on some level, no? But there are enough other unrelated stories to point to a different conclusion. We'll string them together in time, perhaps, but for now there are these:
Balance and Pride
Technically, there is only balance---pride is part of the equation. There is a certain pride in having the talent, the skills, the knowledge, and so forth, and to prove it without having someone else certify it. But the attraction of pride is married with a peculiar aversion to the certification itself. In my personal experience, this aversion has not been unjustified. Consider, for instance, that when my own ideas differed from my last Aikido instructor's, he threatened to have the parent organization revoke the certification of my rank---and this is not a lone example... It is sufficient to say then that when I am fortunate enough to sense when systemic manipulation is directed toward me or toward others, I have an instinctual distaste for it. Going a bit further, it seems that I have a slight distaste toward being "typecast" as well.
What Does it Mean?
Without any thought at all, I essentially drifted quite comfortably into studying mathematics in the university and Aikido in the dojo. When other needs pulled or other other boundaries pushed, life's trajectory changed on its own quite very naturally and always remained in balance---however chaotic it may have appeared from outside or even, in retrospect, from within. All thoughts, emotions, actions? They are always in balance.
Once it begins to become clear, I think we can begin to reflect. We can discover things such as an inherent aversion to being manipulated that played a role in my arriving here. Moreover, we can examine such an aversion, and if we choose, we can move through it when next we encounter it. After all, are there not times when being typecast has its advantages? And are we not typecast all of the time anyway---as a spouse, a sibling, a child, a parent, an employee, a boss, as a customer, ...? When it serves us, we can go along with it; when it hinders us, we can deal with it; but, we do not have to be blind to it.
Well, what does that mean? If I remain focused on making sense of this, this entry will never end---skipping meals, ignoring family, sitting inside when it's beautiful outside, ... Everything is in balance, at least given my intention.