Friday, October 29, 2010

Stopping Short

Is there a Doctor in the House?

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?

Another Story

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.


Bob Orr said...

Interesting thoughts Joe.I can somewhat relate them to a discussion my wife was trying to start about "Do you have a Bucket List of things you want to do before you die"?. A question I dodged and continue dodging when she brings it up. My question is "Why am I dodging the question?" Perhaps I fear what happens after I finish the Bucket List. A whole new list of problems arise. If I finish the BL Do I die? Am I aimless? Is there nothing left to do? What will I do with my time afterwards?

Anyway, it seems that nature and old geezers like me abhor a vacuum. Thanks for the blog!

Ordinary Joe said...

My gut says goals come in two flavors: The ones you think you should or have to accomplish---but they're not really in you---and the ones that really are in you---and those ones drive you without any need to convince yourself.

If it's something you really want, you move toward it at whatever pace is appropriate, seeing the path through, and stopping when you get there. If it's the second flavor, you see all the obstacles and doubt---a "don't go there" reminding you of your actual feelings on the matter.

Either way, all the forces---the doing and the thinking---balance. Maybe the thinking is just the story to rationalize to anyone, including self, all the other thoughts that started with a "you should" or a "you shouldn't" but that have little to do with the whole rest of you? Who knows...

In my case, if I'm not actually moving forward with more academic studies or whatnot, then that's the way it is---no need to create a story, to regret, or anything else. If something more or something different is actually right (or maybe "more important") for me, I've little doubt that anything will get in the way and everything else will adjust accordingly.

But even that's a rationalization :-p

ASM826 said...


Found your blog through Aikiweb, then Sword Mountain Aikido, and on to here. An interesting question, but one from an Aikido perspective that may not need an answer.

You are who you are, you know what you know. When confronted with an attack, on the mat or in the street, does the color of the belt someone presented you with change the technique you respond with?

I am studying toward testing as part of a formal organization, so I am not adverse to the discipline or structure, only exploring the question with you. Let's ask, "On the morning of your test, wearing a brown belt, how is your Aikido different from your Aikido the next morning when you are wearing a black belt?"

Does the recognition of others, even formal teachers you respect, tangibly change your practice? It may, and there may be a purpose to the structure and the belts, allowing the student to accept that they have achieved a level of mastery of the art.

Ordinary Joe said...

ASM826: Gesundheit!