Before I started this blog I wrote my dissertation in order to become a Dr. in economics. It has been my dream to do my PhD for many years. About a year ago I thought I was finally there. My dream was coming true. When my favourite professor, that I have been admiring from a long distance for quite some time, agreed to be my god father, I was thrilled.
And than it was everything I didn’t expect it to be.
I knew if I kept doing what I was doing I would be unhappy and miserable for the next years until I am done. And than I would be even more miserable.
And that’s where the hard part came in.
Have you ever had a dream? A life-long, deep rooted dream and when you finally fulfilled it, it felt not even half as good as you imagined? It might have sucked even?
If you work for something a big part of your life and than you change your mind about it, it’s pretty damn hard to accept and admit. Not just to yourself, but also to your friends and family. Especially to them. This get’s even worse, if you had a “crazy” dream that nobody believed in in the first place. Like you always wanted to become an actor, you worked really hard on it for 5 years, you got your first small role in a play, and then you noticed that’s not for you. You have the choice then to either keep going or to quit.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU KEEP GOING?
Even though you know that you don’t want to be doing what you are doing, you feel relieved, because at least you stick to what you wanted.
You keep doubting what you do. But now it seems to make even less sense to change your dreams because you put so much time into it.
You will miss out on being really, truly fulfilled in your life. There is always going to be that nagging thought that keeps you up at night.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU QUIT?
The first thing that might happen when you quit might be feeling awful and lost. You maybe even feel like a loser, because you didn’t finish whatever you had in mind. When talking to anybody you feel even worse, because you think that they think that you are a loser.
So far quitting doesn’t sound like a good option. But after phase one, phase two kicks in. This is when you start to feel relieved that you made your decision. When you make new plans and develop new dreams.
You pursue your new dream happily, until the next one emerges.
When reading those two scenarios it seems easy to find out which one to follow. But why is it so hard to do?
WHY ARE WE SCARED TO QUIT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
#1 We don’t want to waste our time
You put so much effort in pursuing your old dream, wouldn’t it be a waste of time pursuing a new one? Of course you can see it that way. But you also went through some valuable lessons. Imagine a mum raising her son. When he is 24 he dies. Would the mum say it was a waste of time and resources raising her son, because he didn’t make it to the end? I am sure not.
Who knows if your “wasted years” are exactly what you need in order to succeed in life. You are not able to judge it yet. You have no idea what the future holds for you. So don’t ever judge anything from the past as a waste of time, money, energy or whatever. It’s something you did, it’s your story.
What to do about it?
I was sitting – mostly by myself – for half a year writing on my PhD. It stressed me out. It was no fun, and all I did was reading a lot of the same books. Three years prior to that I constantly thought about what to write about. I spend so much time doing that, often missing out on the other good stuff in life. When I quit, my first thought was, damn it, I wasted so much time on this. I could have made some money, instead of doing something that I will never use again.
But it turned out, only three months later, I started a Blog, based on the ideas that I developed for my PhD thesis.
You never know what it’s good for.
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. John Barrymore
#2 We are drawn to short term fixes
If you keep doing what you are doing, despite all odds, it’s a short term fix, that doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run. It’s like eating the chocolate now, even though you know it makes you fat and unhealthy.
It’s awesome to follow your dream, but while pursuing your dreams, you change, and so do your dreams. You need to accept that.
What to do about it?
This seems almost to banal to mention. But I’ll tell you nonetheless, because I think it’s utterly important. Write down the pro’s and con’s of your current situation.
For me, to keep writing my PhD meant:
- Doing something boring. I noticed how science was so much rewriting of old stuff in order to make new stuff. Using old ideas in new sentences, so you can’t be blamed for copying it. So this was all I did. Reading, rewriting, reading, rewriting. When outlining the plot for my paper I noticed that only about 5% of what I will be writing will actually be new. The most. Probably less than that.
- Working in dictatorship.Scientific writing reminded me of dictatorship. There are so many rules. You have to quote exactly like this, you can’t use those words, you have to do this, you can’t do that. I am not a person who has an easy time following rules, so this was a nightmare for me.
- Writing something nobody would ever care to read. Ok, maybe my parents. But I don’t think even my god father would have read it all, let alone anybody else. So think about it. You do something for about three years, and nobody is ever going to see it? I can’t blame people for not reading it. I wouldn’t want to read it myself. Science is awesome. Scientific papers are boring.
- Doing nonsense. I read Chris Guillebeau’s book about „the art of non-conformity“, where he points out a lot of the nonsense, not just about a phD, but also about tons of other social norms.
The only pro a PhD got me was getting me into the scientific field, but I noticed I don’t want to be in there. I love research. But I love independent research. So any kind of institution seemed unappealing to me.
Comparing the pro’s and the con’s made the decision easy.
To actually base your decision on the pro’s and con’s you should keep the short term as well as the longterm pro’s and con’s in mind.
#3 We are scared of the unknown
Change scares us, because the prehistoric part of our brain (the amygdala) tells us to be careful, to go slow, to back off, to stay where we are, because we know it’s safe.
There are two different mindsets. The growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset believes you are either good or bad, there is nothing you can do about it. It’s your inherent nature.
A growth mindset believes you can be good at anything. It’s up to you and your actions.
What to do about it?
The fixed mindset, the prehistoric programming, is what dominates our actions. In order to overcome it, we have to be conscious of it. When you are conscious about your fixed mindset you have the choice to either follow it or to overcome it.
I have a quote on my wall saying “Do things that bring you closer to what you want.” I don’t know whom it’s form, but it’s one of the simplest and most motivating quotes there are on my wall.
When you pursue your dream ask yourself if it really brings you closer to what you want. And accept that what you want will most certainly change during your life. That’s why it’s called growth.