A friend and I were having mulled wine last night, while also mulling over our future career choices. I shared this quote that’s been on my mind since ‘Madiba’ passed away last week, questioning aloud how well I follow his advice.
I’ve been getting ready to apply to a PhD program for the past month. I developed a research topic/theoretical lens, got advice from former professors, made a list of potential supervisors to approach etc. Full steam ahead was the plan. Whatever the situation, big or small, I usually have a plan. I actually plan the night before, to plan my day out in the morning when I wake up.
I am quite capable of NOT planning. Give me a backpack and some cash and I’ll happily hit the road – any road – without an itinerary. But since childhood, I’ve considered that wandering, care-free part of me as secondary in importance. I have goals that need to be fulfilled, a vision in my head of what successful-me looks like. Successful-me always makes good choices. Choices based on my strengths and things that I enjoy, certainly. But safe, easy choices, nonetheless. Choices borne out of both hope and fear. I completed two academic degrees because I love to learn, but also because I feared not being seen as qualified or smart – two identity characteristics that are really important to me.
Choosing to do a doctoral degree is the next safe and easy career-building choice for me. I’m comfortable in academia, I love to learn and would thoroughly enjoy the topic I’ve chosen. But when I’m very honest with myself, the reason I want to do it is because I’m scared shitless. Scared that I don’t know exactly what to do next, to keep crafting the oh-so-successful-future-me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy building my business, I enjoy my field, I enjoy the work that I do. But I want to do more as well. I want to develop a speciality, a niche, and I want to be part of creating strong, vibrant communities. It’s just, the details of that are a little fuzzy right now.
Instead of building on that hope and exploring what that could be, fuzzy as the details are, I figured I better just revert back to making a plan. The scared part of me asked myself why I would tackle the unknown when there was a good, solid, safe option available.
Someday, I probably am going to do PhD studies. But until the day that I choose it with a whole-hearted, hope-filled, fear-free reason, I refuse to follow that path simply for the sake of having a concrete step forward. I’m going to learn how to thrive without a firm plan. So that when I do choose my next plan, it’ll be with intent, based on what I most hope for my future – not fear of failing to appear successful.