The danger of over-planning + why I’m not doing a PhD (for now)

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. 


  1. Greg Gamble says:

    If we mature properly, that is, as we grow out of adolecsent subjectivity, becoming liberated from fears unknown, we will come face to face with our known fears. If and how bravely we stare them down determines the rest of our life from that point on.
    Mastering self is both a journey and destination that steers our choices like a compass. Choosing not to be afraid of ourselves is the secret strength that frees us from fearing anything or anyone. Then we are finally free to love unconditionally, even if we are not loved.
    As your dad, its pure joy to journey with you.

    1. abigailgamble says:

      Thanks, Dad 🙂
      I wouldn’t be making these choices if you hadn’t taught me how.

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