Be Smart Now or Be Smart Later? An Adventure in Personal Decision Making
I’ve wanted a PhD for a while in fact I even started one, got the scholarship and was writing up the research proposal. The whole deal. Then events transpired to scuttle my plans when my father died and all of a sudden my whole world got turned upside down. Recently however, the decision of whether or not to launch into the doctorate has come back around, triggered by a kind of two-for-one type scenario as my current work is about to entail a considerable amount of research.
One of the mottoes I love most and sometimes throw ruthlessly at my clients is “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. So I thought I’d better take this opportunity to conduct a goals mapping exercise. A personal audit. Right? Because one of the essential ways we start our decision making process as professionals is to ask ourselves — “what is this for?”
Enter the re-frame. I heard recently from one of my fellow students that the framing of the goal is almost as important as the decision to be made itself, and I say yes! So I took a deep dive into my yearnings along the five dimensions of personal growth, social, moral (humanitarian), lifestyle, and practical, taken from Tim Urban’s immensely funny and oh-so-profound blog Wait But Way.
Turns out my innocuous seeming original question exploded into a full frontal exposé of how I want to spend my time and live my life! And I’m glad it did. Because the re-framing of the question unearthed what’s important for me in a way the framing of the original question would never have even touched.
With my goals clear I circled back to the decision at hand: PhD now or PhD later? Or just plain no? This is where the process can get tricky, so stay with me. Under the option Yeah I should totally sign myself up for that I listed all the things that would need to occur for a PhD to work out. For it to be a good choice I’d need to find the right supervisor, probably wind up in a career in academia, or instead it would at least need to lend credibility to some future consulting career, and I’d definitely need to stay interested in, and committed to, this enormous project for the long-haul slog. As for saying no to the PhD, what would need to happen for that to be a good choice? Well I’d need to have some alternative project that did a better job of getting me closer to my goals, I’d need to feel like my time and energy were being spent better elsewhere. And for each of all these different dependencies, what are the odds?
Place Your Bets
Sometimes, decisions can seem like the most intuitive things in the world, we can almost make them without a second glance. And then one day a real one comes along and we’re left wondering why nobody ever taught us in school how to navigate the jagged rocks of our own biases and blindspots. I’m so glad I was guided through the process of exposing my faulty logic and real hidden motives. In the end, for me, now, the PhD is a terrible choice. The odds of it getting me to where I want to go are slim. What the two-for-one deal almost sold me was a 5+ year detour away from what I really want, which is more freedom with my time, allowing me to explore a side-business so I can start scaling down my hours. And I would have never got there if I’d kept listening to my ego banging on about status and getting called “Dr”.
I think I’ll stick with being smart now.