Q: Many years ago, I finished all my classes in a Ph.D. program at a top 10 university, but for some reason — I can't recall why — I didn't go through with writing my dissertation. It has bothered me for all these years, but I never even looked into finishing it. I don't know whether I can go back or what would be required of me to complete it. I feel it's one of my greatest failures in life, since I am normally not a quitter.
I think I was too young at the time to understand the value of attaining my Ph.D. I'm financially set now and no longer need to work, so is it silly or superficial of me to pursue it? It would require my writing a dissertation and possibly taking a few more courses to update certain subjects. I am in my 50s and wonder if I am too caught up in the prestige of the doctorate. After all, I have no idea what I am going to do with it now. But I disappointed my family, who is very important to me, and myself by dropping it, and I can't seem to stop that feeling of failure. And yes, it is failing to have completed everything but the dissertation. I still don't know why I did what I did. I do know I did not have a good excuse.
A: The only thing that's silly is to be afraid of checking into finishing your doctorate. If the university tells you that you'll have to retake all the courses, this requirement itself may change your mind about pursuing it. Having the facts is going to help you decide your future activities. Assuming you are not preparing to quit life in your 50s, attaining your doctorate is not more superficial than deciding to travel the world. A good decision is one you think will satisfy your inner desires.
Some people do a 360-degree career change and continue to work, even though they don't need to; some people travel worldwide and rejoice in not having to work; some discover a new hobby or skill never previously considered. Your choices of what to do with your time are endless, now that you don't have to work. You have an opportunity now that many never see.
If this decision seems overwhelming, several sessions with a psychologist should help you get in touch with your interests and motivation. No one can tell you what to do with your future, but a psychologist can guide you into finding your focus to make an educated decision.
Once you decide, try it, knowing that decision doesn't have to be final. You are allowed to change your mind, and those changes in desires and directions don't equal failure. As you find out more about yourself, you will be better able to narrow your choices. The more open you are to your feelings, the better your decisions will be. You have only yourself to please.
If you had considered going for counseling when you first decided to not complete your doctorate, you might have saved yourself years of feeling like a failure or quitter. Now you have the advantage of age and experience, and are free from parental influence and the need to work. Allow yourself the freedom to choose again and again, if need be, and enjoy that independence.
Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @I_truly_care. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at www.creators.com.