“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
– Jim Carrey
I love big dreams. I love to encourage all my students to pursue their biggest and best dreams. But… there is one dream I have difficulty with: My response to anyone who tells me that they want to get a PhD is “Don’t.”
That’s right. I’ve been a PhD dream squasher. I try to talk people out of it. I recommend a master’s degree. I make faces about getting a PhD. I have believed that it’s good for people to have a realistic view of what I thought to be an excruciating process.
Thanks to an encounter at Trader Joes, I’ve changed my mind.
A young gentleman was checking me out at Trader Joes this weekend (and by that, I mean pricing my groceries) and said he was graduating soon. I told him I worked at the university. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a professor.
He said, “Oh! I’ve always wanted to be a professor. But, I don’t think I could live on an adjunct salary.”
I squeaked, “What? Why would you have to be an adjunct?” An adjunct is a part-time instructor who sometimes doesn’t even need a PhD.
He said, “Oh, because it’s so hard to get a full time job these days. I don’t think I could do it.”
I stood there with my wallet flapping open. I wondered, “Did that really just happen? Did he really just do that?”
Yes, he did. He squashed his own dream. I didn’t even say a word about it.
Now, he doesn’t even need to apply to grad school. He doesn’t even need to take a class. He doesn’t need to pass comps. He doesn’t need to even write one word of a dissertation. Why? Because he knows he will fail to get a job… before ever even starting.
I said, “You know, people will always tell you that things are difficult. If you really want something, you can do it. It might be tough, but you’re tougher.”
He said, “I like your attitude!” and I said thanks. I like it too. There are things about myself I struggle to love, but I really love that I encourage people to chase their dreams.
Dreams are beautiful. They are colorful, vibrant pictures that only we can see. They flirt with us. They whisper and hum and sing to us. They hold the promise of so much joy.
Dreams deserve to be respected. Honored. Loved.
Dreams deserve to come true.
So many people in this world are scared. They play small. They get nervous when the people around them start dreaming.
Scared people will tell you to play it safe. Take the practical job. Take the job that pays the most. The one with the best benefits. The one in that industry that’s growing, because you need security.
Scared people will tell you that you can’t get that dream job. There’s too much competition. There’s not enough positions. There’s not enough money for everyone to be rich.
Scared people say that they are “just being realistic.”
That’s what I used to think.
The truth is, I struggled in my PhD program. It was tough. It drained me. I suffered, and I don’t wish that on anyone else, so I get scared and tell them to stay away. But just because I suffered doesn’t mean anyone else will.
Stay out of other people’s dreams.
Take a moment alone, without anyone else’s energy. Get quiet. Look at your dream. What’s in that colorful picture? What is the whisper, the hum, and the song that only you hear? What would fill you with so much joy?
Don’t let anyone squash your dreams.
Don’t ever squash anyone else’s.
And most importantly, please don’t ever squash your own.
Protect your dreams. Honor them. Love them. Fight for them.
Only you can make them come true.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.