Nine years ago today, I was experiencing an existential crisis. Not in terms of my physical existence, but in terms of that which made me who I am. I had embarked on a particular (and particularly difficult) path and I was wholly unsure of my ability to succeed. Today, nine years later, I can report that I was both able to succeed and that I did not succeed — not entirely. However, I did not quit, not then, anyway. There would come a time when I would have to make a decision to end the quest for a PhD, but that would be down the road another couple of years.
I wrote about it and posted it on Facebook. It wasn’t the first time I became vulnerable on Facebook, but it was significant. It felt, to me, like so much whining, but I knew it went way deeper and I was literally out of answers. I needed release even if it was a virtual tantrum (don’t bother looking for it — it is filtered to “just me” now). I posted it and then went for a ride, neglecting the mountain of work I had to do. My mantra was then as it is now, when in doubt — motorcycle.
By the time I got back, there were more than 100 comments from both real and Facebook friends expressing support — all kinds of support. Some had real-world, similar experience that I could wrap my head around, others said shit like (and this could only come from someone I respect), “Are you fucking crazy, look how far you’ve come?” Because, among the viable options I laid out, quitting grad school was one of them. In the end I decided I really had little choice but to push on. But it is important to note that had I not vented as I did, leaving it to marinate while I took a ride and then coming back to read what everyone wrote, I very well could have imploded.
What ended up happening, a couple of years later, is that I did quit (sort of), but not in a knee-jerk way that it would have been if I just threw up my arms in frustration and split. And, although I “quit” the PhD (I made it as far as candidacy, what they call ABD — “all but dissertation”), I did have more than enough coursework and other requirements completed for another MA degree — this one from LSU (my first was from Sac State). I also have a shit-ton of experience in a PhD program at an R1 university, went to and taught at an SEC school and I lived in Baton Rouge for almost four years. None of that is nothing. But it’s not a PhD. For 360 or so days of the year, I do not regret that decision, but it’s a decision I might not have been able to make had I not “whined” to Facebook nine years ago. As far as “who I am?” I’m pretty good with that, too.