Story of My Life

March 16, 2013

in random

One of my 10-year-old’s favorite conversation starters with me is the fact that I have a Ph.D. in theatre (and from a very prestigious program and school too. Please allow me to brag. I kind of need a little bit ego booster lately. In addition, I am reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and felt vindicated when she said that women do not share with others our accomplishments often enough for fear of not being liked. But of course, I digress)

Perhaps because children are more honest and straightforward, they instinctively know the most vulnerable place to aim? Or perhaps my child, Mr. Monk, is a future David Frost in the making. Either way, he has a talent of asking me questions that make me feel cornered. I have no answer to any of them, or perhaps I simply don’t want to answer. Afraid to.

“And you are not using your degree at all? Then why did you get it?”

“Isn’t it a waste?”

“Do you remember anything?”

“Is anything that you learned useful?”

“What good is your Ph.D. degree then?”

“Why didn’t you do something with it? Why didn’t you fulfill your potential?” Yup, he said that.

We would be doomed if our kids ever turn the table and ask us to assess our lives with the encouraging words that we use to inspire them.

“Have you reached for the stars and followed your dreams?”

“Have you lived your life to the fullest?”

“Why not?”

And we’d have to bite our tongue.

Finally, after much pestering which at that moment felt more like missile attacks, I looked him in the eye and confessed, “The reason why I refrain from answering these questions of yours, about why I did not do more with my life, is because anything that I want to say, if I am being honest, may be misinterpreted as I regret having ‘this life’.”

How apropos then that soon after our unavoidable heart-to-heart, we moved everything out from the basement and I decided that it’s time I threw away the research material for my dissertation.




The box contains three years of my life and more than ten years of secret self-delusion that I am a research scholar/academic/intellectual at large.

Farewell to secret double life that never was. I only wish that I could have set it ablaze to send it off in style instead of unceremoniously dumping it into the recycling bin.

Story of my life.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa April 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I have two masters degrees in a field that I thought was right for me when I originally pursued it, but, turns out, life had other plans. I ended up leaving my career abruptly with no-plan what-so-ever, and somehow landed in a place I never would have imagined. Go figure, I’m actually happy now. Like, really truly happy. Leaving my career was a blessing. So while I do sometimes wonder if my years of school (and subsequent lifetime of loans) were worth it, I follow by reminding myself that I’m not the same person now than I was when I chose my educational path; and even though I don’t use my education in the career I had planned, I DO still use it, just not in the same way. Sometimes that’s just how things go. At the end of the day, I’d rather be happy in a career that is completely different than what I had planned, than miserable in the profession of my training. Circumstances change…Que sera, sera. Better to roll with it and make the best of it than force something that isn’t right anymore.


Absence Alternatives April 6, 2013 at 11:46 am

Thank you. I realized that my regret comes from the current state of my life and has little to do with the past. If I were truly happy with where I am, I would probably not have looked back with … regret? sadness?


Secret Agent Woman April 3, 2013 at 6:25 am

If it helps, although I use my degree, I also have a dissertation gathering dust. No one other than my committee more than 20 years ago will ever read it and I’ve long since thrown out al the data and accumulated research that went with it.

The fact is, there is no one right path. We make the best decisions we can, sacrifice a dozen different roads to take another that is filled with good and bad. Not just in careers but in other big life decisions like kids and relationships. I don’t think there is an answer to any of it.
Secret Agent Woman´s last blog post…Secular Easter


Absence Alternatives April 6, 2013 at 11:45 am

Thank you! I won’t lie: it really does help to hear from so many of you who are in the same boat.


Velva March 28, 2013 at 8:16 pm

You have wasted nothing…..And have accomplished so much.

Velva´s last blog post…Wordless Wednesday


Absence Alternatives April 6, 2013 at 11:44 am

Thanks V! xo


Naptimewriting March 25, 2013 at 12:39 am

Oh, we need to have a long talk. Really long.

First of all, you are using your PhD. And not just in conversations with me. The ability of a human to zero in on a subject for 7 years, to analyze it and discuss it and dissect it with the best minds in the field is highly applicable to most workplaces. You need to know how to speak intelligently about a subject, research what you don’t know, write what you want to say, and critically analyze what others write or say. That is the doctoral candidate’s skillset just as it is the business leader’s skillset. Talk with him about transferable skills. The reality of transferable skills is the only thing that will get him through calculus. That, and the fun of it.

And now convince me to ditch the two boxes of work I keep saying I’ll finish, publish, and use as a starting point for my PhD. Tell me to stop that nonsense, even though I think my dissertation will be useful to feminist scholars for decades to come.

Disabuse me of my lofty midlife goals, subWOW. And tell me how my kids will mock me when I finish school just as they enter high school.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock.
Naptimewriting´s last blog post…Overwhelmed


Absence Alternatives April 6, 2013 at 11:44 am

Next time when we meet in SFO again, this will be the topic over glasses of wine… For now though, I am glad I got your moral support.


andrea March 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

Great post! Nicely said… I think is a matter or priorities and women tend to see their priorities more related to higher purposes than men. when I step down from my white male corporate career to rise my children I know that I would loose a very big an important part of my life… right there the day I resigned… but I was gaining the hugh opportunity to influence in the lives of my kids in a way not possible had I stayed in my job. I saw it as an opportunity and felt blessed to be able to have the choice.
I think this book more than its content helps to open the conversation but I really don’t like the patronizing tone of these successful women that are giving it all for their careers. We don’t know more than what we see in the news or read in their books and we as mothers, as working mothers, as women know that there is much more than that! We don’t only think but we live!!!

I saw the interview with Erin Callan former Lehman CFO “Don’t do it like me” where she candidly gives the other side of leaning in… this side to me sounds more real. I recommend it

What are we aiming for… success? what kind? In a career or in life? Are those the same? How do we define success… In my book it’s called happiness Do we know if these very successful working women are really happy? I know I am…


Absence Alternatives March 23, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Thank you! I don’t the answers to many of the questions that are being asked, or even though I ask of myself. But I do know that one crucial thing is No regret. If there is regret, then one becomes bitter and resentful. It will lead straight to unhappiness for everyone involved. I try to be mindful of this on most days but sometimes it creeps up on me…


BigLittleWolf March 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I love this post, in part because it reminds me that when I was pursuing my education not only was it expected to make a difference (and it did, but not necessarily by way of career), but the emphasis was on the joy of it, the journey, the experience, the clarity of scholarship which, I fully understand, most people would roll their eyes over today.

Don’t care.

Learning for the sake of it is important. That PhD is something you should be damn proud of, whether you used it or not. I still have my notes from Russian classes in college somewhere, my copies of Crime and Punishment, and Brothers Karamazov in Russian, with my tiny notations of words looked up as I painstakingly plodded through those masterworks in the original.

These are markers of our values, our discipline, our dreaming, our accomplishments. I refuse to allow the state of our contemporary culture to dismiss the pride in any of that – especially when you fought hard to get there and spent years – many years – to pay for it.

Shame on us as a nation for losing our moral compass in so many areas, not the least of which is the pursuit of learning and the value of pushing that individually challenging boulder up the hill like Sisyphus – and eventually reaching the summit.

The summit may not come with a title or bucks, but if we’re lucky, we “own” a summit by way of learning and accomplishment and that’s the “why” of it.

Change the conversation. Offer the answer which is itself the pursuit of the questions.
BigLittleWolf´s last blog post…Twenty-One


Absence Alternatives March 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I love this. Thank you. I don’t know what to say. Thank you doesn’t seem enough…

Even tho I understand the reason, I am wary of this heightened push for education in the STEM fields…


MSB March 19, 2013 at 8:55 am

Did you really throw it all away? Am I the only one sad about this???? Hopefully recycling day hasn’t happened yet. You go back and retrieve every last page. Right now! Someday you’re going to use it to write something. Something big. Okay, so you don’t necessarily need all those pages to piece everything together, and if you did, indeed, trash it all, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Still…

P.S. I love that you have a Ph.D. in Theatre. The theatre has always been my second home.
MSB´s last blog post…Greetings on a Cold and Wet Tuesday


Absence Alternatives March 20, 2013 at 2:27 am

Thank you. And I am sorry if I scared you unnecessarily. I did finish my dissertation: a 300-page tomb that nobody is ever going to read. Because of the subject matter, there is no use to turn it into a book now. And even if I have started doing so right after I got my degree, it would have taken me longer than 5 years I think to have it published. By then, the subject would have been outdated also. The lesson here: choose your dissertation subject carefully and take time into consideration – will the subject and things covered in your dissertation still make sense 5 years from now?


TheKitchWitch March 18, 2013 at 10:41 am

I’ll never forget the wench who said to me, “You have two Master’s degrees and you’re staying home with your kids? What a waste.”

TheKitchWitch´s last blog post…10 Things I Learned From Judy Blume


Ameena March 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I am so impressed! A PhD! I always admire those who can study because I was not a fan of school work. I’m just a bit too ADD I think? Good for you my friend, I think it’s awesome that you have a PhD in anything.

As far as Lean In goes…I am contemplating reading it. I have so many shortcomings when it comes to standing up for myself, etc. I’m hoping the book will give me a nice kick in the ass, you know?


Absence Alternatives March 17, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I would have written a long paragraph trying to convince you how my degree is actually worthless or even harmful if left to my own device. But having recently read the paragraph specifically on how women have trouble accepting compliments in Lean In, I am simply going to say, “Thank you.”

(But of course, deep down I am still worried that you are going to think I am a pompous ass… SIGH)

Yup, I hear you. That’s why this book is giving me so much pleasure. I think you will definitely want to pick up this book once reading this quote from the book,

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.

Oh Sheryl Sandberg,


S. March 17, 2013 at 4:33 am

My son (21) leaps directly to judgment. It gets extra tricky because what I can’t really say to him is “Listen, sweet-cheeks; the facts of you, your illness, and the priority I put on being the kind of mother I wanted to be is what defined what I have done with my so-called potential. You can thank me now.”


Absence Alternatives March 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Thank you for the Amanda Palmer In My Mind vid! Indeed it’s time that I watch it again. It has some healing power on my psyche. 🙂 And the way you put everything in perspective took my breath away. Thank you.


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