It’s Tough Changing One’s Direction

Posted: June 8, 2011 in Decision Making
Tags: , , , , ,

Dropping Out of School Is an OptionAfter nearly six years, many thousands of hours of effort and tens of thousands of dollars, I have made the difficult decision to stop pursuit of my PhD degree. Since July of 2005 I have been in Capella University’s PhD in Education program specializing in Instructional Design for Online Learning. I completed the courses and had a wonderful, successful experience passing comprehensive exams in August 2010. All of my touches with Capella University have been of the highest quality and I recommend the university to anyone interested in pursuing a degree.

But after finishing my comps something happened. Several somethings happened.

After grappling with the decision in the silence of my own mind and irregularly beating heart, I made the call two weeks ago to put that chapter aside and move on to what I envision for my future. That doesn’t involve another formal degree. It does involve much learning. I can’t imagine not constantly learning. But the subject matter and format and purpose for learning need to change.

Without getting into too many details, here are some of the factors in the decision:

  • After decades of requiring just a few hours of sleep a night and packing my schedule accordingly, I physically need more sleep now than I did just a year ago. I’m 54, so it’s probably high time I not keep a college student’s hours.
  • After working my typical 50-hour week for work, the last thing I want when I come home is to have to spend another 2-4 hours focusing on something as intense as doctoral research and writing.
  • The PhD pursuit was always for fun – never intended as a gateway to a different career. Oh, I thought I might teach a little on the side for some university afterward, but since I became a granddaddy on March 12 I haven’t wanted to spend my nonwork time doing more work for someone else beyond the 50 I already give. I have other lives to influence and memories to make.
  • It is not unusual for me to have one or two significant heart atrial fibrillations per year – nothing life threatening to date, but enough to get my attention. They have usually come at the end of some ginormously busy and stressful endeavor. In the last couple of months, that frequency rose to one or two a week. That made me nervous. I didn’t want to use that as an excuse to quit my studies, but I didn’t want to die in the process either.
  • As someone for whom Christian faith is important (I used to be in the ministry full-time years ago), I was bothered by the frequency with which I have said “no” to ministry opportunities in recent years because of the time commitment to the studies. And if I taught for a university after completion of the degree in 2012, I would likely continue to say “no” to such requests. But God doesn’t call us to plan on being faithful at some indefinite point in the future. He expects faithfulness now. There is work to be done. So the decision frees me to say “yes” to more avenues of service through my church.
  • In spite of the generous tuition reimbursement offered by my employer, I still racked up tens of thousands in personal debt in student loans over the past six years. That was dumb. Continuing to dig a hole deeper would be dumber. I should have pursued the degree on a pay-as-you-go basis or not at all. I should know better.

So after mulling over all of the above, I feel like a giant weight is off my shoulders having made the decision to go a different direction.

I will still be a lifelong learner. I have a passion for online community management and for the use of social media in learning. I spend many hours a week reading on my own time and following various respected leaders in those subjects on Twitter and elsewhere. What I am learning from these leaders daily benefits me now in what I do and in what I hope to be doing full-time in the near future, which is being the best online community manager I can be.

The experience of thinking through the process I’ve gone through in recent weeks raises some questions and some insights I’d like to share. There is nothing profound here, but sometimes we need to be reminded of simple truths.

  • It’s OK to change one’s direction. In fact, if you feel you’re headed down the wrong path and don’t change direction in order to keep intact some prior decision, what sense does that make?
  • As we grow and change and make new choices and have new choices thrust upon us, what is best from a formal learning or career path perspective may also change.
  • Most of what we learn for our work is learned informally. I believe in the Princeton 70-20-10 model which states that we learn 70% of what we need for our jobs on the job; we learn 20% through mentors and key relationships at work; and we learn the remaining 10% in those sporadic, brief formal learning experiences. I’ve spent enough time in the 10% sliver. It’s time to focus on the other 90% where the real meat is found.
  • In comparing my personal journey to your organization’s, are there previous decisions and long-term directions that have outlived their usefulness and need to be set aside to head in a new, updated and more appropriate direction?
  • Are we following through with previous decisions just because we feel we must while silently struggling with the wisdom and relevance of doing so? Do we have the courage to even discuss the need for a change, much less the courage to make the disruptive (but potentially invigorating) decision to change?
  • Are we able to swallow a little pride if need be regarding a change of direction? Tons of people knew I was pursuing my doctorate. I had two people at work today randomly ask me how the PhD is coming along. Pride is not a good reason to continue down a wrong path.

Before making the tough decision to quit the PhD program I had long talks with a few trusted friends and advisors. As good advisors, they wouldn’t tell me what to do, of course. They listened, asked questions and challenged me to ponder the pros and cons of each path. Having several trusted friends and colleagues to run things by is important. But, ultimately, I had to do what I believed to be right.

So now instead of writing chapters of a dissertation, I begin writing the next five chapters of my life: work, grandparenting, learning, and expanded ministry. I like where this direction is headed.

  1. Hello Jeff —
    I saw your posting over at the Social Learning Community and came here to learn more about your situation/decision. It appears we have many things in common:
    — I have been working at taking classes at Capella — in their Masters for Instructional Design for Online Learning
    — I, too, am a Christian who believes in the concept of a call — and the LORD is in charge of our steps
    — I love to learn these days and am a lifelong learner

    I especially appreciated your reflection about the memories you want to make and the lives you want to influence.

    May the LORD bless you and keep you as you change directions and heed His call. May such influence be yours,
    Daniel Christian and

  2. Jane Hebert says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I read your post in the SL community (Yammer). Thank you for sharing your thought process. I will keep this post close to me, and will certainly pass it along to family, friends and colleagues who feel the need to think things through, but are reluctant or hesitant to give themselves permission to do so.

    Again, Thank you.


  3. Pat Snarr says:

    Hi Jeff –
    “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven”. I’m happy that you have made a decision that lightened your load and opened your heart to other worthwhile and gratifying pursuits. Enjoy your grandbaby! I’m convinced that grand kids are our wonderful reward for putting our best efforts into parenting.
    May you have joy in your endevors,
    Pat Snarr

  4. Jeff Ross says:

    Thanks to @MarciaMarcia I just read Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. You’ll find it here: Stay Hungry. Stay foolish. You can see why it makes sense to me at this point in my life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s