Thursday, March 20, 2008


I'm thinking of leaving Harvard at the end of the academic year. I'm thinking Harvard just might be too hard.

I'm not talking about the work; I mean, the work is very difficult, but I don't mind that. But to do the work well, the rest of one's life gets so much harder. And since Harvard is not the goal for me, but simply part of the journey, I'm wondering if I just don't want to take another path.

All my relationships have suffered since I've been here: with TM, with friends, with family, with art. I'm going through feelings of self-doubt and insecurity that I just don't think are necessary at this point in my life. Of course one would think that if I am aware enough to say these things, then maybe I could just start to feel more confident, more self-assured.

Ah, there's the rub...the "Big H" that people use to refer to Harvard isn't just the reputation the name gives you in the real world. It's also the feeling that seeps in your soul while you're within its walls. The feeling that "they" have it all figured out, so if something is askew it has to be you. It's the way Harvard values precision, efficiency, and a certain type of critical thinking while simultaneously devaluing creativity, exploration, and questioning for its own sake.

It's very difficult to be both strong and vulnerable here. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I believe that is part of being human...or that it should be. I know that is when I'm at my best: when I'm confidently scared. These days, I'm nowhere near my best, even as I get "A"s on my papers.

I guess I won't really know what I'll do until it's time for registration for next fall. I'm going to visit friends in NYC for part of my Spring Break...that should definitely help.

I'll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

I have thoughts but I'll share them later.

beebs said...

Wow- I am just catching up with you on this blog- sorry! Since both our moves we have not been able to keep in touch. But I just want you to know that it takes a really brave person to voice doubts about one's decisions- especially leaving the big H. I do however think that perhaps a mini break will do you well and you may not feel like you have to quit. I hope you're holding up OK. Every day that I am out here I wonder why I gave up so much. But then something little happens that holds me together. This is a rough time for so many people- something planetary I suppose. Either way, I genuinely believe that you can do this! But if you decided to not do this- I genuinely believe that you would be making the right decision for yourself. You have a good head- remember that.


Anonymous said...

i left college before finishing and looking back I wish I had just plowed through...of course if it is making you miserable that's not good, but I think to some degree all grad students are do have a superior intellect and maybe you can just think of Harvard as one tool you'll have in your toolbox to have the kind of life you want, make the kind of contribution you are capable of. It;s good that you can see harvard's attitude as different from yours, maybe you can pick and choose the good and the bad from this program and use it to your advantage,
have a nice break!!! V

Merkey said...

I can't speak to Harvard's character but some of the feelings you've mentioned are similar to those new phd students talked about when I was at Michigan. There's a lot of stuff going on, you've just moved, you're trying to re-establish yourself socially (HUGE undertaking, takes for ever) and maintain old relationships. And you're starting something completely new in an environment that is designed to challenge and push your limits and make you defend every position you take.

The first year of a phd is daunting, you have to literally come up with the "5-yr plan": what are you going to study (specifically), how are you going to do it, where's the money going to come from, what resources do you have (much shorter list than listing what you don't have and need), a mountain of coursework, etc. And because you're trying to maintain portions of your former life, you're getting pulled in many different directions.

As I mentioned, you're not alone, you're feelings of frustration and questioning whether or not this is right for you are things that almost EVERY phd student goes through (except those freaks that somehow get it all done in 3-yrs - mutants). Many of us take time off, or quit altogether anywhere along the line. So, what you're doing now is normal, healthy introspection and re-evaluation. Finishing a phd is not easy even with almost complete devotion on your part and a lot of understanding and support from those you ask it. If you don't have those two things . . . then maybe a phd isn't right for you, at least not right now. But if you do quit, you have to accept that decision and just move on and not beat yourself up about it. You have to accept it because, you're still a good person, smart, lovely, and there are lots of people who care about you whether or not you get to put "Dr." in front of your name. If you don't accept that decision, you will have the same regrets as the previous poster.