To EdD or Not to EdD, That is the Question

I’m 53 and 1 week.  Two days after my birthday I received a letter of acceptance to the EdD program at University of Vermont.  How many years have I been telling people, “Oh yes.  I’ve thought about getting my PhD.”?

Now I’m poised on the brink of making a major life decision.  Do I need an EdD at my age?  Is pursuing an EdD my version of a midlife crisis?  Clearly I’m not normal enough to simply rush out and buy a sporty red convertible.  Nooooo, not me…I apply to a top ranked university’s graduate program and get accepted.  Now I’ve come face-to-face with “someday.”

Earlier this evening I created a survey monkey (which I promise I have NOT sent out to friends and family) thinking that maybe I should crowd-source this idea since moving from KS to VT would constitute a major life change in every way possible.  (I’m not just referring to differences in snowfall between KS and VT.)

I felt passionate at the time of my application – truly.  And when I read the research coming out of faculty at UVM and read the course descriptions I could choose from I get all wide-eyed and inspired.  So what’s contributing to my hesitation?  Perhaps I considered myself such a long shot that I wasn’t really prepared for a positive outcome.  With an acceptance letter looking me in the eyes, I’m not only forced to do my due diligence about UVM (my ticket is booked and campus visits are scheduled) I’m forced to get very real about my life purpose, meaning, and passions before making any further decisions.

  1. What do I want to do, say, pursue, or create that I can’t do as successfully without an EdD? I stumbled on the following quote from Carson Tate’s book, “Work Simply.”  Writing about a client who was “spinning out of control” from trying to live up to the many “shoulds” in his life, Tate describes her client as no longer being able to “separate his priorities and goals from the culturally imposed shoulds playing like a heavy metal rock band in his head.”  (Tate, p 22)   Tate’s example illuminates something very relevant that I have to consider about myself; do I want an EdD (or PhD) more than anything else in life or do I feel like I should get an EdD (or PhD) because it’s “culturally imposed” by the system in which I currently work?  (If anyone’s actually reading this post and wants to weigh in, knock yourself out with the “Respond” button.)

2. Is education my passion or is educating myself my passion? UVM’s website offers a t-chart comparison of program elements in the EdD vs PhD degree that includes a succinct comparison of the primary career intentions, and purpose and emphasis of the two degrees along with technical comparisons like differences in the dissertation expectations and research methods.  This is a helpful place to begin, but I’ve realized that my essential question is really about life-fulfillment as much as career fulfillment.

These two questions alone bring me to the crossroads of success (when is enough, enough) and passion (how to identify passion versus whim or excitement).  And from this intersection I stumbled on a fantastically amazing book by Jon Acuff, “Quitter:  Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job.”  Acuff writes:

“Focus on your passion first.  Your passion will always fuel your plan.  Rarely will a plan fuel a passion.  It will contribute.  It will shape it.  It will most certainly help it.  But the biggest leaders, the most successful people, will tell you a passion for something drove them long before a plan did.”

On the other hand, Acuff also points out the realities of following a passion:

“Hustle isn’t just doing the things you love all the time.  Hustle is doing the things you don’t enjoy sometimes to earn the right to do the things you love.”

Many years ago when I was competing professionally in culinary arts it was pretty easy to assess whether I was improving my passion cooking.  Scoring, judges, competition guidelines all made the expectations for “success” very clear.  Looking back I realize that improving my ability to cook well was certainly something I pursued relentlessly even though the competitions were incredibly stressful, but what really fueled my passion for cooking well was my love of providing other people (my family, my friends, my clients, even the judges) with an experience of eating food that I had prepared lovingly, creatively, and purposefully to enhance their lives and possibly even forever eliminate their misgivings of eating a certain food.  My cooking changed people’s experience of eating.  It enhanced their celebrations.  It made an indelible, edible mark on their memories.  The higher I moved up in the professional competition circles, the more unsure I started feeling about my abilities.  When I sold my catering company I no longer had the tools I’d become accustomed to having at my disposal to create my art.  When I sold my catering company I also lost my audience,  and when I lost my audience I no longer had a purpose for creating.  The book “Fast Food Nation” was published within weeks of having sold my business (this was long before it acquired the cult following it now enjoys) and the book caused me to consider whether cooking professionally was a scourge upon the earth and upon people’s health.  Along with challenges I was facing in my marriage (we would eventually divorce) I didn’t realize that the combination of all these circumstances was pushing me into a serious depression.  But that’s all in the past…

As I consider old passions, previous life experiences, and meaning-making at the crossroads of 53 I realize that whether it’s cooking and food, or education and being educated it serves me well to consider what relationship exists between competition and passion.  Do we (have I) confused passion with competition because I’ve never examined the connection of competition to cultural expectations?  Acuff writes:

“Competition is a great motivator but a horrible measurement…In other words, you can’t allow your result or the measurements of your progress to control your dream.  What you do, the message, so to speak, has to be true and honest and come from the core of what you care about, not be a whim in the whirling winds of [fill-in-the-blank].”

Fill-in-the-blank…is pursuing a doctorate (at UVM or anywhere) a whim, a dream, a passion, an expectation?  Does this pursuit “come from the core of what [I] care about”?

And finally, Acuff points out:

“And although it might look like an opportunity, maybe even a [great] opportunity, saying yes to the wrong thing ultimately take you one step away from doing what you really want to do….it’s incredibly easy…to say yes to the wrong things.” (p 193)

To EdD or not to EdD?  Time will tell.

A Year of Being 53

On March 16, 2016 I will turn 53. I downloaded an app called 53 on Paper three or four years ago, look at it occasionally on my iPad, but have never created anything with it because it feels overwhelming. After all, I was born and have lived most of my life in a time before digital art and digital journaling were even possible. But I want to change my life — really, I mean this…I need to change my life.

And then the irony of it all struck me and I thought…since I’m turning 53 maybe I should be “53 on Paper” for my entire year of being 53. You know, like a sort of “poster child” for being 53. I’m a strong writer, currently an ESL teacher to adult refugees and migrants, and formerly a professional chef. I’ve always been curious about the world around me and finding my place in it. It just seems that the color and beauty and artistry have evaporated from much of my life and I would like a coach or guide to mentor or help me recreate the beauty, revitalize my curiosity, and understand how living creatively in the digital landscape is actually supposed to work. I’ve looked at some of the beautiful things in the 53 gallery and I wonder…could mastering Paper help me transform my life? But the prospect of starting the journey alone and learning so many new skills alone stalls me out. Where do I even start?

Maybe other 53 year olds are also struggling to figure out what it’s going to take to reinvent themselves or reimagine how to live fully engaged in a world that’s wildly different than the one we were born into nearly a half-century ago…that sounds ridiculous… I was born more than a half-century ago!

I’m serious about this life-project.  And maybe my words will attract other folks who are wondering what it’s like to Be 53. If so I would really like to hear from you. Never before have I put an idea out into the universe like this – of course, when I was born we called thoughts like this “prayers” which were said mostly silently and to oneself. The internet makes it possible to verbalize through the Great Web. But is there any more probability of receiving an answer? Time will tell.

I promise, I’m not a flake. I’m a very real person. Thanks for reading.