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What Am I Going to Do With This?

April 14, 2012

I’ve been thinking about moral imagination lately. As William Deresiewicz describes, “the kind of imagination I’m talking about is moral imagination. ‘Moral’ meaning not right or wrong, but having to do with making choices. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life.” This was such a hard thing for me when I graduated from undergrad. When I graduated, I felt like I had been pushed out of a moving boat and left to swim aimlessly while worrying about sharks.

Growing up, I had this whole thing about wanting a job where “the weather matters”. I decided this the summer after high school when I was working for the Living Classrooms Foundation. I spent the entire summer living outside and scheduling my work around inconvenient thunderstorms. I thought it was great.

A couple summers later, I worked at a power plant as an engineering intern. I decided that I liked working in Operations. I like logistics and being in the field and “making shit happen”. As a child, I always liked party planning better than the party.

So maybe it’s weird that I’m in grad school now? If I like working in operations and being outside, why am I getting a PhD?

But I think it makes sense. I like the dreaming and creating part of the planning process. For me, getting a PhD is about spending time thinking about how to solve big problems like getting a society to use less electricity. Figuring out what to do in the first place is half the battle for “making shit happen”.

But maybe this grad school path isn’t dangerous enough? I was struck by the end of that article:

“And most of all, don’t play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else’s. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person.

It’s been said—and I’m not sure I agree with this, but it’s an idea that’s worth taking seriously—that you guys belong to a ‘postemotional’ generation. That you prefer to avoid messy and turbulent and powerful feelings. But I say, don’t shy away from the challenging parts of yourself. Don’t deny the desires and curiosities, the doubts and dissatisfactions, the joy and the darkness, that might knock you off the path that you have set for yourself. College is just beginning for you, adulthood is just beginning. Open yourself to the possibilities they represent. The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.”

In some ways, I agree with this. I like being challenged and doing things that I’m bad at. That’s part of why I felt like it was so important to take the marine technician job after I graduated. But I also want to do BIG things that AFFECT people. I think getting a PhD is useful for going down that path.

That being said, I don’t think I belong to a “postemotional generation”. I have a lot of feelings all the time. Sometimes I feel so incredibly open and full of possibilities that it feels like I’m racing down a hill on my bicycle. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t think getting a PhD is closing a lot of doors for me. I think it’s only closing doors that I wouldn’t want to open anyway.

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