What I think, feel and believe: Ice cream & education

I applied for an EdD program over the winter. A couple of weeks ago I got accepted. I now have one more week to accept the offer. Should I do it?

This week that question slammed into another question What kind of ice cream do I like?

Back story: Almost 20 years ago I accidentally married an abusive man. I put his needs first and then my kids’ needs and then the need to protect the kids. Along the way, I got an intimate education about our policing, protective and legal systems. Long story short, I survived.

Along the way I built a career first based on what I needed to do: feed my kids and later on based what I’d learned to do: foresee problems, overcome obstacles and solve complex problems that require navigating complex systems. And I’m good at it.

Need to redesign training for 10,000 employees in 3 countries, successfully hire 1600 people in 6 months, address a performance problem or implement a new learning environment? It’s what I do. Solve problems. Cut through the emotion and chaos to identify what needs to be done. Implement other people’s projects. I’m good at it.

My survivor brain has taught me how to turn what look like insurmountable obstacles into a series of doable task check lists. Turns out most of what people think is insurmountable really is possible. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Back to ice cream. As things have settled in my life over the past year, I started to struggle with a flood of feelings suppressed by my survivor brain so I started going to counselling. This week we talked about the need to connect with what you think, feel and believe after trauma. I told her I don’t even know what kind of ice cream I like. She told me that was an excellent place to start.

So I started thinking about ice cream. And the luxury, the privilege of being able to choose one that you like. Just because. Paying attention to flavours, tasting, being engaged. Leisure to learn what matters to you. Decadence.

Then I thought about something my oldest daughter said recently, “Mom, we’re older now. You should do what you really want to do.” My daughter’s good at telling me what I should do. Usually, it’s adding a couple more tasks to the checklist. Maybe this was too.

And so (finally) back to the original question about the EdD. Should I do it?

I got some good practical advice today: If you have to ask what you want to study, don’t start a PhD. My survivor brain tells that is sound advice. I don’t know what I want to do, it’s going to cost a lot of money, and has no clear benefits. It’s not practical, unneeded, better ways to spend your time.

And yet… How am I ever going to follow my daughter’s advice and do what I really want to do if… I was going to say if I don’t know what I want to do, but then realized that’s not true.

I do know what I want to do. I want to connect with what I think, feel and believe. I want to see what I might see if I take the time to get beyond other people’s checklists, to invest that kind of time into something that I care about, just because.

I’m not completely without ideas: Lately all roads I’ve travelled have led to the intersection/ collision of fact and story, listening and empathy.

I’m just not completely sure how to move those fuzzy ideas forward.

I do know that it’s going to take time doing something different, something that involves paying attention to and being engaged, just because. It means dedicating my leisure time to thinking that is not practical and probably ill-formed. It probably will also involve rewiring my survivor brain – challenging everything that has served me well over the past 20 years and choosing which bits to keep. I know that to let go of some of those survival tactics, I’ll need external structure and support.

It sure sounds like the kind of the thing education ought to support you in.

While perhaps not best described as “fun” making the space to do this kind of thinking possible is a privilege that I don’t take lightly.

I’m not sure a doctoral program is the right path. But when I turn off my head and heart, my gut tells me it’s a path and my gut has proven to be the smartest part of me on multiple occasions. And well… I’ve failed at more important things that this 😉

With special thanks to Maha Bali, Laura Gogia and A. Michael Berman for encouraging me down this path of thinking.



4 thoughts to “What I think, feel and believe: Ice cream & education”

  1. Whew. Was not expecting that. The world is a better place because you are a survivor.

    I think our guts are often the smartest parts of us, too 🙂

    If I understand correctly, EdDs are usually more practice-focused and structured than PhDs. This means that as long as u start off knowing u like ice cream in general, u will get courses to try different flavors and toppings before you have to do a dissertation (which is usually shorter than a PhD dissertation).

    All of which means not knowing what area of Education you want to study is less important… So long as you know you care about education in general.

    1. Thanks Maha. Not sure about the “better place” but appreciate the sentiment.

      And despite multiple attempts to go in different directions, there is something magical about the concept of learning that draws me back, gives me hope. Just need to find the right combination of flavours and toppings best suited to me 😉

  2. Thank you for writing this. I followed the link from Twitter…

    When I found myself in a similar situation, my ice cream selection led me to follow my amateur entomologist path. Now I read about bugs when it’s cold outside and observe and photograph them when it’s warm.

    It is a luxury to learn and do what you love. Enjoy your hard-earned ice cream.

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