I have finally figured out what I want to do with my life

Wow, I can’t believe I just typed that. But, it’s true, alhamdulillah—after 13 years of contemplation, I have finally decided that I want to be a professor of philosophy. More specifically, a Muslim philosopher who also teaches and writes.


I came to this groundbreaking decision with the help of an online workshop called “How to Make Your First $1,000 From Your Passions & Talents” (created by Scott Dinsmore of liveyourlegend.net), that I just finished listening to yesterday.

Let me clarify that my decision was not a direct result of this workshop; in fact, Scott remarked (wording not exact) that although getting a degree is one of the ways to build up credibility, it is a huge investment in time and money that requires serious consideration, and can often be an excuse for inaction on building your passion into a business. So, no, the workshop doesn’t tell people to get Ph.D.s. It just acted, in my case, as a catalyst for a thought process that eventually led me to this decision. For those who are interested, this thought process went as follows:

One of the the most important ideas I learned from the workshop was: no matter what your passion is, you can’t start making money from your passion unless you have something for people to buy.

This is obvious, but it really got me thinking: What tangible product can I offer people that can come out of my passion in learning (reading, listening to lectures) and philosophizing (thinking, writing)? I thought hard, and realized that when I learn things, I cannot possibly benefit anyone other than myself. The only way I can benefit other people is to share what I learn.

But then, I ran into two problems: 1) I do not currently have enough knowledge to share that people would find valuable, 2) Knowledge itself is not tangible.

knowledgeI decided to tackle the second problem first, because it’s easier: How can I make knowledge tangible? To get some ideas, I searched for “philosophy” on Udemy, a website mentioned workshop as one of the best websites for people to start making money from their passion.

This search led me to a critical thinking course taught by a philosophy professor named Kevin deLaplante, and in turn to his website, where I watched a video about his story. I was inspired by how Prof. deLaplante combined his passion for science, education, the visual arts, and philosophy into what he’s doing now: making animated educational videos on the philosophy of science.

His videos are a good example of making knowledge into tangible products. It also occurred to me that apart from videos, I could write books or design a course to teach in a classroom.

Then, all of a sudden, the essence of what I was trying to do here became apparent: Isn’t someone who sells knowledge as a product, quite simply, a teacher? You could sell your knowledge in the form of books, videos, or whatever, but essentially, you are teaching.

Teacher Pointing at Map of World

And then everything connected together: If my passion is learning, then I am destined to become a teacher. This was the moment I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

But I don’t know enough to teach yet. This was the first problem mentioned before. I sort of knew the answer to this already, though; I just wasn’t ready to accept it: There is no solution other than to study more.

I have finally convinced myself of this answer because I realized, using my empathetic skills, that sharing my amateurish understanding of anything I learn as I learn them was clearly not an option. Nobody would find what I share to be valuable.*

So, if I want to teach, I need to study more. In particular, if I want to teach philosophy, I would need a really deep understanding of at least one field of philosophy. This means that I would probably need study at the doctoral level, i.e. get a Ph.D.

So finally, I decided that I will get a Ph.D. in philosophy and become a professor. It is my hope that by becoming a philosopher and professor, I will be able arrive at some conclusion about what I study and share it with people by teaching classes and writing articles or books.

Admittedly, I had already “figured this out” three years ago, after completing my first real philosophy course and realizing my passion. I was just never able to take that leap of faith and go for it.

Here are some reasons for my hesitation:
1) I didn’t believe that I was cut out for academia,
2) I cared too much about what other people thought (“philosophy is useless”, etc.),
3) I didn’t really want to be a teacher (as a part-time job, I taught English and French to adult Taiwanese students online and found the job to be stressful).

But the most important reason was that: I had always thought that there were other more financially-secure and socially-acceptable options that I would be happy with. For example, maybe I could have a “practical” job while reading and writing about philosophy in my spare time. Or I could start my own business and do philosophy on the side.

After working for two years, though, I know that I was wrong, at least about the first option. I never really felt truly fulfilled in my jobs, and after work, I was often too tired to do anything I found meaningful.

The other option—starting my own business—is still a possibility. But since I have as yet no idea what kind of business I want to start, and since I have finally identified the job that is most compatible with my passion, I will attempt to take the academic route, first.

To be sure, the reasons for my previous hesitation are still affecting me: I am still greatly lacking in confidence, caring a little too much about what other people think, and very afraid of failing. But now, I think not even trying would be a bigger failure.

At one point this November, I had a panic attack and felt a huge pressure to find a job—any job. It was the day I applied for an account at a local bank. The lady asked me where I worked, and upon finding that I was unemployed, asked me for how long I had been so.

She didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it was clear that the expectation was there that I should find a full-time job as soon as possible. That night, I went on indeed.com, started editing my resume, and almost decided to apply for a full-time job that I didn’t want. And then, I caught myself: What am I doing? Am I going to repeat the cycle?


What I mean by “the cycle” is best expressed in this comment (from here): “When I was unemployed, I looked for a job because I needed a paycheck. Employed, I look for a job for sanity. Either way, life is crazy.” I echo these sentiments with great sympathy.

It’s a vicious cycle that I won’t fall into again, insha’Allah.

Here’s my immediate action plan: as a first step, find a part-time job that allows me to attend classes at a local college that offers continuing education programs for adults, and get a degree in mathematics, hopefully completing the degree in one year.**

Meanwhile, read scholarly literature on philosophy and attempt to narrow my interests; study for and take the GRE exam; and, of course, prepare to apply for graduate schools (contact previous professors for recommendation letters, conduct research on which schools to apply to, create my writing samples, etc.).

Honestly, I feel stressed out just thinking about all this. I feel insecure and uncompetitive. But I know that I want to at least try.

I will close this manifesto, as Scott concluded his workshop so powerfully, with this stirring quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


*Although I have to say that writing about what I have read is a great way for me to learn and is in fact exactly why I created this blog.

**I want to get a degree in mathematics because I believe that mathematics, as a language for expressing relationships, patterns, structures etc., is an indispensable tool for scientists and philosophers.

12/10/2014 Edit: Just saw the following on Quora and although I don’t know where the answerer got these statistics, I thought it would be a good reminder for me that it takes hard work and persistence to become really good at anything:

It will take you 1 year of serious study to be in the top 60% of anything in life. 
It will take you 2 years to be in the top 50% (the learning curve slope starts to flatten)
It will take you 3 years to be in the top 30% (where you will start making money at your passion)
It will take you 4 years to be in the top 10-20% (where you will start to make real wealth)
It will take you 5+ years to be in the top 10% where you will make real wealth. I’ve switched careers many times. Even if you have every lifehack in the book, this is what it takes to be GREAT at something you love doing. Great enough to make a living or even wealth at it. 

About sy2m

a student forever ... never stop seeking knowledge :)
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