Ever since I made the post “I have finally figured out what to do with my life“, I have been taking small actions toward my dream of becoming a philosopher. But at the same time, I have also been second-doubting my decision more times than I can count. You can tell how unconfident I feel by my use of the word dream and not goal to describe my desire to become a philosopher. It is simply too untenable to be a goal, especially considering the extremely competitive nature of the selection process of PhD programs/terminal MA programs as well as numerous challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps I will write a little about this toward the end.
But first, I will write about what I did over the past two months and examine how closely I have followed my original plan during the past two months. Taken from the aforementioned post (written on Dec. 8, 2014):
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.).
So, basically, I wanted to 1) Find a part time job, 2) Begin studying mathematics at a local college. #1 hasn’t gone too well so far, although I did have the opportunity to do a 3-day software-testing gig that was a pretty interesting. As for #2, I have indeed begun taking classes at that local college, and my goal is to graduate in two years with a second bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. I had wanted to spend only a year on this project, but later realized that it was impossible. And in retrospect, even if it was administratively possible for me to get the degree in one year, I probably would have failed at my classes due to lack of time to study and understand the materials therefore still not been able to get the degree in one year. I say this with my recent renewed realization that: Math is hard! And I will have to spend a lot of time trying to understand what we study in mathematics.
This semester, I am taking “Calculus I” and a class called “Foundation of Mathematics” where we are supposed to learn how to perform mathematical proofs. To fulfill my business “gen ed” requirement (one that my previous university did not have), I am also taking “Accounting I”, which, by the way, is by far my easiest class. This was a surprising discovery because I had always imagined accounting to be difficult.
As I said, I had begun second-doubting myself not long after I decided that I wanted to be a philosopher. Over the past week or so, I’ve also had plenty of motivation to ponder over my decision to study mathematics before pursuing graduate studies in philosophy. There was a moment, for example, while I was doing my first homework assignment for calculus, where I felt like I was someone else observing a crazy person who was in fact, me. Why? Why would I do this to myself? Indeed, there was no explanation other than that I_am_crazy.
…Except that thankfully, there seems to be sufficient evidence that I am not (yet). The more I think about it, and the more I read, the more reasons I find to study mathematics. But that is topic for another post (which I hope will materialize soon).
Overall, I am satisfied with my performance over the past two months with regard to pursuing my dream. Despite my tense and sometimes sleep-deprived body and my stress- and anxiety-ridden mind, both of which the results of my choice to go back to school and study mathematics, I feel more peaceful and my soul more stable than ever before in the past two and a half years. My soul no longer feels lost or the desire to escape my current situation, or that I am wasting my life away (hey, this a zeugma): I know that what I am doing now is what I want to do the most in my life (i.e. getting closer to the truth).
Now that I know I am on the right path, at least for now, I just need to think more—a lot more—about if I really, really want to pursue that PhD.
Numerous times, I’ve googled topics on applying to philosophy grad schools and philosophy as profession: I really just wanted someone to convince me once and for all that I can become a philosopher. Unfortunately, I have found for myself far more reasons against this career choice than reasons for it. This was hardly surprising. I sort of knew it all along. But I have to say that I am nonetheless very disappointed and disillusioned by how dismal the future looks to even those who would be satisfied with just a modest career related to philosophy. So much competition. So little opportunity.
Are philosophers really that useless? Do they not add value to the human civilization by, among other things, trying to comprehend the metaphysical reality of the world? Wouldn’t knowing that reality guide us to the right course of actions in the metaphysical context, just as the knowledge of the physical world has guided and continue to guide us similarly in the physical context? Or perhaps philosophy is still too young a field for most to recognize its great potential to contribute to humanity? Perhaps we are still in the early process of building a solid foundation for philosophy and this makes philosophy currently a field that is akin to alchemy prior to chemistry?
I don’t know… I am just whining, really. I have been feeling especially tired and sad today as I thought again about all this. Through so many years of life experience and contemplation, I have finally decided on the most suitable career for me, yet it is almost impossible for me to even embark on that career…
Many pieces of advice have been floating around in my head: “You can only be a philosopher if you are either brilliant or independently wealthy.” (I am neither); “If you know for sure that you won’t become a professor of philosophy, will you still go for that PhD? If yes, then go for it.” (…); “Never go in debt for a philosophy degree.”; “Only do it if you can’t imagine yourself happy doing anything else.” (I can, in fact, imagine myself being happy doing something else); “It is almost impossible to contribute to philosophical knowledge without institutional support.” and so on and so forth, plus many depressing statistics I found related to the competitiveness of graduate programs.
But at the same time, there is a voice that’s been telling me: Be persistent! Don’t give up so easily! You will be able to discover some important truth by pursuing what you think is important! Don’t you love the truth? Isn’t philosophy what you want to do most in your life? Don’t you want to try to prove the truth of Islam through logic so that anyone with a rational mind can SEE the truth of Islam?
The question now is: Is this voice strong enough to defeat my tremendous insecurity over my own (in)ability or my fear for a life of destitution? In other words, is my intrinsic motivation strong enough to balance all the extrinsic disincentives?
This, I am still not so sure. But the best strategy for a man lost in the forest, as Descartes said, would be to walk in a line as straight as possible. You don’t know where you’ll end up, but at least you’ll end up somewhere. (Although, it is interesting to note, that it has been scientifically proven that people naturally walk in circles.) That’s what I intend to do at this moment: Just do it—go all the way.
Or maybe I should just switch to be an accounting major. 😦