My “previous assumption”, for the last five years, has been that I would go to grad school, become a professor, and live happily ever after being paid to indulge my curiosity and teach.
Grad school, however, has been agony. My first year was miserable and fairly unproductive. Before grad school, I took one year off the academic track to live in San Francisco, and I loved it. Not only was my life filled with wonderful adventures, I made far more money than ever before. Coming back to the Bay Area for winter break and a short vacation, I got back to my old self and enjoyed life again.
Abandoning grad school to move back to San Francisco is starting to sound like an interesting move. I don’t feel a strong impulse to make this jump right now, though. I want to percolate for a while.
Negative At this point in my life, if I quit grad school, that would end my chances of becoming a professor. Indiana has a great cog sci program, so I’d be losing an extraordinary opportunity to become a cog sci/comp sci researcher. The one thing I have learned most while in school has been math; stopping grad school would likely put a stop to my continuing to learn much math.
Positive I can make good money working in software. Now I even know how to do that right: alternate between working contract jobs and working on my own projects. I love the city and feed off its energy. I have lots of ideas—for products, for web sites, for books. I have extraordinary friends in the city who introduce me to wonderful things. The biggest positive is just that I could focus all-out on one project at a time. Even when working contract jobs, I would still have energy left to work on projects and have memorable weekends.
One thing I know from past interesting moves, from Go and improv to real life, is that they require a peculiar, extreme form of commitment. You have to be completely committed to making the new situation work out, but have no fixed ideas about what form that will take. You dive in, and you become very open to opportunities as they arise. You accept instability and the need to improvise continuously. This can’t be done tentatively.
Also, when you make an interesting move, you should have a sense that even though things are very uncertain, you are moving into fertile ground—that the deck is stacked in your favor, even though the cards are unknown. The John McCain style of “just fly into enemy territory and trust your luck” is merely suicidal, not interesting. 5 years ago