Commitment vs. Pastime

Last week four students in my department came over my place for dinner. Coincidentally or not, all the four of them are Chinese, married, and their respective husbands (and children) are all in China.

This made me think. Sometimes I complain of the difficulties of struggling to complete a doctorate living by myself with no family in an eight-thousand-kilometer radius; that this double life is just not worth it; why am I doing this anyways; blah, blah, blah. But for these colleagues, the double-life feeling is much more drastic: their family ties stronger; the trip home much longer; the language and cultural barriers much more pronounced (at least I don’t need to learn a new alphabet).

It may be just the way I look at it, one of those “grass is always greener” type of feelings. But they not only seem to take their programme more seriously, but they take the whole process with much more serenity than I do. Is it a sacrifice for them? Certainly, but one that was carefully considered and then embraced. They seem to have a purpose as well as something at stake: something that makes all this studying make sense, and gives it some value that goes beyong studying for study sake.

As for me, do I have a purpose? Not sure. Sometimes I feel that it is all like an elaborate computer game, as a friend of mine says, which I started playing because it seemed like fun, but that now got quite challenging. My fingers are cramping, my eyes are sore from looking at the screen for so long, by brain is burning out, my social life is going down the drain, but my intellectual vanity does not allow me to quit at this point (“it’s been so many obstacles, I must be getting near the end any time now,” she says, as hours, weeks, years pass by). I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem to me like a motive deserving of a doctorate. I need a worthier cause. I must have more at stake than just the fear of losing face, right?

Maybe finding out what this is just the missing key that I need to move on to the next level.


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