I was in Philadelphia with my PhD Professor, about to discuss the fourth version of my dissertation outline. As I tentatively held my breath waiting for her comments, she looked at me with a stern kindness.
“Megan, this is a very good dissertation outline. Your early research is sound. You can absolutely write this paper and it will be very good.”
I felt myself exhale. This was great news. I was on my way to New York for the US release of my first book, with the next few books already lined up to be written. I was buzzing with the excitement about the path that lay ahead.
But then she paused. And as I felt myself holding my breath again, she drilled into me with her all knowing eyes.
“But I want to know why.”
“Why what?” I asked.
“Why are you doing this PhD? You are well advanced in your career. You’re already a global thought leader around women’s leadership and empowerment and the areas you want to research. You don’t want to be an academic. You have a thriving business.”
“You don’t actually need this PhD. So why are you spending tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life doing it?”
As I stared back at her, I felt a deep sense of panic. My breath caught in my chest. I could feel my heart racing.
Because this is who I am, I thought, my mind exploding. I am following the path. I am becoming an expert. I did not one, but two Masters degrees. I now need this PhD for the final layer of my legitimacy. To be accepted. To be seen.
And as these thoughts settled and I looked somewhat blankly at my Professor, this next new knowing landed with such a weight that it almost levelled me as I sat there:
I’m doing it to be validated.
I wanted to do my PhD because I was waiting for that next level of acknowledgment from the people I had been trying to impress inside the structures I had worked my entire adult life. I wanted them to see me, to like me, to value me. I was doing it for them, not for me.
I was struck with such instant insight it was like God, the angels and the Universe had all colluded to shine the brightest light directly into my brain, my heart and my soul simultaneously, so that I couldn’t possibly miss it.
I didn’t need it. I didn’t want to do it. I was in fact doing it for all the wrong reasons. And truth be told, the rebel in me just wanted to run away from another patriarchal masculine model of ‘success’ as fast as I possibly could.
“What you really want to do, Megan, I feel, is to write books. You’re a truly gifted writer. So go and write.”
It was a life-changing conversation. It caused me to take a long look at my motivations, where I really wanted to head in my business, even my very identity. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made to walk away from Philly that day leaving behind the study that I no longer needed, to step into the life I was truly longing to live. On my own terms. And without anyone’s validation except my own.