Terrible Life Choices

March 1st, 2006 by Potato

So one of my professors is talking openly of retiring in a few years, and about how I’m going to be one of his last students (yeesh, he’ll never retire if he waits for me to finish my doctorate!). Recently, he was looking at his pension plan, the money he put away for himself on his own, etc., and ran the math.

He says that if you go through school and get your PhD, then go into academia, get a pension and retire, you’d be worse off than if you simply dropped out and got a decent paying job, and put the money away. Even though by the time you were of retirement age you would have a pension and be making more (by his calculations) it just didn’t make up for that 6-10 year head start at such a huge lead. Of course, his calculation assumed that if you did go get a good job, you’d continue to live like a grad student “and no one would willingly live like that. Once you have the money, you’ll go out and spend it, you won’t save it for the long term.” He also didn’t mention that he left out how very lucky you’d have to be in the academic path to only spend a year or two in post-doc, and to pick up a decent paying, pensioned position in your 30’s.

This is all stuff I knew, but hadn’t been hit over the head with it from people who did make that choice.

My dad talked about some of that this weekend too. My sister’s having a little bit of trouble in school, so we’ve been talking about how important it is to stick with it, and how vital education is… and then after she was gone, we talked about how very little it’s worth, and how perverse it is that after your master’s degree, the longer you spend in school, the less valuable you become.

Reminds me of the great Simpsons episode when Bart was playing with the pony tail he cut off a grad student in the theatre.

Bart: “Hey, look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and made six-hundered dollars last year.
Marge: “Don’t make fun of grad students, they just made a terrible life choice.”

I’m not quite 30, but I’m close enough that I’m starting to question just what exactly it is I’ve gotten into. At the beginning, I’d hoped to breeze through and be done and ready to start one of those family things when I was 30. At the time I was stupid and arrogant, thinking that I was smart and hard working, and actually thought I could finish my degree a term early (that is, I started in January, a bit of an off-term, and hoped to finish at the same time as the people who started in September that year). Now I’m 26, I noticed in the mirror this morning that my grey hairs are no longer a small pocket of unrest on my brow with some scattered dissidents in the fringes, I’ve got riots and organizations forming on both sides of the globe. I feel old, and it’s strange how it sort of hits you like a sledgehammer at times. I’m only a day older than yesterday, but today all of a sudden, I feel it.

I’ve gone off talking about my hair, and I don’t mean to be too vain about it. I know that I am being a little vain about it, although I honestly don’t think other people can really tell. Aside from the one prominent group on my forehead, all the others seem to be behind other hairs, so they really only show when my hair is sitting a little funny. Plus, my normal hairs are a little shiny, so it’s hard to say for sure whether that’s white hair you’re seeing, or just a particular reflection sheening off a youthful black one. (And the less said about the very obvious problem with my aging hair, around back, the better).

I was so busy with my thesis when I turned 25 that I just never really had time to get into a good quarter-life-crisis funk. I don’t really have the time now, but I guess this sort of thing won’t wait forever.

My goals in life were never very lofty. Scratch that — I did have some lofty goals, but at the same time realized how improbable they were, and they lived side-by-side with more realistic ones. For example, I wanted to be an astronaut and a science fiction writer, but knew those were pretty much impossible. I did, however, think that even if I could never live off being a writer, I might have at least written a novella or two to print off and chuck at my friends for want of something less valuable to throw. And I figured I might have had a freelance article or short story published in a magazine, so I could at least be a serious hobbiest. I am fairly pleased with how the website has developed, especially since I went to the all-out blog format: it’s a lot easier to put up a ton of unreadable garbage when you don’t feel any compulsion to make it fit into any overriding heirarchy, or to have individual articles/rants stand on their own in any sort of timeless fashion. Getting people to call me doctor figured in there to some degree, but I reasoned I would be done by 29, or 30 at the latest (4 years left on that deadline: it’s been done before… but in this field?).

Anyway, enough of that for now, since there’s not much I can do about any of it except stare in the mirror and shake my head.

7 Responses to “Terrible Life Choices”

  1. netbug Says:

    You REALLY don’t want to get me started on this. Anyone who visits my blog knows why. :P

    I’m not a hippy or anything, but I HATE the idea of getting a career and staying with it for 20 years (at least a 9-5 job one).

    So here’s what you’re going to do;

    You’re going to drop out. Write an awesome, hollywood-changing screenplay. We’re going to go up to my cottage for 10 days in july and film it. We’re going to distribute it and get picked up with a 3 film deal by a huge studio and make piles of money and do whatever the hell we want?



  2. Joce Says:

    Being 26 is old, especially if you’re single. You see, when I was with Dan, I thought I had things figured out: engaged by 28, married by 29, first kid by 30. Well, we all know how that turned out and now I’m back to square one. Now that I’m doing the reverse math, if I want to get married and have kids by the time I’m 30, I should be with my future husband right now. But I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I love the single life, but I find it particularly hard being an “older” single girl, especially when I’m told that “I look GREAT for my age”. Making life choices sucks, but it would be a lot sweeter with someone by your side.

  3. rez Says:

    I thought I was the only one who recently realized that 26/27 is old…for a man (women have it easier with aging since they’re on the upslope until around 35 whereas men hit their peak at around 20). I was born with white hairs so I’m ok with sprouting more of them. What hit me was that when I thought back to what I’d done in the last 3 years I saw nothing worthwhile.

    Up until the end of university I felt I was achieving something. Granted, my degree is worthless, but I knew that going in and yet I held to the hope that at least it was something. Over the last 3 years I’ve done nothing but sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week (plus 15hrs a week travel time), doing something I hate. What do I have to show for it? Nothing. Not even any significant money stashed away.

    So what are the three of us to do? I like Bug’s idea of making it big in the film industry, although I have no skills with which to buy into that dream. The only thing that gives me hope (and lately even that has been fading) is that it’s really not too late to make a change.

    I urge you to make a change if you’re really unhappy with where you are now. Do it before it is too late; before your responsibilities are such that you cannot make the change.

    Misery may love company, but the company of happy people is loads better than more miserable folk.

    Oh, and not to be nitpicky, Tater, but 25 years is not a quarter of our lives. It’s a third. At best. At least for me. If all goes according to plan.

  4. Netbug Says:

    It is not a third. By the time we’re 80, the life expectancy is expected to be like 110 (I can’t remember where I saw that, think it was like a 1996 Scientific American).

  5. rez Says:

    As I said, it’s a third. At best. At least for me. If all goes according to plan.


  6. Potato Says:

    It’s a “metric life”.

    [Plus I’m sure your mid-twenties is the period of your life the term was coined for… (not to mention that many people don’t have their “midlife” crisis until their 50’s now)]

  7. Baum Says:

    Just for the record I’m 26 but I’m not old, guys and ladies we’re starting out only now, all that came before is and what might still come is there only to help us realize who we are, and who we can be, none of us that live in the “first world’ and have access to money
    9ithere cash or credit) are stuck, sure at times we feel as if we’re in a rut, life gets us down and shit like that, but we have possibilities that only equal our drive and determination so just assess what you want to do and do it and be patient.

    Granted I still bitch about my job, and am writing this from my parent’s basement, but I humbly consider this to be my staging area, and like the rest of you I’m just trying to figure out what for. But I believe that time is on my side, I’m 26 and I don’t have shit figured out yet, and every time I assume I do I run into obstacles, and that my friends is life, and how you chose to deal with that will determine the type of person you are.

    Sorry to sound harsh, but we are in control here, and we must own up to that responsibility, I respect all of you, but with that respect I must say at times we all sound do defeated, and that’s just wrong and uncalled for, its too early for us to give-up.