When I write sometimes, I will talk about doctoral students failing. By that I mean they fail to reach the goal of graduating with a doctorate. That does not make them a failure in life. Yes, some tuition borrowed will need to be paid back and humbleness will have been learned the hard way. But we are talking about some of the most intelligent and motivated people in the world. Usually after a period of anger and some wound licking, folks like that come out on top no matter what they do next. The many degree seeking skills they learned, both academic and motivational do not go away. Instead they merge with other skills to bring success into the next area of life. Smart people tend to solve problems and that leads to success in other areas of life. All organizations tend to reward folks who can solve problems no matter what degree they have (or don’t have).
Yes, if you fail to complete your doctoral degree there will be consequences, loans to pay off and some humility. This will pass though and your personality and skills will latch on to something else where you will apply your mind and motivational talents. You will do well as time goes on even though it may take a while. You may go through an angry stage for a while and should keep your comments about the degree program to a minimum. Grieve the loss of your dream for a time and rest and get strong for your next challenge. Some folks have told me stories of how they bounced back and earned another doctoral degree later. I ended up doing that. Some folks rest then tear into a new job challenge and do well. Do not forget the resting stage which may take up to a year.
Let go of the anger as soon as you can and this seems to be a conscious choice for many folks. Some folks hold on to that anger over failing to attain the degree and it eats them up from the inside out. I talk to them years later and it is right there under the surface and it comes out if you are crazy enough to pick at that scab. If you think some people get angry if you call them to attend a high school reunion wait until you talk to a failed doctoral student who never let it go. They ignore all of the many other positive traits and skills they have and focus on that one failure even if it was long ago. They are stuck right there at that point in time and the failure is still tender.
Most folks move on to other challenges and the skill sets that got them accepted into a doctoral program cause them to succeed at whatever area they unleash their talents. So let the failure go and move on to other things. Do not push yourself or a loved one into illness, despair or a mental breakdown.
Do not get angry when I call this a failure. We are not in some crazy “self-esteem” building exercise we are dealing with your life. You are going to succeed at some things and fail at others. If you fail at the degree program then fine, you will succeed somewhere else. Do not hurt yourself or give up all hope due to a stupid failure. Use what you have learned to do better somewhere else. Keep an eye on yourself or a family member in a doctoral program. If you need help then ask for it. Help is out there somewhere and you are being made stronger and smarter by going through this crazy process.
My best to you,
National Doctoral Student Association