I am applying to graduate school for the next year. Based on my interests and plans, a masters in ecopsychology being offered at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University seemed like the perfect fit. I’ve been disillusioned by Western education, have been profoundly affected by Buddhist psychology, and believe that the best way to impact people’s ecological behavior is by appealing to the way they perceive the natural world.
Ecopsychology is an emerging field, however, and more than a few people have expressed concerns over my decision. My girlfriend cautioned me to think how a degree in “ecopsychology” from a “Buddhist university” would affect my credibility as a writer and thinker. My best friend, more direct and less tactful, called it quackery and was worried that I was throwing away a lot of money. Surprisingly, my parents haven’t expressed such concerns. They are normally the ones to reign me in.
So, because I value the opinions of those close to me, I evaluated my options and ended up paralyzed by second-guessing.
Doubt Sets In
I wondered if I should go to a more traditional university, even if I pursued the same degree. Perhaps I could study regular psychology and just take courses in environmental issues. Perhaps a less involved wilderness therapy certification, with its focus on an employable skill, was a better choice. Or maybe this just wasn’t the right time for graduate school.
But as I looked through the options, I slowly realized that I had made the right choice from the beginning. The whole point was that I thought traditional Western education, with its obsession on degrees, certifications, and credentials, was missing the point, that the world was deeper and didn’t give a damn about me being approved to do something. I didn’t need an MBA to learn how to sell; I just started trying to promote myself and bring a product to market. I wasn’t going to graduate school for the degree, but instead to connect with the people making things happen. I didn’t want to counsel, so why should I train myself to that profession? I hardly wanted to be in school again, and Naropa’s minimal residency program made it the perfect fit.
Slowly, I whittled down my other options until I was right back where I started.
I Should At Least Try
Now, perhaps these other options would be better opportunities by normal standards of employability and credentials. They might guarantee a better pay grade or be easier to explain at cocktail parties. But they aren’t what I want to do. They don’t match my vision of my life. And how will I know if my vision of my life is possible if I don’t even try to fulfill it and instead doubt it from the beginning? Even if I fail, it seems a shame to have never even aspired.
To have been so shaken, I supposed I must not have been totally secure in my personal vision of my life. Instead, the perspectives of society ate away at my confidence. I let my goals be clouded by what seemed like better opportunities and safer options. But if my life aspirations point to places off the beaten path (or places with no paths at all), then that’s where I’m going. I’ve learned my lesson about the importance of integrity, and won’t sacrifice it for convenience.
Or perhaps I’m just rationalizing…
- Trust yourself to know what is right for you. If something feels right, it probably is. We tend to over-analyze things and question our intuition because in our science-based society, intuition is not highly valued. This is unfortunate because intuition comes from our powerful unconscious mind, which can synthesize and analyze far more information much faster than our conscious minds ever could or would even understand. This truth is being accepted by modern psychology, and explanations of how it works can be found in books from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink to Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.
- Be skeptical of social standards. Just because everyone thinks something is the best choice doesn’t mean it is. In fact, in many cases, the mere fact that it is unquestioningly accepted means it has been spared the criticism necessary for positive growth. Doctors and experts in every field are notorious for refusing to question themselves, and it’s often outsiders that are able to drive progress in many industries.
- Credentials are not always a sign of ability. In the fitness world, many of the best trainers don’t have a ton of certifications. They are too busy working with people and refining their craft in the field. Most of those who really care eventually get degrees to round out their skills, but these are often from small schools that allow them the ability to continue working while their study. As they say, Harvard is hard to get into, but easy to graduate.
- Remember others’ motivations. In most cases, the advice people give us is the result of their lives and experiences, not an objective assessment of our particular situation. They may be trying to prove something to themselves and will encourage us to act in ways that reinforce their hopes for how their own life could turn out. Or they may regret taking the easy, sensible path, having rationalized their decision. For us to do what they decided not to would just make them feel worse. There are very few people who can give us good advice without letting their personal triumphs and failures color their judgement. These mentors and friends are priceless.
So, I’m sticking with my decision to study ecopsychology at Naropa, for better or worse. It feels more in line with who I am and who I want to become. If that vision doesn’t mesh well with society, I guess I’ll be in for an interesting ride.
(Photo credit: psd on Flickr)