On not committing

When I took my PhD exam I was concerned about passing so I gave it all I had. The committee was impressed, saying they had known I was competent but not that I was good, because I had always been so noncommittal about everything.

That, of course, was because I had always been told it would be silly to commit since I would probably fail. (This was in part an effort not to pressure me to succeed, I recognize.)

I would like to look at some of the old attitudes I had; why I was noncommittal, what I didn’t think I could commit to or would commit to me, what I really did commit to or want to commit to, why one was not supposed to. The story for today was of myself as a freshman.


I had college paid for by my aunt and was living on $150 a month. Many others were living on about that little. Others, with higher standards of living, had been “cut off” to $200 a month and were working. Still others, the most fortunate of those I knew, had Financial Aid budgets of $300 a month.

So I was not living large but I was drawing from a small trust fund. I was spending as little as possible because it was to be used for other family purposes and I was the first. I also felt that it would be unfair of me to work, because others needed work and I did have food, or to apply for merit based scholarships, because others needed the money.


So I was caught between the need to save for the family and the obligation not to consume any other resources including the resource of a job. It was like being pinned against the wall, not able to really breathe or take the steps one must take to develop.

That was why graduate school was so good for me — having a job, having the freedom to join organizations, knowing by now I would probably pass my courses. It is also why after graduate school, I was ready to be free, make my own decisions, look about me and work for a while, then see what graduate or professional program I might want to go into.


But one was pressed to commit to work in the field one had studied, yet not to commit to it because one might not get work in it or be tenured or like it; and the “cool” people, the most successful people, evinced lack of belief in it.

All of this is a very odd story.


4 thoughts on “On not committing

  1. I can identify, thank you for your articulation of experience. My food budget was $28 a month while I was working full time. When a couple, was on church ‘food supply’ for a year, after which I swore to always give high quality items and treats to food banks, after years of name brand puree yams and out of date name brand beans and moldy bread.

    I was glad to move into graduate work, and to as you mentioned, work a job that more than covered my tuiton, or the teaching covered tuiton plus.

    For being too committed, too directed, I was seen as threatening, and became part of a group of four ‘outcast’ females. We also happened to be the four who didn’t get good teaching courses and the four who hadn’t slept with the department head. Notable when a ‘teaching review’ involved him bringing out wine and his pot brownies.

  2. My God, you went to an awful graduate program. Being considered threatening because of being too committed, too directed, yes: I wish I had understood before how this actually works.

    I appreciate your comments here.

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