I often think about this. It's a morbid thought, I know, and I'm not planning on dying anytime soon. But on the days that are really hard, that I really just don't feel I can take this PhD stress anymore, I think "If I found out tomorrow that I was dying I would..."
First and foremost I would quit the program. There, I've said it. Sometimes that thought makes me cringe, but then I realize that there are a lot of absurd things that I would do that I would only be doing because I was dying and I knew there was no future to plan for.
For example - I'd travel the world, go to every inch of it, especially the places that scare me right now, because who cares about danger when I'm dying? I'd also move home to my family and friends, whom I miss everyday (it's a dream world so I'm allowed to simultaneously travel and move home). I'd get too drunk a lot just for fun and eat too much and maybe take off my clothes and try to make one of those wild dashes across a stadium.
All those things sound amazing in a fantasy, but I wouldn't really want to do them for more than my last 6 months. I'm sure I'd fight with my family when we weren't brought together by my tragedy. I'd feel sick and gross if I got drunk all the time and ate too much. I could never really withstand the public humiliation of running naked across a stadium. Traveling though...I might be able to do that one forever.
But could I live with quitting the PhD program? I'm not as sure either way.
I talked before about the feeling of failure that motivates me sometimes to stay in the PhD program. But it's also more than that. It's the feeling of success when I figure something out and produce a paper that reveals an idea I had that no one has ever had before (or at least hasn't published).
It's the feeling that I just don't quit when things get tough. I've been seeing lots of advice floating around the internet to my fellow struggling PhDs of "if you don't like it, don't waste your time". Who says it's a waste of time? Ok, sometimes I do when I'm feeling PhD Depressed, but isn't it all (i.e. life) a waste of time? And aren't we always learning or growing somehow if we choose to? At least, that's how I feel on the good days. How can it be wrong to stay in a generally good environment doing sometimes interesting things? From what I hear from other friends, a lot of them spend their days at work surrounded by bad people and doing totally uninteresting things.
What do you think?
That survey can't capture everything you have to say. Let me know what you would do with your life if you only had 6 months left. And do you agree with me that temporary moments of dissatisfaction may just be something you must trudge through in life? What is the breaking, "give up" point for you?