February 17, 2008, in the British Midlands, I walked out of an academic office after an hour of two examiners thrashing my thesis to a pulp.
My supervisor was confident of success. After all, of his 150 previous postgraduates that he supervised, only one had been rejected.
I was number two.
I so vividly remember the numbness and fog walking off that campus for the last time.
My wife had been planning a big celebration the day after I returned home. I remember the pain of calling my —the middle of the night back home—to tell her it didn’t go well.
So much time wasted—years, money, effort—up in smoke.
I haven’t looked at my thesis since. Honestly, I don’t even know where it currently is. Perhaps it didn’t make it with our move from Oregon to Montana, so it very could be rotting in a dump somewhere.
The ultimate objective of a postgraduate degree is to show the world that you are the expert in your respective field of study.
My dream was to settle into a comfy college setting and travel the world, armed with my expertise, and teach.
That dream couldn’t have suffered a more painful death.
The fall from potential academic to loser is a hard fall.
It sent me into arguably the darkest time in my life, a darkness that would last nearly ten years.
Many walk away from God as a result of these questions.
Thankfully, I never did.
I honestly thought I would not receive an answer this side of heaven. I will just have to live with this failure as I coast to the grave.
Now, fast-forward fifteen years.
A decade and a half.
From the perspective of time, can I see why God sent me on such a painful trajectory?
Strangely enough, I think I am beginning to see.
Ironically, I spent seven years right after that fall teaching in a college as an adjunct professor—a fun and wonderful experience.
But that’s not the reason.
Likewise, my book Losers Like Us was published by David C. Cook in 2014. Instead of an academic thesis sitting on a remote shelf in an the dusty basement of an academic library never to be seen again, I wrote a book that has sold thousands of copies, which might not be a big deal against best-selling authors, but to an obscure nobody, I’ll take it.
However, I don’t think that is the reason either.
Instead, I am beginning to see that God might have actually saved me from a life in post-secondary academia.
Over the last ten years, public education has been a dumpster fire.
Colleges have seen a dramatic decline in enrollment in the last several years. And, in an incredible lack of self-awareness, experts insist the decline had to do with Covid or the ridiculously high cost of getting a degree that often has no value.
Perhaps that has something to do with it. However, I am willing to bet the pathological sanitizing of and indoctrination in education is more likely the culprit.
It is more likely that parents and high school grades are seeing a higher education is worthless. Colleges have become bastions of lower standards at a higher costs.
These institutions no longer teach critical thinking, but rather indoctrination and Orwellian language games, such as using preferred pronouns or calling women birthing persons. The DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) administrator seems to have become the most powerful person on campus, requiring diversity seminars and even promoting punishments outcomes that could cost an individual his or her career. In addition, the standards for college admission have falling to the level of the mere detection of a pulse.
More and more, I realized that I would never want to be a part of that. I more than likely wouldn’t last a semester in academia. I would be crushed before my career began. I couldn’t or wouldn’t play the game required of me, where the goal-posts are moved, the rules are changed by the players, and justice is arbitrary and without due process. It’s not in me.
Currently, I am finishing my fifth year as a high school teacher at a Christian school in Montana’s capital city. I am surrounded by a wonderful community of faculty and administrators. I absolutely love the people I work with. Further, I live in a peaceful, rural neighborhood on a dirt road. People aren’t as stressed as they are in the big city.
Even during the most stressful times typical of education and life, I feel content.
I truly don’t think I would have what I currently have were it not for God tearing a Ph. D away from me.
This realization doesn’t answer all the questions about the events fifteen years ago, such as why he sent me to England to pursue the degree in the first place.
But I feel God has given me the best of both worlds: I get to teach which I was created to do, yet he also saved me from working in higher education which would have led me to burnout.
Of course, I am completely aware that there are Christ-followers who are called to and can navigate the academic clown show and be quite successful. God bless them. I pray for them always.
I, however, realized I am not one of them.
God knew that in 2008.
It was I who had to come to that conclusion in 2023.