Yesterday all being well I graduated from Durham University with my PhD. I say all being well as I’m writing this in advance in order to have no excuse not to spend all but the time on holiday it takes to find some WiFi signal and post this with the husband.

It has taken a long time to reach this point. Not only was the degree itself a lengthy undertaking of four years but there was a break while I waited for my Viva date then another year to wait as I passed my Viva a couple of days after the registration for congregation closed. After all that (and I don’t even want to start on what it cost me financially), one has to wonder... was it worth it and what did it get me?

I’ve had a few comments from people who feel I’ve somehow wasted my PhD as I arguably do something wholly unrelated to my specialist field (although I feel the transferable skills have made a phenomenal impact). I’m not sure what they’d have me do, perhaps I should be banished to a dusty corner of a campus library and left to simply be intelligent? What I came to realise as I deflected these comments with the argument that I liked what I was doing and was happy (how very dare I?) was that for lots of people a PhD is a means to an end.

I don’t even use my title. I’ve been entitled to use it for a year now and just don’t feel the need (except when someone is being obnoxious and calls me Miss, in those instances I coldly reply “if you feel the need to address me by my title it’s Doctor”). I mean the husband is entitled to use some letters (he can’t remember what they are) for a professional qualification he holds in the field he actually works in but doesn’t so why would I use mine as I’m not working in academia?

Don’t get me wrong, I like knowing I can be called Doctor but it’s a bit like my tattoo. I like it and am happy to talk about it but I don’t want it out there all the time.

When I started my PhD I had aspirations of an academic career. From where I am now I’m glad I didn’t make it. As Alain de Botton said: ‘In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So it’s all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.’ Although de Botton dropped out of his PhD (French Philosophy at Harvard) so he had to say something!

I’m glad it didn’t work out for me because I’ve come to realise I’m not great in institutions, I like to be in charge and it’s a long way and a number of funerals on ones way to a Deanship. Sure there’s a part of me that would have liked to be Professor rather than simply Dr Ashcroft but the beauty of business is that you can be the boss from day one.

The reason I don’t feel I’m wasting my PhD is because I fully appreciate everything I learned through the process. It was my doctorate that helped me find myself (to use that god awful phrase). It was my research that took me to Malaysia for a year, it was my interviewing that taught me how to hear what people are actually saying when they talk to you and once you’ve presented to academics you can talk to anyone (for those that watch Big Bang Theory, I’ve met plenty of Sheldon Cooper’s who have relished picking holes in my work to make themselves look smart).

I recently read an article on Mashable about The Connection Between Education, Money and Happiness. In it Thomas Katsouleas wrote that Richard Easterlin, an early economist in the econometrics of “happiness” had ‘found was that education was related to making a better living in that those with more education tended to have higher incomes. However, as a person’s income rose over time, their happiness did not. Yet, the bump up in happiness that began early in life for those with more than a high school education persisted throughout their lives. In essence, Easterlin dispelled any lingering notion of the old stereotype of “dumb and happy.” In fact, people with more education were happier than those with less.’

Katsouleas suggests the reason may lie in biology arguing that ‘Even lowly amoebas show evidence that boredom and unhappiness occur when subjected to repeated stimuli without new learning’ and of course* Socrates claimed that the purest form of happiness was sharing with someone else something you have learned. In closing Katsouleas’ talks about undergraduate classes in entrepreneurial skills and suggests that by doing this ‘students have the benefit of a broader setting in which to develop a perspective on what it means to be human and discover where they fit in the world. In so doing, they may not only come up with better ideas, they may also make better decisions. But by focusing on the shortest path to success students will fail to fully develop as people and ultimately short-change their own happiness.’

There lies the crux of the argument for me. Education helps you develop as a person and take a rounded view of what will make you happy. For me this was realised via a blend of my doctorate, travel and my need to adapt to some of the challenges I’ve faced (namely death and divorce). I’m happy because of what I’ve learned.

You don’t need a PhD to be happy but it certainly helped me. And nothing that brings you happiness can be a waste.

* Well it’s an of course for philosophy geeks like me.

 
One of my biggest bugbears in the last week has been the e-newsletters I’ve been getting from companies that market to pregnant women. Usually I rather like the updates on what fruit or vegetable my baby is the size of (an aubergine if you’re interested) and of course I’m in it for the free stuff and vouchers. But recently I keep getting suggestions that now is a great time to take a holiday.

I completely agree and if it wasn’t for the fact the husband and I are spending money on crazy things like travel systems and NCT classes I’d be booking that holiday pronto. Except no, we also need to bear in mind his holiday allowance and with two school aged kids (I’m counting the youngest as he starts in September and we’re doing the meet the teacher stuff) that’s tricky given that teachers like meetings that take place during the day.

Trust me, if I had £1.5k and he had an extra weeks’ holiday we’d be on it. We wouldn’t need it suggesting it to us. I’d be all over those mouth watering websites credit card in hand.

Evidently the notorious pregnancy grumpiness is well in flow. But I’ll leave you with this thought; such holidays in the “ideal time” of the second trimester are called Babymoons. Doesn’t that make you want to stab all involved (marketers and rich parents-to-be alike) now? See, it’s not just me!

Another kind of tourism I shall not be partaking in is trips into space. It’s not just the hefty £125,000 price tag of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic trip 100km above the Earth’s surface but the idea of going into space terrifies me. The idea of infinity creeps me out but by going no higher than a passenger jet can carry me is sufficient for it to seem far away.

But there seems to be no shortage of interested adventurers for the first flights (scheduled for the end of 2013). Robin McKie, writing for The Observer, points out the comparative value to other dramatic experiences: ‘A key common factor for these projects is the price-tag: steep but not prohibitive. It costs around £30,000 to £75,000 to make an attempt to climb Mount Everest, for example, and it is no coincidence that flights by Virgin Galactic and XCOR are priced only slightly higher – to capture the high-adventure tourism market dominated by the man and woman with the Breitling watch and the six-figure salary.’

The experience won’t last long. The Virgin Galactic flight which will be made with a pilot and six passengers will provide ‘six or seven minutes to float around the cabin and indulge in an ecstasy of camera-clicking before their ship starts to arc downwards.’ I’ve had ice creams that have lasted longer! I guess for me, the top experiences of my travels have allowed time to really take it all in. The briefest was probably the twenty minutes I spent watching Manta Rays in the Maldives but that same trip included seeing the clearest stars imaginable (there are a LOT!) whilst holding onto a fortifying glass of wine lest thoughts of the aforementioned infinity creep in.

I suppose I want value for money while those eager to shoot into space are interested in an experience that is quite literally out of this world. Perhaps it is just down to money. A few years ago I couldn’t comprehend why some people would spend what I considered to be ridiculous amounts of money on hotel rooms. But when visiting some friends who had just moved to Portland, the husband and I had little choice but to fork out for a decadent B&B. It was blissful. And I do like expensive shoes. Maybe I’m trapped in the mentality of my income bracket?

Well if not the tropics and not outer space, where am I going?

Next Wednesday I’m heading to Durham to attend the graduation ceremony for my PhD. There’ll just be my mum and the husband as I’ve elected to celebrate with my family on their home turf. On the Friday we’re having lunch with my Grandad at The Box Tree, Michelin Star feasting Yorkshire style before heading to Manchester to celebrate with my family living in the West of the country. This leaves a single day for the husband and I to squeeze in our second trimester holidaying.

We’re going to Lindisfarne. I last went years ago with my ex husband who in a pique of frustration insisted on taking on the causeway and trashed my mother’s car. I’m very excited to not only be going back but to be staying on the island itself (and with a man whose love for his BMW will treat the tide calendar with far more religious reverence than anything spiritual on the island itself).

I’m eager to show the husband some of the magic of the North of England. While the borders are as far from where I’m originally from as Gloucester is from Plymouth the North often feels smaller. Perhaps it’s due to the sheer number of fields that mean you can drive for miles without passing anything bigger than a hamlet. The first time the husband drove to the North East he exclaimed that we were only a few junctions from our destination. Yes, I replied, we’ll be there in about forty minutes.

The best thing about holidaying up North is the weather is nearly always bad (I’m from Yorkshire, I get to say that) so my expectation of Lindisfarne will be of rolling mist, haunting grey skies and warming up over chips in a cosy pub. Not that I’ll complain if we get freakish blue skies and a beautiful sunset but the bar is low and I can only have a wonderful time.

 
This week I went to the dentists for the first time in a decade. Not because I fear dentists but because it was one of those things I never seemed to get around to and because so few dentists will take NHS patients and charge so much it seemed rather a waste of money when my teeth felt fine. Now I’m pregnant I have my shiny maternity exemption certificate and the dentist around the corner was accepting new patients with those. The money saved over the last decade felt worth it as I just needed a single filling.

I don’t think of myself as being good with pain. I missed last week’s column due to a mix of exhaustion and pregnancy related pain (that I will leave described thus as I don’t want to squick you out too much). I’ve felt quite a wimp about this pregnancy truth be told and if I’d been working a nine to five would have had to have been signed off. But the dentist made me wonder.

All he did was inject above the tooth to numb it and then I felt nothing. Ok so I don’t fear needles but surely that can be the only issue because you barely feel anything. It’s no different to the needle when you have blood taken from your arm. The dentist asked me to try and stay still and with a slight bit of surprise said ‘well done’ when I didn’t flinch or make a sound. To be honest, even if I’d felt something I’d have stayed still and quiet. What with being an adult and all. I used to have the hormonal contraceptive they inject into your arse and that one dear readers does smart rather a touch but even then I’d stay still. It seemed rather rude to make a fuss over something so common and everyday.

Yet when I relayed the experience to the husband he said that the drilling doesn’t hurt but that the heat produced was painful. Now our experience of temperature differs hugely; I am almost always cold, he rarely is and where I miss the heat that seemed to get bone deep when I lived in the Far East, he starts sweating as soon as it isn’t near arctic (ok so that may be my perception speaking).

Such subjectivity extends across a great many aspects of our lives and got me thinking about some attitudes I’ve experienced during my marketing career. The first was someone who upon being made redundant went freelance and was quite open about his bitterness regarding this, the other upon being made redundant started a business as a way to regain his perceived former importance. They were a bit like a single person who rants about their ex on a date. Just as it’s not a great idea to rush into a new relationship if you have some issues to work through, maybe it isn’t great to launch a new facet of your career.

Obviously it’s tricky because while it’s possible to survive without a relationship, an income is pretty essential. But when I look at people who have embraced change and seen it as an opportunity I’ve felt far more drawn to them as people to potentially work with (just as I’d have run a mile if the husband had wanted to talk about his ex rather than get to know me).

There seems to be a wealth of advice about mending a broken heart. Less about mending a broken ego. The song Dry Your Eyes by The Streets springs to mind as an example of how we advise a friend that doesn’t seem to be moving on but there isn’t really an equivalent for struggling to move on from a redundancy, firing or need to leave a job that wasn’t fulfilling us. There’s something very difficult about trying to point out a friends attitude is to perhaps blame for not succeeding in work. Naturally this is something I’ve done in my capacity as a life coach but once someone has stepped through my door they’re already partway there to be honest.

I’m not saying luck doesn’t play a huge role in finding love or that perfect job but one can certainly impede it with a bad attitude. Our minds are powerful things and just as we have an amazing ability to control aspects of pain we may be experiencing (hyperventilating makes it far worse hence our refusal to engage fully with my eldest stepson until he’s doing the yogic breathing we practise with him. It does so ease the agonies that accompany being a drama queen) deciding to choose our attitude can really help our outlook.

Sure positive thinking won’t make the husbands teeth hurt less when they’re drilled but a decent attitude can certainly stop him from spreading the suffering by whining to me! Positivity alone won’t bring new clients to a freelancer or customers to a business but it goes a long way just as positive people attract more potential mates. I can empathise with those that find the likes of me annoying with our ‘whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ attitudes but taking our experiences and using them to motivate us is crucial to retaining ownership of them.

My mum gave me a good piece of advice before I headed to the land of torturing and suffering (no offence to my lovely dentist but he does sit surrounded by weapons and puts his patients into a chair requires killer abs to pull oneself out of!) and that was to confirm the price of everything as he went along. Hence when he said he could give me my required filling there and then I attempted to sit up slightly (something I’d have struggled with even without Tyler*) and clarify the exact details. The dentist was happy to confirm That this fell within my entitlement to free treatment and I sat back and relaxed (as much as one can when being injected in the gum) safe in the knowledge that my pain was for free.

Yes I needed the filling but I still maintained my sense of control. You can’t determine everything that happens to you but you can completely control how you react to it. Experience may be subjective but that doesn’t mean you have to be passive.

* The baby has been nicknamed Tyler on the basis of it feeling as though there are two people fighting for control of and space inside my body. The only distinction from Fight Club is that Tyler is throwing all the punches.