A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The makings of a dream.
From 2000 to 2011, my dream was to become a professor.
Prior to 2000, I had been a slacker. In high school, I mostly focused on track & field, and in my first few years of college, I played basketball and Starcraft like they were two full time jobs.
It wasn’t until my junior year when I decided it was time to figure out my future.
I was fortunate to be taking a computer architecture course with an awesome professor. For the first time, I became genuinely excited about an undergraduate course. I went to all the lectures, and actually did the homework assignments and labs.
By the end of the course, I thought to myself:
“My professor is cool, and this material is really cool.. why not become a professor?”
That was it. Nothing fancy happened. I just took a course, and decided that I had a new goal in life.
The long journey.
The funny thing is, this ended up defining the next 10 years of my life.
In the last year of undergrad, I began reading research papers, and sat in the graduate-level course of college. I hit a barrier getting funded in early in graduate school, but I ended up learning the most important lesson I have ever learned, working my ass off, and overcoming this barrier. I continued through a PhD program, published in several top-tier conferences, and when time came for graduation in 2010, I was all set to be applying for faculty positions.
I was unfortunate to apply during the recession. The job market was more competitive than usual, and I didn’t get any faculty offers that I was excited about. I then moved out to Silicon Valley, and took a research position at Qualcomm Research.
And then something unexpected happened.
A strange thing happens when you near reaching a dream.
When you are along the path, it can be easy to go heads down and drive forward towards the dream. As you near the end, you know you’ve already made it a great deal of the way there.
You start thinking, is this what I really want? If I achieve this, then what?
As I asked myself these questions, I knew I couldn’t answer them with something I would be happy about. I had set the goal 10+ years ago, and in those 10+ years, I learned enough to get an idea of whether I would actually want the position. The dream wasn’t so shiny any more. I saw the downsides of academia. I imagined jumping on the publishing treadmill for the next 5-10 years and it didn’t sound exciting to me at all.
I had to re-evaluate what I really wanted. And as I searched my soul, it became increasingly clear that a faculty position wasn’t what I wanted… at least not now.
And so I left the dream dangling… unfinished.
Some days, I’m really glad I did my PhD. I know I learned a lot in it, and had a great experience attending various schools, taking part in different internships, and meeting great friends.
Other days, I wish I didn’t do my PhD at all. It wasn’t necessary to join the startup world. But I didn’t have the foresight back then to know this.
Some days I believe that one day I’ll still try to become a professor. In theory, I like the idea of academia. I like the idea of being part of education. I also had my opinions on how academia could education students for entrepreneurship/startups, and it would be great to give it a shot.
Other days, I’m fairly sure I never will want to be a professor. I love my job now. If I could only find a way to make money, I could do it forever.
What happens to a dream deferred?
I have no idea. I suppose only time will tell.
Has something similar happened to you? How has it turned out?
(Photo credit: wave-finder.com)
P.S. This is post number #43 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!
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