What's your PhD in life? | Belinda Smith

“What is your PhD in?” It was a question in a workshop that took a soul searching friend off guard this week. An explanation from the inquirer quickly followed: “Your PhD in life? What have you spent 10,000 hours on, that you’d likely have done even if it wasn’t your job?” With the Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point reference my friend’s brow unfurrowed slightly but suffice to say we both left our session with more questions than answers.

It got me thinking – what’s my PhD in life? And how many of us actually take the time to consider this question, the essence of our brand, the source of our passion, the legacy we choose to live and leave?

For those with 20 years under their professional belts, consider the maths: over two decades, you’d need to spend 500 hours a year honing your craft, or about 10 hours per week (9.6 for the bean counters). Whether it’s a technical craft you’ve laboured, or the so-called soft skills of managing people (which of course are anything but soft), what was the highlight, the work that came easy even as you perfected your mastery?

Your PhD in life will take you across job roles, sectors and industries, maybe providing your expertise free of charge on occasion for causes that make your heart sing. It’s your professional point of difference that is truly unique, valuable and sets you apart.  

Not convinced you have achieved PhD status? Ask your colleagues, friends or partner. What is it that you’re the go-to person for? What is it that more often than not you’re right or wise about? Maybe, through a little research you’ll find you have more than one Life PhD.

 I pondered my life study, grappling as my friend was with the essence of my value. It dawned on me that, unlike formal academic PhDs, Life doesn’t fit into faculties or schools that can be neatly labelled. A classic generalist, I was never going to be a technical master in any particular field. So I graduated myself as a Bringing Ideas to Life PhD, the go-to for connecting people and ideas and making good things happen in business and the community. This PhD probably doesn’t belong on my CV,  but  it will add serious weight to my plans for the future and a benchmark for major career decisions. It might sound woo-hoo but it’s worth exploring, and – like a genuine PhD – celebrating success when mastery in your chosen craft is achieved.

Belinda Smith is manager, commercial business at Hunter TAFE and a former Telstra Young Businesswoman of the Year

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