When I completed my dissertation in 2013, I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment. I was proud of what it represented – not just the work I had put in, but the period of my life it captured.

But it never felt like my magnum opus. I felt adamant that it was not. The subject was never my passion, after all, only the career path that circumstance had dictated. I felt insistent – contrary to what Rachel Dawes believed – that there was something underneath me that defined me more than what I had done (or in this case, written).

Prior to writing the acknowledgments section of my dissertation, I consulted those from colleagues and other alumni. By and large, people wrote a ton. They wrote about the labor of love that had been their dissertations, or they wrote about being Sisyphus pushing the giant boulder uphill. They wrote in great detail about what others had meant to them in the process.

Their acknowledgements sections suggested a sense of finality. Obviously for their graduate careers, but beyond that too. I didn’t have a desire to offer the same. The dissertation was a milestone, but nothing that defined me. Accordingly, my acknowledgements section was short, direct. I thanked who I wanted to thank. I didn’t feel compelled to discuss my journey.

Mine was a conscious, stubborn move. It was symbolic – the equivalent (if a slightly less arrogant version) of an NBA team skipping a conference final trophy ceremony because there remained work to be done.* I wasn’t sure what remained on the horizon, but felt confident that there was indeed something else there.

*The vivid example of this is the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers, who naturally then got demolished by the Detroit Pistons in the Finals. Sometimes life doesn’t quite work out.

It has been five years, and as has been discussed many times in this space, I remain unsure that I will ever find what that something else might be. I have tried my hand at an open-mic night, I wrote a fairly forgettable screenplay, I got used to a normal job environment, I somehow developed a sense of purpose in my work. Still, I remain restless.

In the meantime though, my first book comes out in a month. I use “first” by design. The book, after all, resides in the same field as my dissertation work.* It is an academic piece, and as such, does not reflect my creative interest or ambition. I hold back still – maintaining my unfound and unknown passion, or dream, or delusion – and continue to look towards the horizon.

* The manuscript is decidedly not a conversion; the process one I gave up on soon after graduation.

At the same time, I recognize the book is – if not quite another class – then another order of product from the dissertation. It was not mandated by academic or professional obligation but a product that stands almost entirely on its own (with the immense help of three postdoctoral years), and begun almost entirely from scratch (with dissertation work useful for maybe one chapter).

I wrote two chapters, produced a project proposal, cold e-mailed dozens of presses, continued work for months, and cold e-mailed dozens of presses more before I received actual interest. Then I had to respond to proposal feedback, sign an advance contract with no guarantee of publishing, complete my manuscript, receive extensive feedback, and submit a revised, acceptable, manuscript.

I had no “ins,” no connections, no shortcuts. My first proposal was sent out in October 2015; my first successful proposal dated 7 June 2016. My completed manuscript was sent 11 November. I offered a revision plan 17 May 2017, and the second draft 20 June, with a tweaked third version 20 July. I turned in my index (which I did myself) 20 February 2018, and returned corrected proofs 6 March.

It has been two and a half years. My book comes out 15 June 2018.

Naturally, my publisher never asked for an acknowledgements section. I broached the topic – among others – before I submitted my first manuscript, but they never responded to that particular question. So I wrote one on my own instead. I turned it in with the second draft. The copyeditor eventually took a look and fortunately left it almost entirely untouched.

Unlike with my dissertation, I spent quite a bit of time on this one. In fact, I had started thinking about it before I even completed my manuscript. I suppose this was because of the reasons cited above. It was a work that stood on its own, begun almost entirely from scratch. It somehow felt more tangible as an achievement, something I recognized even as it was in progress.

“This book stands at the intersection of many of my recent lives,” I began.* Its foundation from my graduate school years in Irvine and my fellowship years in Boston. Its content during my postdoctoral years in Tokyo. Its final touches as I worked in Geneva. All of that time, and all of the people from those lives, are intimately connected to the project.

*…don’t worry, I won’t cut and paste the whole thing here.

But the book is not my magnum opus either. It does not represent my life’s work; rather, it is a significant portion of my work from a particular period of my life. Of course, this was true of the dissertation too. But I suppose I was too young to have that sense of perspective then, too stubborn to understand that putting my gratefulness down on paper did not necessarily signify complacency.

I still look towards the horizon. I remain restless. I continue to feel that there is something underneath me that defines me more than what I have done. But as for what I have indeed done… well, I wrote a book that comes out in a month. And in finally and extensively acknowledging the role that others have played its creation, I suppose I’m allowing that the work itself is worth acknowledging.

(Photo courtesy of Matl, CC BY-SA 3.0,, via Wikimedia Commons)


33 thoughts on “Acknowledgments

    1. After my undergraduate process I simply said to my parents that I loved them. Something similar in my specialization thesis.

      However, as you say, the topics associated did not represent my soul and my essence.

    2. I just published my first novel but never got around to write an acknowledgement because I had to overcome so many people who found my writing “just a good excuse for doing nothing”.

  1. I think, for me being restless is good. It shows desire for progression, it stops the plague of being stuck in the present or past. Although worse, would be ending up frustrated as that suggests that nothing past or future has or will be achieved.

  2. I’ve always thought of my life’s purpose as living well – a process not defined by one critical event or achievement but by the many many small decisions I make and personal interactions that I engage in every day. Sometimes I think we look too hard for the big thing and lose focus on just how important those small things are to what we eventually become and where we end. Cheers, Brian

  3. Your look to the horizon tells me that you will always push yourself further. At each juncture of your life you will find the outlet for that period. I completed my dissertation in 2006 at age 53. As you said, that defined me for for a decade or so. Life continued and now I am seeking means to express what this portion of life means. I am also curious as to your dissertation topic. Also, what is the topic of your book?

    1. Thread gingerly as a nervous and restless person might be wondering why you are probing deep into her thoughts. However, with time she would come to understand that age is numbers and the ability to achieve a life long desire will materialize at a point in time, once one stay focused and believe in him/her self.

  4. I can understand how you are feeling. I’m at a crossroads where I have to decide what I’m meant to do with my life. It’s difficult and I became obsessed with figuring it out. Now, I’m just letting it come to me and I find that with each day, I’m discovering my propose in life. Good luck to you!

  5. This is very similar to my experience. I completed my dissertation in 2010. I did write the proverbial lengthy acknowledgements, for me it was a very emotional time. However, I wonder every day, now what? I’ve always wanted to write fiction, I have a few manuscripts out. But I go to work each day, because we have to survive, and wonder what I’m doing. I appreciate you classifying it as being restless – that’s more of a positive spin than what I would label it 🙂 ~thanks for sharing!

  6. I really identify with this post. I published a book almost a year ago, and I think I always thought that would be a peak experience. I loved the process of writing, and it is really that which gets me excited and motivated to do more. Life is a process, not an end-product. And we change direction all the time, because we have many interests.

  7. A very thoughtful way of saying that we do not always choose a career we love… For some, a career just becomes a routine, for others they try to love what they are doing.

  8. I’ve only read one blog post. It sounds like you found what you are passionate about through writing. I’m not the best writer, and I have more of a fact-driven and to the point perspective. While I can have imagination in my writings, I like to get to the point. From your reading, it seems you use good examples. Perhaps your gifting is in your writing. Your blogs can be a way of encouraging others. I don’t know what your degree is in, but the one thing I do know is that purpose in anyone’s life comes down to serving others. If you want to find purpose, we need to serve, not for ourselves and the elation one gets from it, but to better everyone else. When we do, our own lives become better. How you serve is up to you. Seems like writing is a good way for you to accomplish that. Blessings.

  9. Isn’t it interesting – the soul – to set a goal, work so diligently at it, overcome incredible challenges along the way (academia is not easy peasy, after all) and then to reach the work’s crescendo just to find that it was fulfilling, sure, but not that all encompassing kind of fulfilling, like as you put it “not my life’s work”. I have done and experienced this myself, just to find that it was a step that took me on another route, and just a few times, an entirely different route with absolutely no relation. One of the things that struck me from this piece was how you described your upcoming book as representing a different period of your life, a different person of your self. That, I think, is the essence of a life journey. You just peel away the layers, discover more about yourself, some use it to teach others (as it seems that’s what you’re doing, whether intentional or not) and others just carry on with those experiences, building an internal/secret wisdom that everyone can sense.

  10. I was trying to comment on the Acknowledgements but I feel that this will not post there. However, I have something to say about it and I felt it was important enough to leave a comment.
    “I continue to feel that there is something underneath me that defines me more than what I have done.”
    I felt completely drawn to this statement. Thank you.

  11. I enjoyed reading this – I had similar issues when I finished my PhD thesis, notably what to put and who to thank in my acknowledgements. If I were writing a book, I think it would be easier as much has changed for me in the four or so years since I got my PhD. But I think in my case, it is who is not mentioned in them that is telling. This was a really interesting piece. Thanks.

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