The Happy Nomad, PhD
Many people have asked me what my next step is after The Happy Nomad Tour came to an end. It hasn’t been easy. Although I didn’t find a way to become financially sustainable on my journey, the truth is I didn’t really focus on it either.
From the start, my six passions were traveling, writing, helping others, teaching, learning, and telling stories.
On The Happy Nomad Tour I’d say I had a good balance among all six of these. Traveling and learning go hand-in-hand for me, and each day I learned more through experience than I ever could have through reading or taking classes.
I’m not driven by stability or the idea of a career, but I would like to have an impact as I think about the time I have left on earth. I have had the privilege of getting an education, traveling the world, and living life on my terms. I daydream daily about the places I’ve been and the places I’ve yet to visit. In fact, I’d like to visit all of this beautiful planet’s countries before I pass on. But I have to go back to the roots of why I undertook The Happy Nomad Tour in the first place – happiness.
It was in going through The Happiness Plunge process that I discovered my six passions in the first place. I believe these six passions will guide me for the rest of my life and I feel so blessed to have taken the time to discover them back in 2011. However, adjustments are necessary and new adventures dictate a new mix among my passions so that I can continue to grow and develop myself.
I knew I couldn’t stop learning. I love to learn and I can’t envision a life in which my professional pursuits aren’t deeply tied into learning in some way. When I gave a speech at Ivey Business School last year, the professor who invited me planted a seed within me. He made the case for going back to school for a PhD in business. I have an MBA so it wasn’t a far stretch.
I didn’t take him seriously at first and had no interest in that. In many ways, I abhor the business world and its obligation to shareholders instead of humanity as a whole. I haven’t developed a better system, but one based on greed just doesn’t seem capable of addressing the needs of humanity – food, shelter, love, happiness, etc. Still, I focused on corporate social responsibility and sustainability during my MBA and I knew that a different side of business is emerging.
I read The Happiness Advantage while in Cyprus. It showed the link between happiness and increased corporate performance and employee well-being. I was intrigued, but still not moved.
Then I read Give and Take by Adam Grant. He is a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. The book was an exploration of the research into how those who give are often happier and more successful in life (personally and professionally) than those who do more taking. I couldn’t believe a professor at one of the world’s best business schools was researching something like this!
Now I was intrigued!
I went on marathon Google searches seeing all the research being done by positive psychology researchers. This research is being tested in businesses, creating further applied research. Many topics are ones I came across on The Happy Nomad Tour – mindfulness (meditation), breathing, empathy, compassion, cultural differences, and more. Other topics, such as engagement (also called flow), biohacking and neurofeedback, stress reduction, and happiness at work, are also seriously being studied. These have implications at work, but in regular life as well.
It became painfully obvious that few moves could be better than getting paid (admittedly with a modest stipend, but still!!) to be a student and researcher of happiness for four years, and then after graduation, being a well-paid researcher of happiness and teacher as a professor at a university.
While I may have been a good fit in a pure psychology program, it would be very difficult to get into such a program since I have no research experience and I have never taken a course in psychology. I think I prefer applied research more anyway, and pursuing this research via organizational behavior and/or human resources in the business realm was a more appropriate route for me.
I searched far and wide looking for business school PhD programs that have professors doing research in this area in some capacity. Sadly, despite the abundance of universities across the US and world, there were very few options. At the same time, I truly believe that after the eras of industrialization, globalization, and outsourcing, companies in the 21st Century will finally realize that they can achieve an advantage over the competition by creating corporate cultures steeped in happiness best practices.
As is evident by now, I’m very interested in understanding happiness and it’s no secret that many people are miserable at work. What an opportunity to learn, grow, and make an impact!
I took the standardized test, asked for letters of recommendation, wrote personal statements, and applied to programs. I had a bit of an uphill battle since I’m not a traditional student. I haven’t had a conventional life and I have no formal academic research experience. However, I happily accepted an offer from the University of Alabama! I’ve visited the campus twice and really liked the campus and the people I’ll be working with.
Alabama is one of the last places I ever thought I’d live, which made the prospect of this adventure even more appealing. I’m no stranger to going outside my comfort zone. Alabama isn’t outside my comfort zone, but if I had to live in the US it would have been near the bottom of a list of states I’d want to live in. And that’s exactly why it seemed like the perfect place to go! Thus far I’ve had nothing but good experiences there and I hope to be proven wrong about the Deep South.
My six passions remain the same, but the mix of each will change quite a bit as a PhD student. There will be some travel, but mostly within the US. I hope to at least take one overseas trip per year time/money permitting. My experiences to date have given me a lot of questions about happiness and hopefully I’ll be able to do some happiness research overseas. I’ll teach undergraduates starting in the second year of the four-year program, playing off my passion for teaching. I also expect to be involved on campus in ways that help others, though the happiness research I pursue will inevitably be rooted in my desire to help others.
After I graduate I hope to teach/research at a research university in the US or overseas. I expect to take advantage of visiting professorship opportunities, travel during breaks, and be very engaged in helping my students discover and transform themselves. Hopefully I’ll be able to initiate meaningful study abroad opportunities for them while working hard to get to the bottom of what drives our happiness individually and within groups.
I can’t wait to get started on this next chapter of my life, though in many ways it’s a natural evolution of my desire to understand human nature and happiness!
What an exciting new chapter in your journey! While I’ve been living and travelling abroad for the past 16 years, I was actually born and raised in Mobile, AL, even deeper south than Tuscaloos 😉 I’ve been following you on FB for awhile, and you really inspired me to re-evaluate my priorities and go after what I want most in life. I had thought that I was finished with the nomadic lifestyle and was ready to settle down and get a “real job”, but you reminded me how wonderful a life of travel, exploration and freedom is. There will definitely be a lot more of that in my future now. Best of luck with the PhD!
Thanks for the comment! Yes, it’s so important to constantly be reevaluating ourselves to make sure we’re pointed in the right direction. If you ever return to Alabama, please let me know!!
Wish you all the luck with your studies Adam. I recently did my PhD in Sweden after a few years of full-time travels and really enjoyed studying full-time again. Don’t stop traveling and don’t stop posting your stories on your blog!
Thanks so much, Peter!
Missing you amigo!
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