The Seven and Eight of Pentacles: Patience and Humility

I’m at an odd juncture in my life right now. I only have one year left of my Ph.D (although I said that this time last year, so who really knows?) and I’m desperate to move on to the next thing. I don’t know exactly what the next thing is; I’ll apply for academic jobs in the fall, but the academic job market is abysmal, and I’m not even sure that staying in academia is what I want to do. I love teaching, but increasingly I feel like the research is not for me. Then again, I know a couple of people who felt that way during grad school but whose lives completely changed once they started work as professors, so who’s to say?

Aside from academic jobs, I’ll apply for a variety of other things, depending on what’s available. I frequently say that my dream is to do something that’s not only not actively evil, but that actually puts some good into the world. It’s a high bar, I know, but a guy can dream. I’m looking at some options in nonprofit work, some options in publishing, and a couple of other things. I know that someone somewhere will hire me to do something; it’s just a matter of finding it.*

I also don’t know where in the world I’ll be after I finish grad school. There’s a part of me that desperately misses the geography of the mountainous American west coast, and that thinks quite seriously about moving to Denver or Salt Lake. There’s another part of me that misses living overseas, and I’ve recently taken steps to renew my Australian passport in order to open up further options for me. America’s fine and dandy, but there’s a whole world out there, and after five years of living in the New Jersey boonies, I miss exploring that world. I do know that wherever I end up after grad school, it will not be where I am now. New Jersey and New York have been good for me, but it’s time for me to move on.

And yet, it’s not really time, because I still have one more year to go. One more year presses down on me, surrounding me on all sides. On one hand, it’s a promise, an indication that I’m almost done and almost able to move on to what’s next in my life. On the other hand, it’s a painful reminder that almost only counts as horseshoes and hand grenades. I want to move forward with my life, but I can’t, because I’m not done with school. I’m only almost done.

I feel trapped by the transient nature of my life right now. I feel like I’m locked up in a cage. And don’t get me wrong, my life is pretty good. I get paid a comfortable salary, my work is intellectually engaging, I have a good network of friends, and I have hobbies that I enjoy. But there’s a part of me that feels like a golden cage is still a cage—because even though I’m making the best of my current situation and trying to have gratitude for all I’ve got, I’m still stuck, and I’m still acutely aware of that long year stretching out ahead of me before the cage will unlock and I can go free.

I’ll confess, I’m unhappy. Unhappy not in the sense of “unhappy about XYZ,” but just… Unhappy. Just unhappy in the sense that I have a deep, unshakeable feeling that my life is not as it should be, and it cannot be as it should be for another year at least. This is not a new feeling, and I explored it somewhat in a (rather petulant and tantrumy) series of posts from January of last year. The takeaway from those posts was that I needed an attitude adjustment; for the time being, my material circumstances aren’t going to change, so the only thing to do is to change my outlook and to focus on gratitude for what I have and spending my energy on the things that bring me joy. I think that’s still a good message, but hey, it’s easier said than done. Lately, I’ve been struggling.

At Midsummer this year, I performed a solitary ritual that involved a divinatory component, and I got a message through: In order to make it through the coming year, you need patience and humility. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on those two virtues, trying to think about what they mean to me, where I have them, where I lack them, and how I can cultivate them. I am, by nature, neither a patient man nor a humble one, so this is good work for me to do regardless, but it feels especially appropriate for the year ahead.

And because I am who I am, I naturally turned my attention to the Tarot. In Tarot, the two cards that most represent patience and humility to me are the Seven and Eight of Pentacles, respectively. In the Seven of Pentacles, we see someone planting seeds that will not bear fruit for a long time; the gardener has to work hard knowing that his labor will yield a reward someday, but not knowing when or how large the reward will be. In the Eight of Pentacles, we see an apprentice at a workbench, performing a task set by his master; he submits himself to the instruction of another, accepting that the master knows better than him and he can only perfect his craft by accepting that tutelage.

The Seven of Pentacles.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past month or so thinking about these cards. The gardener in the Seven of Pentacles doesn’t waste his time complaining about how long it takes for his garden to yield fruit. He doesn’t idly wish for the fruit to come sooner, or spend his hours dreaming about what the fruit will taste like. He sees that there is work to be done now, and he sets himself to doing it—knowing that there will be fruit eventually, but only if he cultivates the garden now. He puts off all thought of the reward and focuses on the work, because the reward can only come if the work is done, and simply wishing for the reward won’t make it any more a reality.

The Eight of Pentacles.

In the Eight of Pentacles, we see that the role of a student requires humility. Not grudging humility, not an eye-rolling, huffing, sarcastic willingness to put up with the will of someone else, but a genuine acceptance that there are things unknown and left to learn. I’ve had a lot of issues with my adviser over the course of the past couple of years; some of those are his fault (as the chair of my department politely put it, he “has had stormy relationships with his students in the past”) and some are my fault for not being very good at advocating for myself.

Regardless, though, one thing is true: My adviser is a subject-matter expert. He knows the material, and revising my work based on his feedback has only ever made my scholarship better. If I want to finish this degree, I have to produce a piece of scholarship at sufficiently high quality, and an important part of that lies in listening to the people who know more than me and are more experienced than me. As much as I would love for my department to just give me the Ph.D (because really, haven’t I worked hard enough for it at this point?), that’s not how it works. And rather than railing against the system (or my adviser, or my one more year, or…), I’m best served by accepting the situation as it currently. Humility means I don’t get to have everything my way, and that’s okay. But it’s a hard lesson for me to learn.

These thoughts are somewhat inchoate. Patience and humility mean a number of other things, both generally and for my life in particular. This is just a gloss of some of what I’ve been thinking about as I try to navigate this last year of grad school and get my fucking doctorate. I have a meeting with my adviser tomorrow, so let’s all cross our fingers and hope that goes well. But if it doesn’t go well, that’s all part of the process—and the best thing for me to do is to accept what comes and return to my work with patience and humility.


*This is the point where I have learned it’s necessary to offer a brief note to the reader. Please don’t comment with suggestions on the career path you think I should pursue after I finish grad school. I know comments like that are made with the best of intentions, but they’re really not helpful.

2 thoughts on “The Seven and Eight of Pentacles: Patience and Humility

  1. Really good post, and timely. You are not alone. It feels personal but those are universal issues and feelings right now.


  2. Hi Jack,
    You’ll get through it. One day at a time. Love your analysis of 7 and 8 of Pentacles. The Seven is exactly what you’re struggling with right now: Have you put your ladder up against the right tree? Think of your advisor as one of the Kings. You didn’t get to choose him but your working in his Kingdom. You get to leave the Kingdom when your project is done, and search for your own tribe. Every day commit to working or writing or reading a small portion of whatever you need to do so the the damn dissertation gets down on paper. . It doesn’t have to be perfect, just adequate. I would say from interpreting what you wrote between the lines, that Academia is not Kingdom you will eventually choose. Good luck to you my friend. It’s gonna happen
    Penny from St Paul


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