I found an answer to all of those "Why do you want to go back to school? Why do you study those things? Why do you want to learn that much anyway?" questions and a response to those (myself included) who say/know one person can't save the world or solve all of its problems. I found it in a social theory book (go figure) and it even references dogs! :)
“…the evident genius of the human spirit lies in the hard fact of life that we, like our dogs... [are] limited in all the important ways… We cannot do all that our powerful minds trick us into thinking we can. In a word, this is the mystery of being human. Our finest nature is not our ability to think and do. It is that we do and think as we do in spite of the obstacles…On average, the better ones among us continue to think and do what they can with no assurance that solutions will be found.” --Charles Lemert, from preface of Thinking the Unthinkable
Dr. Lemert goes on to say how dogs go about their daily business but it's not necessarily a calculated process. He also discusses how sometimes things just happen--like natural disasters, for example. But dogs just sort of go with the flow; they take things in stride. They don't sit around and wonder all the whys that humans do. This, I suppose, is one of those fundamental differences between my 4-legged best friends and my 2-legged ones. :) But this, too, is one of those traits I wish I could sometimes borrow from my dogs, instead of losing sleep and stirring about the world's problems (in addition to my own).
As I embark on this new journey to "PhD School" I hope this quote and these concepts are some things I can keep in mind. I am limited (because I am human) but that doesn't mean that I can't move forward and do what I can to work toward the betterment of myself and others even if there is not assurance that any type of solution will come out of my labors. I know that my other academic peers have these same struggles. I try to remember to "think globally, act locally" and all of those other cliches we use to give us some peace of mind that all of our efforts are worth it when, on the inside, we fear/know that any differences we are lucky enough to make will be on a much smaller level than we wish. Hopefully, I will reach my goal of becoming a PhD...though that is a long way from now. In the meantime, I will think and do what I can and hopefully become one of "the better ones among us" in my pursuit and even help others along the way.