I hear you. I’ve had an engineering education and career. However, right now my primary interests concern the nexus between posthumanism and religious studies… music of course being the thread that would tie everything together, but actually doesn’t because I keep failing at the integration.
I’ve often thought about going back to school. A sort of intellectual mentor (I’ve never met him personally), the writer Erik Davis, did exactly this, a PhD in his mid-40’s and seems much better off for it. But the truth is I wouldn’t have developed my current interests had I not become so frustrated with my own field and the state of technology in general. So I actually have to give credit to my being out of place, because the “out of place” is actually one of the most productive places from which to think. Everything becomes so much more tangible, so much more real when it hurts at some level.
Also, I honestly like being outside of the university. I think 1) they tend to ignore or dismiss significant cultural developments happening at the “ground level” – occasionally a Henry Jenkins comes along but only as the exception to the rule; 2) they tend to reorganize in ways that attract the most funding, endangering the more interesting disciplines and becoming themselves highly susceptible to corporate interests. A lot of “interdisciplinary” reorganization is basically to make everything a branch of engineering, rather than stimulate productive dialogue between disciplines, in ways that actually respect those disciplines. Also within individual disciplines you find that corporate “pull” – I keep thinking how 99% of computer science research, in particular the deep learning stuff is just free labor for Google and Facebook … and students actually push to do this because they know that’s how they’ll get hired.
Three downsides to being outside the university today is: 1) it’s lonely, in an intellectual as well as a social sense; 2) most of the interesting contemporary research is behind a JSTOR paywall… technically I have ways around this but the ethics are troubling, so I don’t do it. 3) in spite of all the challenges, there are some really cool people doing cool things at universities and creating exactly the “right” kind of interdisciplinarity, even though they never get credit/money/prestige.
But whatever the limitations I’m so glad I went through the process at least once.
The best thing I got out of education in general was “learning how to learn”. That’s what continues to stick with me, not any specific content.
The best thing I got out of my PhD was learning how to be self-directed as a learner and researcher, and radically so. While I had basically an absentee advisor, he did set a very good example of how to conduct oneself in the field, so I learned a lot by osmosis and by intentionally copying certain aspects of his behavior (what journals and conferences to target, who to meet at the conferences). The worst thing (aside of some very specific stressful situations – one where I was hospitalized) is that all of the technical writing basically killed my ability to write and I’ve never recovered it. It also made me put music on hold, and I didn’t get back to it for over 20 years.
I don’t know if any of this can help your specific situation… the TL;DR is – 1) education generally is tremendously valuable and more so than you think at the time; 2) you have no idea where your interests will go in life; most people reinvent themselves every 10 years or so.