When Is It Ok to Quit? No Seriously, I’m Asking.

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Winners never quit and quitters never win.
 

Never give up.

These are the quotes I can remember pasted above the blackboard of my grade 6 classroom like it was yesterday. This ‘no quitting’ sentiment was mirrored by my parents who refused to let me quit whatever childhood activity I started and subsequently realized I hated. In hindsight, they were right. Quitting something that you’ve barely started is almost never worth it (unless the thing you’ve started is smoking – then you can feel free to quit ASAP). The first few days or tries of almost anything are hardly indicative of what the experience is really like, and sometimes we don’t realize we love to do something after a bit of time and practice.

But when do you decide that you’ve given it a good try? When do you say to yourself “Ok, I seriously gave that my all and realized that it’s not for me”? It’s easy enough with recreational activities like learning a to play the piano or joining a softball team, but what about when it’s your career?

 I’m not sure yet, but I may have made a major mistake in my career path. I’ve been in school for almost a decade (I know) and now, nearing the end of my Ph.D. degree in chemistry I’ve decided I actually want nothing to do with chemistry or actually with research in general. 5+ years in graduate school and thousands of dollars in tuition to learn that it’s not for me. Wow.

 About 2 years ago I had daily thoughts of quitting. I’ve since learned that this is normal – almost every grad student has these thoughts in the dog days of their Ph.D. With the excitement of the start gone and the end nowhere in sight, you’ve realized that actually research very rarely works out the way you want it to. But now I’m approaching the end and the thought of a ‘traditional’ academic or industry career path makes me want to be sick. So what does that mean? Should I have actually been a quitter, saved myself some time and started figuring out what I really love?! Mom and Dad, did you steer me wrong all these years?!

 Let’s think about the positives here; I learned a lot both about myself and my field of study – certainly I know more than I did 5 years ago (if that’s worth anything). But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is not what I want to do, but how I want to do it. I love the independence of graduate school. Having ideas and executing on them and failing, and readjusting, and failing, and readjusting and on and on until something works. I love working towards creating something that is actually MINE and that I truly believe in. I’ve learned I need to be proud of the work I do in order to be happy. I need to be invested. I’ve also re-discovered a love for writing. I say rediscovered because I have piles of notebooks I would write short stories and the beginnings of novels in as a kid. So certainly the experience has not been for naught – albeit expensive and time consuming.

 In the next year as I try to graduate and start my ‘real’ life I know I will be facing a lot of pressure to continue in research. To apply for jobs in a lab of some shit company I couldn’t care less about. To be another cog in the machine. And although that might not sound like a big deal, it feels crazy to do a Ph.D. and then end up in the same place I would have been without it, only older and more jaded.

 Will I regret my decision to stay and follow the advice of my grade 6 classroom’s shining motivational banners? I don’t know yet – we’ll have to wait and see.


Have you ever quit something you worked on for years? Do you think that was the right decision? Have you ever regretted NOT quitting?

3 thoughts on “When Is It Ok to Quit? No Seriously, I’m Asking.

  1. I know the feeling. I received my PhD in 2014. Academia and research wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be like. I worked for a university and conducted research, but I didn’t have the passion for it. I’m currently writing Young Adult fiction. I love it. I believe my PhD helped me to become a better writer, so I don’t regret it. In fiction writing, you have to do research too and study the market. My PhD helped with that. I may go back into academia, but right now, I’m pursuing my passion. I hope it works out. We will see. I hope you find the right balance between your heart and mind and utlimately you are happy with your desision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear from someone in a similar situation.

      I think you’re definitely right – there are a lot of things that I’ve learned while doing my PhD that can be applied to lots of other things. For the past year or so this is what I’ve been focusing on and trying to build upon (in addition to actually graduating of course).

      It is really inspiring to hear that you are following your passion and loving it! I’m so happy that you were able to make the decision to do something that you actually love :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Danielle,
        I agree. When I came across your blog, I was relieved! I struggled to make the decision to stay in academia or try something else. I believe there is a disconnect with published research papers and reaching the intended audience. There are also issues with getting funding, so researchers pick topics based one funding. There is a lot of good in research and teaching as well. You have to find what is best for you. It’s not easy to do. I felt dumb for having a PhD and not working in academia for about a year. I’ve only been out of it since January 2017, but I felt bad that I was even part time. I’m curious to see where your journey goes. I’ll update you on mine. Nice to connect!

        Like

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