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?