Post Academic

Why Quitting Might Not Be As Bad As You Think

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on January 28, 2011
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Is quitting really that bad? In a guest post I did for Worst Professor Ever a few months ago, I fessed up to quitting a PhD program after the MA. I wrote the following:

Yes. I’m a quitter who makes more money and has better job opportunities precisely because I quit.

That’s all true. I do make more money, and I do have better job opportunities, but I realize that I sound, well, prickly and defensive. The subject of quitting brings out that feeling in me.

What’s so bad about quitting? For starters, “quitter” is one of the first insults hurled when a person abandons a challenge. “Quitting” is synonymous with weakness and whining. It’s the low point in any movie, the moment when the protagonist hits rock-bottom. Even in comedies, someone must protect the protagonist from being a quitter, like when Leslie Nielsen rallies Robert Hays into landing that hot-mess airplane and proving he’s a real pilot after all.

Okay, you might not want to quit your job in this fashion, but this is a pretty good “I quit” monologue. Apologies for anyone who have issues with potty mouths.

But that’s the movies, and we can’t all have Leslie Nielsen as a sidekick. In real life, quitting can actually be a good thing. Quitting is similar to editing. If something isn’t working for you, cut it out. Over at Lifehacker, Nick Cernis wrote,

Anyone can make something. But to make something great, you have to find the courage to ditch the things dribbling along at half-past average.

Cernis refers to comments from Ira Glass and Seth Godin to back up this theory, and they are anything but pathetic losers. Yet they are also quitters and proud of it. The key is to think of your life as if it were a manuscript. Sometimes you have to take something out or change paths in order to make it better–and you’re hardly a failure if you decide to make a change.

3 Responses to 'Why Quitting Might Not Be As Bad As You Think'

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  1. Yes, everyone should read your Q & A, good stuff and (as I tell everyone) far more reasonable advice than you’d get from me! Great quotes here, as well. I agree that the editing your life is key, and just as you say, that means removing the parts that aren’t adding anything to it.

  2. Leaving academia doesn’t have to be sad. I find it mostly liberating. My hard-won PhD will just be this little thing that I carry around in my back pocket to use when I need it. It doesn’t define me. It doesn’t say what I can do or can’t do or what I’m good at. It’s just something I did once before I went on to do other things. In the future, I’ll periodically take it out of my pocket and look at it fondly and say, “how about that.”

    • Exactly–it doesn’t define you. We don’t like it when people try to define us, so why should we let degrees define us. On the opposite side, I’ve met a bunch of people who don’t have BA’s, MA’s or PhD’s (esp. recently) who are waaay smarter than some of the PhD’s I’ve met. A degree is only one of many ways to get a job.

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