This week, my NPR station replaced one of its local shows with rebroadcasts of Freakonomics, and how lucky is it that the only episode I caught was one called The Upside of Quitting. Wow did it hit home.
I should be better at quitting by now. I was fortunate to learn very early in life that quitting could sometimes be the best decision one could make. I had a horrific middle school experience and I spent years trying to stick it out, thinking that was what you were supposed to do. But then my one and only friend started applying to private school, so I did the same (at the time I didn’t appreciate how lucky and rare it was to have this option). It’s very possible that the decision to give up fighting saved my life. And better, it taught me that escape is actually possible. I thought my social troubles in middle school were my fault, and therefore they would follow me wherever I went. But no, at the new school I had little trouble making friends and generally enjoying my life. I had thought that to change my circumstances, I would have to change everything about myself. But quitting, it turns out, is much much easier and sometimes much healthier.
Listening to this show made me remember how liberating that experience was, and how completely I am making myself learn that lesson all over again. I have spent the last 8 years trying to fix myself to make academia work. I know that I am fairly insecure, and that academia exacerbates that, so I turned to therapy to fix that part of me. I am not always great at being productive when left entirely to my own devises, so every quarter I devised a new schedule or system for maximizing my time and energy. I tried all kinds of different teacher personalities until I had my best quarter just giving the fuck up and being myself. But while writing my last post, I realized that I am actually pretty fine. Not perfect, but my neuroses are pretty manageable when I’m not in an environment that pushes all of their corresponding buttons. Why feel bad about going with that?
I am not quitting all the way. As much as I am pretty tired of my dissertation, especially now that it will not fulfill its one tangible purpose – to get me a job – I know that I will be disappointed in myself if I don’t finish it. I’m incredibly close to doing so, so I’m going to stick with that one last piece of work until it’s done. But after that, I quit. Big time. I can see now that all the frustration and resulting laziness that I battled in grad school on a daily basis was really just a product of this specific situation. By moving on, I am going to free up so much energy. I won’t have to try to mold myself academia, and feel bad about the fact that that’s not actually possible. I can find somewhere that I already fit. I don’t know what it is yet. And some days I don’t believe I’ll find it. But some days I do, and I think its worth the dealing with the uncertainty and fear to see if it’s out there.
So yay for quitting! What are your favorite or best quits? Let’s make a little shrine to giving up in the comments.