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Leaving just means going somewhere else

February 8, 2010

Around this time last year, I was debating whether I should apply to grad school for an MS in I/O Psychology.

I did. And I got in. I was into it. I started blogging about my classes. All was well in the world.  For awhile.

The classes were interesting. Until they got a little more in-depth. It’s not that it was too hard, or dry or anything like that. It was just … boring. I couldn’t imagine wanting to do this in real life, and this wasn’t even the very technical stuff. My classmates weren’t engaging, the supplemental reading was tear-inducing and the appeal just … wasn’t there.

So, I freaked out. I stopped blogging about the class (mainly because I really couldn’t think of anything to say, unless it was about how much I hated group work) and thought about quitting. I thought about how much money I was spending, and how much the idea of going to school two nights a week was filling me with dread.  I still loved the topic, but the parts of it I loved – I don’t think I need grad school to learn.

But I couldn’t quit. I mean, who quits after one semester? I told myself to suck it up, and the thoughts of self-doubt and guilt and embarrassment surfaced. You can’t just quit when something isn’t fun any more, right?

I decided that since the next class I had to take was stats, I would just suck it up and do it. It’s a required class, and even if I decided that I wasn’t going to continue with the degree, getting an intro to stats could only be a good thing. I’m not math oriented, have never taken stats and I work for a tutoring company, and the tutors could fill in the gaps in this intro class.

I went to the first day of class. I can write a whole blog post about the nightmare that this class was, but the short version is that this was not an intro class. There was an “unofficial” pre-req. The level of statistics was just way, way above my “I’ve heard the term regression and vaguely remember something about standard deviation” head. It was all group work and SPSS and labs and … not for me.

I spoke with the professor, and the department advisor and the department secretary. Everyone agreed that the professor shouldn’t have made it this difficult and I shouldn’t have needed a pre-req, but there was really no recourse. I think that because most of their students were probably Psychology majors in undergrad, most students had at least a few stats classes under their belt. But, the department couldn’t have been nicer. They offered office hours, switching to an undergrad class and taking this class again. They offered me sitting in on this class, and switching this semester’s class to an elective for now. They showed me the available electives. These should have been the fun classes. They did not sound fun. And the idea of doing all this extra work, and spending extra money to take a class that I was only taking because I thought it would have other relevance? My stomach was turning.

I had another freak out. I knew that in my gut, I wanted to quit. But that voice in my head was telling me that I shouldn’t. It taunted me that I always quit when things get tough, and how disappointed everyone would be in me. I thought about how this could be my last shot at school, because the idea of asking for recommendations for school again and taking the GRE in the future is just … not happening.  My boyfriend reminded me that I am a smart girl, and that I could get through this.

But my gut was telling me that this was not for me. Luckily, I have some great friends and a supportive partner. I also had a great conversation with someone at my office that I truly admire and who was once in a similar situation in her career.

I reviewed the reasons I wanted to go in the first place. And none of them fit any more. I started grad school because I wanted to do something fun, because I felt time was running out, and because I had a vision of myself as having a graduate education.  And while time was running out to apply, it’s going by even quicker when I am doing something I don’t like doing – and I’m losing out on time I could be spending on projects I love. And while I still love this vision of me, it’s a self-imposed vision.

It seemed more and more that the only reason to stay was because I was scared of what leaving would say about me. But as many people reminded me, I am not a 10 year old girl who hates her new ice skating lessons.

So, I dropped the class. Sure, if I think I made a mistake, I can just enroll next semester, take the class with a different professor and just start fresh. So, I have an out. But for now, dropping this class means I dropped the degree. I’m done with school.

I’m still a little freaked out about my decision. I am having a hard time shaking the feeling of failure and that I disappointed people, or that I took the easy road. I felt the same way when I decided not to pursue a graduate degree in Anthropology. And the funny thing is, I still sometimes feel bad about that – but I don’t think I made a mistake. But overall, what I feel is relief.

I think that when the dust settles, and I’m further down the road then I am now, I am going to look back and be proud of myself for listening to my gut. And the sooner I learn to trust myself and pursue things I am passionate about instead of what I think I should be doing, the more successful and happy I will be.

Framed Portrait
Creative Commons License photo credit: dcwriterdawn

  1. Meredith permalink
    February 8, 2010 10:45 am

    I think it’s great that you made the decision that was hard, but ultimately right. We can get caught up in doing what we think we should do, what others think we should do. I don’t think you took the easy road – you made a very difficult decision and obviously put a lot of time, energy and thought into making sure it was the right decision. That doesn’t sound easy to me!

    I’ve had to make similar decisions in my own life and I always felt so guilty at the time. But now, being able to look back, I know I did the right thing. I suspect you’ll find the same is true for you.

  2. February 8, 2010 1:28 pm

    That’s a big decision. It was very brave of you to admit to yourself and to everyone else that the reasons you started this project no longer exist. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to know when it’s time to move on.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..The Tenacity to Try =-.

  3. February 8, 2010 1:31 pm

    I think this is really fantastic.

    Maybe only because I’ve been examining my own reasons for going back to school and realizing most of them relate to 15 year old me assuming I would have a fancy degree some prestigious school by now and that look people I haven’t seen for a while get on their face when I told them I chose not to go to school and learn a trade skill instead.

    It’s so hard for me to marry the idea of being a nerdy girl with being a pastry chef. And so hard to figure out which old concepts of myself are good to be working towards and which might just be holding me back.
    .-= Alana´s last blog ..As always was always it shall be. Do you really love me? =-.

  4. February 8, 2010 7:25 pm

    I wish I could count up for you all the people I’ve seen with graduate degrees who don’t need them for the career they end up pursuing. If it’s your passion, then maybe you can decide it doesn’t matter that you didn’t end up using the degree … but this does not sound like you were spending time in a way you were passionate about.

    I am a big believer that you should only get a graduate degree if you really need it for the path you want to be on. That doesn’t sound like the case here.

    I think you should be impressed with yourself for figuring it out, giving it the serious thought it deserved, and ultimately going with what you knew was right even though it scared you.

    I guarantee you that far more people will think “good for you for being realistic and flexible and not afraid to change course for good reasons” than will think “quitter!”
    .-= Ask a Manager / Alison Green´s last blog ..and we’re going to strip-search you before the job interview =-.

  5. February 8, 2010 11:41 pm

    excellent post. Proud of you for all of it. For going through all that it took to get to school again and for figuring out it wasn’t for you and making that hard decision. good for you!
    .-= April´s last blog ..I guess I should have seen this coming. =-.

  6. February 9, 2010 10:33 am

    Thanks everyone. I am really floored by the positive response I’ve gotten to this post. I was so hesitant to share, and I am so glad I did.

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