I quit a couple of days ago, and I feel better than I have in a long time! I’m still processing it and will probably have more to say as time goes on. Right now what I’ve noticed: I feel less anxious and tense in my body. My voice is no longer coming out as a tiny, strangled, foreign thing. A friend told a funny story, and I heard this open, relaxed laughter — and realized that it was mine. Haven’t heard that sound around here in a while!
Which reminds me. As a shiny, ambitious, clueless undergrad, I knew a fair number of people who quit grad school. These were people I only knew from a distance, from our mixed-level classes. They seemed terribly unhappy. Some were bitter. Some showed, from the slump of their shoulders to the dull, flat tones with which they denigrated their achievements, that they didn’t think much of themselves. Many were jumpy and furtive. I never wanted to be one of them because they were so miserable. I didn’t understand that they were miserable because they were toughing it out through a process that wasn’t serving their needs, and that quitting was so stigmatized or scary or incomprehensible that they may have felt they had no way out. I thought their poor self-image and bad attitude were incidental, personal issues that ultimately caused them to quit.
Oh, to go back in time and tell my younger, less experienced self to stop judging, and instead listen and watch carefully! Fast forward several years: having seen many of my grad school friends become miserable, then quit, then start liking things and people again and become wonderfully successful and happy, I now realize that it’s the situation of hating where you are and thinking you can’t leave that turns capable, smart, vivacious people into dried-out husks of themselves. If only they’d been able to quit sooner, those people probably wouldn’t have gotten to such a state. If I had been able to quit sooner, I wouldn’t have witnessed the gradual hollowing out and waning of my own voice. But it’s not always possible to quit sooner. It is what it is. But I feel so much better now I’m on the other side.