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Quitting is hard to do.

June 12, 2012

It’s been about a full month since my last dealings with grad school coursework. (Ah, the stress of finals, that special time in the semester when a person becomes hyped up on caffeine and stress as you struggle to just get that last few thousand words written.) In the ensuing time my husband and I packed everything up and moved far far away (not a galaxy length or anything, just a state or two.) The stress and anxiety of a big move like that combined with the flush of endorphins from finishing a semester combined to overshadow any other feelings about quitting grad school. Since the move I have unpacked almost all of our apartment (funny how there always seems to be more to unpack than when you are packing. When you pack, you usually get rid of a lot of extra stuff, keeping only the essentials. When you start to unpack you start to realize that maybe you didn’t need to keep those fifty pieces of paper about some esoteric facts that won’t apply to your “new” life. Maybe that’s just me?)

My desire the last few weeks has been to keep busy. Down time hasn’t really existed, or at least I have tried my best to prevent it. Why, you may ask? After the stress and long hours of graduate school why am I still trying to fill my days? The reality is quitting grad school is hard. A lot harder than I really wanted to admit. When I have down time, I start to think of the “world” I left behind. I was fortunate in that I was doing well in school, fortunate but at the same time it makes it harder in some ways. Harder to justify why I quit. Time has a funny way of making you forget the depressing parts and soon you only start to remember the good times, the nice things. (It isn’t always the case, but when I am trying to process the whole quitting grad school thing I find myself only really thinking of the good things.) I have been using the ever wise search engines to try to find out if the feelings I had in the down time concerning grad school were normal. There have been a few blogs I found that actually addressed the feelings you feel after quitting. You can read one of them here.

How am I feeling you might ask? Well in part I am struggling with the feelings of being a failure. I understand that I did not flunk out and quitting was a choice, but I am still struggling with feelings of failing. I failed in the sense that I am no longer a grad student. I failed in the sense that I was the reason my husband and I made the big move out to the “big city” leaving behind friends and family and in the end I “couldn’t cut it.” I feel like I fail because I didn’t get the degree. (I do have a great support system that helps to remind me that I don’t fail at life for quitting something, and they help to remind me of the depressing parts about school. But I am still trying to overcome this sense of failing.) The sense of failure stems in part because of the how I understood my identity. Academics were the one area I felt confidence in, the area most intrinsically intertwined with how I saw myself. Which leads to the next set of feelings.

I am struggling with a loss of self. I don’t know who I am outside of school, outside of the academic identity. My big questions: if I am not an academic, who am I? How do I understand myself?

I am feeling guilty. I feel guilty because I am taking the summer off to try to come to terms with the previous two feelings. I feel guilty because I haven’t gotten a “real job.” (Again wonderful support system in terms of helping me take the time to process it all.) I feel guilty for not finishing, I don’t have anything tangible from the experience, except an increase in student loan debt. I feel guilty for wanting to go back, but at the same time I don’t want to go back. (After making such a big deal about quitting.)

This guilt is also present in my feelings of second guessing and fear. I am second guessing my decision to quit (thanks in part to those good memories) and the guilt over not getting the degree. I don’t necessarily regret quitting, the second guessing plays off the other feelings: loss of self, what if I am supposed to be the academic? What if I can’t cut it in a different field? The feelings of failing; since I feel like I failed then doesn’t that mean I should go back and finish? Second guessing leads to guilt, over quitting (thus bringing on the feelings of second guessing) and the second guessing itself.

Feelings of fear are present as I try to figure out my next step. Fear is a motivator too, after quitting I feel like I need to take on some big challenge, (the fear of being a washout) whether that is a crazy challenge of 50,000 words in a month, there is the feeling that you need to complete something just as big and impressive as grad school. There is a real sense of fear at not being good enough. If I couldn’t “make it” in grad school, (which isn’t actually true, but easy to forget) do I have what it takes to succeed elsewhere in life?

The final feeling is sadness. Sadness covers everything, it is the bedfellow to the other feelings. Sadness of that loss of identity, knowing that I am no longer on the inside” makes me sad. Remembering the good times makes me sad. Feeling alone as I try to process this all makes me sad. Sadness at the reality that this was a “dream” for so long and now I am walking away (I walked away) from it. Sadness at the other feelings. I still struggle with “allowing” myself to have those other feelings. I am sad because I am not as euphoric as I expected to be at this point. (I am free of the long hours, the oppressive workload. The depressing city and courses.)

The reality is quitting grad school is hard. It stirs up emotions that seem completely irrational to those on the outside, but make sense as you try to make sense of the transition you are undertaking.It hasn’t been easy, and the last few days I have been noticing that there is more and more down time, forcing me to think about these feelings.

If nothing else I hope this post helps someone else out there. That it helps them to know they aren’t alone in not feeling euphoric as the reality starts to set in. Quitting is hard, but the months following are sometimes even harder. For now, I will keep working on my word count and try to process it all.

From → Post-Grad School

  1. I know it’s not the exact same, but I felt the same sadness and loss of identity when college ended. After being in school for so long, I felt it was the only place for me, even though I didn’t love classes like you did. I felt I didn’t have any real skills and was shocked anyone would hire me. But, look at that, with some time, I’ve started figuring out the real me. 😉 You will too; I have no doubt about that. In the mean time, just remember you have people who love you and support you and know you’re amazing, even when you feel like a failure.

  2. I think you are right to keep pushing forward. Feelings of sadness are real but they normally do pass. Thankfully.

  3. Thanks for the link and congratulations on quitting. I know it’s hard — I’m still processing it all, and my feelings still shift on a daily basis — but I think it’s the right move almost all of the time. In a year, we’ll be glad.

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