Nearing the start of the spring semester of my first year of grad school, I told my dad I was in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. It might as well have been the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Wine was poured. I (semi calmly) explained that I might be in the wrong graduate program, that I might want to pursue a different career path. I offered a more in-depth explanation. My dad listened and (completely calmly) said, “Withdraw from the program. Crisis averted.”
The next few days were a blur. Afternoons of meetings with academic advisors. Nights of long-lasting phone calls with friends. Every conversation ended with the same sentiment: “You chose to be here, you can choose to leave. If you aren’t entirely happy, why would you stay?” When you’re in a program like this, it’s easy to get sucked into the impressiveness of it all. You think of your parents glowing with pride while they tell co-workers, “My son goes here.” You watch people’s eyes widen when you reveal you’re a student at this school. But it fades quickly. Exceeding other people’s expectations is pretty meaningless if you aren’t meeting your own.
After finishing my first semester of grad school, I gave myself a winter break for the ages. I visited friends. I laughed. I danced. I turned 24. I got a haircut. Oddly enough, it was my hairdresser who helped me realize I needed this change. Mid clipping, she asked, “What do you want to do after you graduate?” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this question, but it was the first time I was honest with myself and said, “I don’t know.” I’m 24-years-old. And while sometimes I feel like I might as well be 60, I’m young. I’m so young. Up until now, I thought I had to have everything figured out. I was on such a formulaic track: get good grades in high school, get into a good college, get good grades in college, get a good job, get a good year of full-time work experience, get into a good grad school. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. And yet, as I was sitting in my hometown hair salon, staring at my reflection, I thought, “I’m not 100% sure what I want to do with my life.”
And not being 100% sure what I want to do with my life is 100% okay (…he finally accepts after weeks and worries and weighing the pros and cons of every option possible). If you think making a conscious choice to leave an Ivy League graduate program is stupid, maybe it is. But whether it’s the stupidest or smartest decision I’ve ever made, it’s the right one. A wise friend told me, “Generally, if you feel a sense of relief after making a big decision, you probably did the right thing.” Not only do I feel relieved, I feel excited. I feel rejuvenated. I thought if I quit grad school, I’d feel like a failure. Like I gave up on something. But I don’t.
One day, I might want to become a licensed counselor. I might want to embark on a career in HR (said no one but me, ever). I might want both of these things or I might want neither of these things. But I know I don’t want to decide the rest of my life today. Instead, I want to live it. I want to try something different—something exciting, something uncomfortable. I want to embrace my creativity. I want to be a twenty-something who doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I want to make mistakes and learn from them. I want to say “yes” to more things. I want spontaneity to be my new life’s motto.
I spent a semester of grad school challenging myself in ways I never thought I could. I learned from and befriended some of the most amazing young people who are definitely going to change the world. I don’t, for one second, regret making the decision to go to grad school. But I don’t regret making the decision to leave grad school either.