Why I Decided to Quit Grad School (Before I Even Started)

There’s a difference between making a good decision and making a smart decision. A smart decision requires that you weigh both the short-term and long-term tradeoffs, assemble all pieces of information that would be relevant and important to you, and then act accordingly. On the other hand, there’s less pressure on a good decision. If you’re like me, and you lean heavily upon your intuition/gut instinct when making choices, it’s likely that you take a no-muss-no-fuss approach to decision-making. It’s not that I do no research whatsoever, it’s just that I often reach a point where additional research and deliberation feels unnecessary because I know deep down in my soul that something either feels very right or very wrong.

Recently, I made a decision that I would not characterize as a smart one. Almost a year ago, I was in the process of transitioning out of my job in consulting, interviewing for a job at the company where I currently work. And I felt deep down that a lateral move in Corporate America wasn’t truly the path for me. So I got incredibly honest with myself. I read the book The Quarter-Life Breakthrough by Adam Smiley Poswolsky, and it provided me the mental space to really think outside the box in terms of what I wanted to do with my career. I did a lot of reflection, and I ultimately realized that I coveted the lives and careers of all of the registered dietitians that I followed (and still do follow) on social media. I saw what looked to be the flexible work schedules of private practice dietitians, and I thought about how awesome it sounded to help people via a subject that I was (and still am!) so passionate about: nutrition. For the first time in my entire life, I gave myself permission to consider a career outside of the corporate business realm, and I was elated. I was so grateful that I had finally acknowledged my desire to break the mold I was living in and start doing something that would be much more fulfilling. I was elated, and in my gut, this felt like the absolute right choice for me.

From that point on, I proceeded to do a medium amount of research about which schools I could attend, what the entire process of obtaining a maters in nutrition + becoming an RD would look like, and roughly what the costs (monetary cost and opportunity cost of my time) would be. I was admittedly swept up in the rush and excitement of embarking on a new path that I completely underestimated the types of sacrifices I’d have to make to attend 3 years of grad school as a student who had no prior schooling in science. I would have to finagle my schedule to take the mandatory classes for the grad program, while also commuting to a community college to take basic lab sciences. I would have to spend my summers interning (for free…as a former business major, this is truly something I’ve never had to encounter), which meant the 10-day trip the boyfriend and I were planning on taking was out the window. And I would be in debt, for a while, with no guarantee that my future salary would be sufficient enough to dig me out in time to start a family. And trust me–I fully, completely, 100% understand that this situation, or parts of it, is very real for a lot of the people obtaining a higher education and/or switching careers. I totally get it. But here’s the beauty of that situation–every individual gets to choose whether that’s the smartest choice for him or her at that time. And for me, I ultimately decided that it was not.

There are some additional considerations that went into my decision to quit grad school before it even began. For instance, I acknowledged the very real possibility that I desired to pursue this path because I was still struggling with food. That’s not untrue. To this day, I still have disordered eating thoughts and I am still learning how to properly fuel my body to feel energized each day. For me, it’s really really hard to not be afraid to eat too much, too much of certain foods, certain foods altogether, etc. I am still very much a work in progress on this front and will share about it in greater depth at some point. But I ultimately acknowledged that I shouldn’t let an obsession with food guide such a drastic career change. Additionally, I realized that I shouldn’t let my disdain with the culture of Corporate America drive me out of it. I soberly recognized the ways in which I could have made my own experience better, and you will see that I am actively trying to make Corporate America work for me these days. But in some of my previous jobs, this effort was lacking, and I had played the victim card a bit. Woe was me for needing to be at the client site 10+ hours. It’s ultimately up to me to make the most of any experience, and that’s what I am dedicated to doing today.

So what exactly happened after I decided to quit grad school? Well, classes hadn’t exactly begun yet. It was the weekend before classes were to start, and once I was sure I wasn’t going to attend, I immediately contacted the university to get 80% of my tuition down payment reimbursed. I immediately started doing a lot of self-reflection about what I wanted out of my life and career. And I still don’t know what I want. I ended up applying for and accepting a job at the company I was working for when I first started applying for grad school, and the work is decent. The role is pretty low-stress, and I am honing a lot of skills in analysis and cross-functional collaboration. But I still don’t know what my path is ultimately going to look like. And for the most part, I am at peace with that. In The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, Poswolsky talks about how certain jobs can be thought of as “lily pads” along the path to something else. That’s kind of how I am viewing my current role, trusting that I will gain the wisdom and insight to pursue a more exciting opportunity later on.

In the meantime, I am still doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out what I really want to do in my career, which still very well might include something related to nutrition and wellness. Who knows. I am choosing to believe that there is an abundance of opportunity to do what lights you up, and I’m letting that confidence propel me forward each day.

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