September 10, 2011 TIFAS: Lessons about quitting
I have a confessions to make: I almost quit my research internship in Vienna the summer after my sophomore year. I was about a month into it, and there were many reasons I wasn’t happy with the job. One particular Saturday morning (yes, I had to work weekends – one of the reasons), a co-worker took over the lab where I was supposed to work in without looking at the sign-up sheet. At the moment, it was just the last straw for me, and I broke down, took off, crying the whole way on the tram back to my dorm. Back in my room, I cried and cried. I hit my pillow in anger and frustration. I was so upset that I took out my contract and saw that that day was the last day I could quit. And I seriously considered it.
I opened up a Word document and wrote down all the reasons why I hated my internship and wanted to quit.
It had a shocking 20 items and took up the whole page. As I stared at it, tears still running down my face, I wondered what more reason I needed to leave this job. But I was always the indecisive one, so I hesitated. And when I calmed down a little more, I called my parents and Yufei and told them that I wanted to quit. I was pretty sure that none of them thought I was serious, that I was just having a bad day and would move on. So then I did what I always do when I’m uncertain: I researched the topic online. And the overwhelming opinion was that you shouldn’t quit an internship, especially in the middle of it. At this point, I was starting to doubt myself. The practical questions started to pop up: what would I do for the rest of the summer? Would I have to leave Vienna and go home? What would the other interns think of me? What about the travel plans Yufei and I already made for after my internship? Who’s going to finish my project? And so on and so forth.
In the end, I got so tired that I just went to bed. So I didn’t end up quitting, and I’m so glad I didn’t. And here’s why:
- Things did get better at work
- My final project presentation went great and I won a prize at the symposium
- I got to have some awesome experiences travelling in Europe
- My PI ended up writing me recommendation letters for future internships
- Even though my project ended up being pretty successful, I’ve come to realize that research really, really isn’t the thing for me
- And most importantly, the experience taught me that I have the ability to overcome anything. I still have the file “Why I hate my internship and want to quit” on my computer, and all of those things on it still hold true. But now I know that if I got through such a difficult and miserable time, I can get through anything.
I’m not trying to tell you to never quit. Heck, giving up is probably harder than holding on. But there are some takeaways from my story:
1. Never make big decisions when you’re extremely emotional. I’m so glad I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me and make a rash decision to quit. Take some time to calm down and regain your ability to think rationally before making the decision.
2. Think through the consequences of quitting. And not just the consequences you would face, but also how it would affect others. Not only in the present time, but also down the road. Think about the things you could be losing if you quit.
3. Talk it out and write it out. Talking with my loved ones and writing that list really allowed me to vent a lot of my anger. Your friends and family might offer a fresh perspective on things too.
These lessons about quitting apply no matter if you’re thinking about quitting a job, leaving a relationship, giving up on a career path, or changing a major. So think carefully before you decide to give up on something, especially something big, even if it doesn’t seem big at the time. But of course, if after careful consideration, you come to the conclusion that it really is time to move on, then at least you can be assured that you’ve thought it through and made the right choice.