On a slightly chilly spring day in lower Manhattan, a well-dressed homosexual decided to drop out of graduate school.
The decision was not made rashly — in fact, much consideration went into it. Consultations were made with peers and elders that he trusted. Lists of pros and cons were constructed. A one-on-one meeting was even held with his professor. But these efforts were mere formalities made in earnest, for in his heart, he knew that leaving the program was the right thing to do from the beginning.
In case you haven’t caught on, the person I’m talking about is me.
Before coming to this decision, I decided to head to New York City to clear my head — because where else could I get some clarity than in one of the busiest, dirtiest cities in the country? I had gone back-and-forth for many weeks on whether or not I should drop out. When I finally made my decision, I felt free, yet equally diminished. Deciding to drop out was both the easiest and hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, because I didn’t want to be perceived as a quitter.
When I applied last year, my life was not nearly as stable as it is now. Six months ago, my only sources of income were from freelance gigs at a few different magazines. Money was so tight that I was forced to move back to my parents’ house near Calabasas. My parents, God bless their hearts, have no idea what today’s job market is like. They still believe that one can just submit their resume to a couple different companies and immediately receive offers within a week. But while awaiting these miraculous offers, they told me that I should apply to graduate school.
I was hesitant, because school has never really been my forte. I love to learn, but place me in a classroom and force me to do work, and all my motivation will cease to exist. Still, the reality of living back home seemed much worse than going back to school. So I applied to the library science master’s program at USC and expected to wait months for a decision that could change my life.
Three days after I applied, I received a job offer at L.A. Opera. I accepted it right away, forgetting that graduate school was still on the horizon. A few weeks later, I received my acceptance letter from USC.
I won’t bore you with every single detail that went into my decision to both work and go to class full-time, so the abbreviated response is that I decided to give graduate school a trial run to see if it was something I still wanted to do. But in retrospect, the only reason I wanted to become a librarian is that I love to read. At the time, I was extremely disillusioned as to what a librarian actually does for their daily work. Spoiler alert: It isn’t sitting in a corner and reading all day. It would have been easy to throw in the towel in the first week and get my tuition money back, but my pride stopped me. I didn’t want to quit on something yet again, because it seems that quitting is all I’ve ever done.
When looking at my track record, it’s easy to think that I am indeed a quitter. I abandoned my pursuit to be an opera singer to become a journalist. And after that became too hard, I decided to enroll in graduate school. But then I joined the PR team at L.A. Opera and then decided to drop out of a graduate program that I had come to detest. I have experienced more change in the last three years than I have in the rest of my lifetime. I try not to think of all these sharp turns as me quitting. Can’t I just change my mind without it being a big deal? But more importantly, why can’t I (or anyone else) throw in the towel and not have it be a big deal? Is the negative stigma of “quitting” merely a product of the problematic patriarchal society in which we are expected to endure discomfort for the sake of a positive end result? In some situations, hanging on would be an appropriate decision. But I’m not sacrificing my happiness any longer in an attempt to appear strong.
I’m waiting until the end of the semester to officially drop out, and will continue in the meantime. And if that makes me a quitter, fine. I’d rather have a scarlet “Q” embroidered on my A.P.C. turtleneck than pretend I’m happy doing something I hate. If you’re in a similar situation, I encourage you to follow my lead.
Arya Roshanian’s column, “From The Top,” runs Tuesdays.