I’ve always been “academically inclined”. Learning has always been enjoyable to me.By the age of 23, I had two degrees (BA and MA)…a special commendation from the university, and several conferences under my belt. Everyone knew that I had a bright future ahead of me – my thesis supervisor, my parents, my peers. All I had to do was get my doctorate, and then I would have a long professorial career.
And then I quit.
I didn’t apply to doctoral programs. Instead, I applied for a 2-year “working holiday” visa for the UK. I packed up my things, and flew off to England to look for a casual job. And it was probably the best decision I could have made.
I come a generation that was told that university would grant me the world – and when I emerged, I found out that that wasn’t true. My field (Religious Studies) had very limited vacancies, and competition was fierce. The outlook after six years of graduate school looked bleak. And while I was praised for my academic performance, when I applied to private or public sector jobs, it didn’t give me any advantage.
I also lived in Ottawa, Canada: a capital city that experienced lots of public sector layoffs, which meant that even the retail and entry-level positions were filled by former civil servants. There wasn’t anything left for the twenty-somethings that had just graduated, nothing to use as a step up into some semblance of a career.
So what was I supposed to do?
Keep on my current path and hope for the best?
Or try something completely different, from scratch?
Looking back, I can see that my move to England wasn’t the most career-minded choice. I wasn’t thinking about stability, or security (two things I now crave). I was driven by opportunity, a desire for better options, and the hope that the outlook wasn’t so bleak elsewhere. I didn’t want to stay and become stuck. So I left.
Moving overseas was more difficult than I expected. London, especially, has its own job market issues (which I probably should have researched beforehand). I struggled to get employment in retail, and I didn’t have enough qualifications to break into the industries I saw myself in – publishing, academic management, and so on.
I ended up finding a temporary job at a charity, doing data entry. It wasn’t what I wanted, or saw for myself – but it helped me survive. For a year, I kept trying to “make it” in other industries. I applied to lots of different companies, got a couple of interviews, and never got anywhere. It was depressing.
But little did I know that this temporary job would shape into a future.
After a year of working for the charity, my talents (writing, editing, content marketing) were noticed by another team. I was scooped up and given an opportunity to flex my creative muscles. I started building projects, making change, and doing work that I love. Now, a year later, I’m a senior officer, with a mini-team of my own. I love my job, and there’s opportunity for me to grow.
My decision to move overseas wasn’t logical. It wasn’t the safest thing I’ve ever done. And it took a long time for me to feel like it was a good choice. I questioned my decision over, and over, and over again during that first year. I was nearly ready to give up. I didn’t want to quit again. I thought it would mean that I had failed – and it certainly seemed like quitting grad school had lead me to failure.
But I waited it out, and kept working, and my audacity was rewarded with opportunity. And that crazy chance I took two years ago? It’s resulted in a stable job, a supportive workplace, generous friends, an amazing boyfriend – and 5 more years of residence in the UK.
It doesn’t always turn out for the best. I’ve been very lucky, and I couldn’t have survived without a network of kind, compassionate people in my life. Also, quitting isn’t always the best option. Will I ever go back to grad school? Probably. I enjoy it a lot, and I can see myself having an academic career in my later life. It’s definitely worth exploring.
But sometimes, “quitting” doesn’t mean” failure”. It can just be about choosing a different path. And that path can lead to even better things than what you had planned for yourself.
My thesis supervisor was one of my greatest life mentors to date. She always said: “Go where the heart is.” My heart was in England, and I decided to follow it (despite having a logical, planned career ahead of me). And I haven’t regretted it for a single day.