It’s really hard to quit. For a large part of our lives, society ingrains us with the idea that to quit is to fail. Never giving up is an idea that is culturally reinforced in music, movies, and our education system. But I’m here to tell you that giving up is great. I’m a pro at quitting—in the right situations—and here’s why …
For almost five years, I spent my Monday nights in a school cafe-gym-atorium as a member of my local Boy Scout troop. And for three of those years, I wished I didn’t have to be there. I never really had the drive to complete merit badges or move up in the ranks, but I stayed. Why? Because even though 95 percent of the time I was bored and apathetic, 5 percent of the time I still had fun. That, and because my mom wouldn’t let me drop out. She was worried that if I dropped out of Scouts, I would spend all my time playing video games on my computer. This was despite the fact that I was also part of the chess team and the quiz bowl team. When I finally convinced her that I was not, in fact, about to become a lazy bum, and I got the all-clear to drop out, I realized how hard it can be to quit something. Even though I had spent countless Monday afternoons wishing I didn’t have to drive across town for another boring hour-long meeting, when I thought back on my time spent in Boy Scouts, all I could remember were the highlights. It was the first time I had ever quit something, and it wasn’t until college that I had to do it again.
During my first semester at Boston College, I severely underestimated how much time I would need to dedicate to homework. I made the decision to skip the early math classes and go straight into multivariable calculus. My professor decided to award my drive by assigning three problem sets per week, with each taking around two hours to complete. While not too bad on its own, when combined with the multiple lab reports I had to write each week, other general course work, and my involvement with BC organizations, these problem sets made my first semester in college a huge jump in difficulty from my relatively breezy senior year of high school. The main group I joined was the University Wind Ensemble (UWE), which I decided to do because I’ve played the tuba since sixth grade, and I wanted to continue. This involved attending two meetings per week, which was a three-hour commitment at minimum—and that didn’t even include section rehearsals, lessons, or practice time. On top of that, being a Newton freshman meant that any time I went to Main Campus I was wasting over half-an-hour round trip waiting for and riding the bus.
As the first semester came to a close, a minor COVID-19 outbreak spread through UWE, so rehearsals were canceled for a week or two. During that short span, I realized my life became substantially easier. Being in UWE was essentially like being enrolled in an entire additional course. And without that time commitment, I could dedicate time to things more important to an aspiring physicist. Upon making this realization, I decided to quit UWE.
In the following semester, I had substantially more time. My grades improved, I spent more time with my friends, I had fun more often, and I was stressed out a lot less. My life became demonstrably better because I gave up.
I made a similar decision to give up in the fall of my sophomore year. I had been wrestling with whether to continue chemistry in my studies. I spent hours wondering if I should stop taking chemistry classes altogether, and slowly my thoughts spiraled into four major questions. These are, in essence, a more nuanced way of answering the famous Marie Kondo query, “Does this spark joy?” These questions are, in order of importance, as follows:
1) Do I like doing this?
This one is fairly straightforward. Is this activity something that you enjoy doing? When it came to the study of organic chemistry, my answer was a definite no. Unsurprisingly to most who know me, I was not very interested in memorizing reaction mechanisms.
2) Is there a reason for me to do this even if I don’t like it?
The only reason I could come up with to stay in the chemistry program was that I had made friends through our mutual struggle with the material, and I valued these friendships. Other than that, I was still lacking a reason to continue—the classes are not required for my major and were causing me unneeded stress.
3) Will this allow me to do something else that I will like in the future?
For me, there were two opportunities that taking this class would allow me to pursue. As a physics major, I was interested in the chemistry that related to quantum material science and would allow me to take more advanced physics-chemistry courses. And, being a dual-threat physics and chemistry student would make me more valuable when it came time to apply to research teams later on.
4) Do I have an obligation to continue?
Sometimes, this question is easily answerable. You’ve made a promise to someone, or your family expects you to do something, or doing this thing is just the “right” thing to do. For example, we should do charitable acts—even without personal gain—because it is morally correct.
One day in September, my friends all went out to play basketball, and I stayed in my dorm to finish a post-lab, a pre-lab for the next week, and a slew of other assignments. I realized this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my days. So, I went online and dropped my organic chemistry class. I have never looked back.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t do things that challenge you. This is more to say that you shouldn’t feel obligated to do something that is impacting your ability to live a happy life. Quitting does not mean that you failed in any way, and giving up does not mean you’re a failure. It just means that you know enough about yourself to choose the best way you spend your time. So go out, do something good for you, and don’t be afraid to give up.