Is it time to ring that bell?
October 3, 2011 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I want to drop out of grad school and/or quit my job. Please convince me that everything will be okay if I do.

My job is with non-profit federal organization. I make pretty good money, especially for being so young (mid-20s) and only having a bachelor's degree. It offers me amazing benefits and a decent amount of vacation/personal time I'm unhappy there because I don't really like my co-workers and they don't really like me. One of them talks constantly and his voice is very loud. My boss won't let me wear headphones. It is a *major* source of stress for me. Also, I don't really like the work. I meet with dozens of people every week, trying to help them fix their problems, and it's really stressful and I bring home that stress with me. It makes me cranky and bitter and jaded. I really don't give a fuck anymore.

It seems silly to quit such a good job, though, especially since it gives me the freedom to do what I want to do outside of work, and the annoying co-worker is retiring a year from now. I think that I would enjoy my job much more if he weren't around, but I don't know if I can last that long.

Secondly, I'm in my second semester of grad school, getting my master's in a field related to my job. My job is paying for 80%. I don't enjoy the classes at all. They make me cranky and bitter and jaded as well because they focus on oppression and I'm just tired. I'm only getting my master's because it will give me a raise at work and I'll have more vacation/flex-time.

I'd up and quit my job, but I can't afford to. I have money in savings (about $4000), but I also have bills and I help support my family too.

What I really want to do is quit and do something like WWOOF or work in the food industry or do something that I really enjoy that doesn't involve constant interaction with strangers (I'm not a people person, try as I might to convince myself otherwise). It's hard to quit because I've worked really hard to get where I am and my parents have sacrificed a lot as well.

I feel that it would be selfish to quit and that I should just suck it up. I mean, not everyone can have their dream job, right? We can't be happy all of the time? Part of life is about making sacrifices for the greater good. At the same time, I feel that it's also sort of selfish of me to stay. I'm not passionate about my job and it shows. I'm sure it affects the people I work with.

I don't know if the problem is internal or external. Maybe I'd be happier in my job if I were happier in my life. But I am happy in my life! Outside of my job and school, things are great.

A part of me says "just stick with it two more years, finish your master's then quit!"

Another part of me wonders if I can make it that long. I burst into tears at work today and sat in my office and bawled.

Incidentally, I listened to this Freakonomics podcast this weekend and it should've convinced me, but I just need help taking that first step. Or maybe I should just stick with it a little while longer?
posted by calcetina to Work & Money (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So you're in your 2nd semester and have 2 semesters to go?

I hate to say it, but as someone a decade older than you with tons of school debt, I would strongly suggest that you stick it out for another year and a 1/2 and get that MA. Even if the MA is only slightly related to your work, in some fields and in some parts of the country (like DC), an MA is like a BA - everyone has one.

Meanwhile, re-focus your energy at work to when you'll be able to leave and how awesome that will be.

And as you're at it, start planning for your WWOOFing!
posted by k8t at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I have four semesters to go. I'm only going part-time because I'm working full-time and it's already quite a strain.
posted by calcetina at 12:01 PM on October 3, 2011

Food industry will put you in interaction with strangers. If you're a producer, you have to sell to someone.

At any other time, I'd say quit, but in these times--stick it out. Seriously, save your money, keep your eye on the big prize, and then, when you have your MA and a nest-egg, you'll be able to reflect on your accomplishment and set off on your next adventure.

Every job has annoying co-workers. Every job has stresses of some type or another.

Are you eating right, exercising, blowing off steam in some productive way?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:01 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not a good job if you hate it.

But do you really want to quit before you have something else lined up? You know that some people have been unemployed for a couple of years?
posted by maurreen at 12:01 PM on October 3, 2011

Oh, my goodness -- you sound so terribly unhappy. Why would you stick it out for a degree in a subject that makes you sad and stressed?

It's not selfish to change your mind about what you want to do with your life. That's what your 20s are for.

Get out -- you'll be fine!
posted by pantarei70 at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2011

You seem to be working on the assumption that quitting your job will make you happy but you could just be trading one source of misery for another. You don't have much in the way of savings - your job might be stressful but so is being unemployed and worrying how you're going to pay next month's rent or whether you'll have enough money for groceries. You also don't know that your "dream job" will be any better than what you've got now - the grass is always green and all that. Very few people's dream job is actually what they expected.

Is the MA you're doing going to be valuable outside your current job/industry? If you were able just to quit your job tomorrow and get your 'dream job' - would that MA add value to you as an employee? Would you get the extra pay and benefits elsewhere? If so, I'd say stick it out (its possible after your annoying co-worker retires you'll be less stressed and feel better about the job anyway). If not then there's little point carrying on with it (unless you later change your mind and go back to your current industry)

I think what you should be working on is ways to unwind at the end of the day and not take all the stress home with you. You say you don't give a fuck anymore but if that were true you wouldn't be so stressed about it. Have you spoken to your coworker/boss about the noise issue? If you've spoken to him and asked him to keep it down and he hasn't then you need to make it clear to your boss that his non-stop noise is causing you a great deal of stress and if he can't be made to be quiet then you will have to wear headphones/earplugs.
posted by missmagenta at 12:11 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a delicate thing........

A little of my history. Left a small farm town at 20 to go to major university. Screwed around for 2-3 years and almost dropped out. Took a trip to Europe and it was made clear that it was important to finish school if only for the fact that I had to leave with the sense that I could apply myself, do it and earn some self-respect. I did. The work I did I was either over-qualified for or did not appeal to me. I graduated and had no idea as to what I was going to do next. I just knew I did not want to go back to the small town. When I was 25 I got into a major accident with serious head injuries. That made me question everything and was the final "kicking out of the crib" I went into yoga as a means of healing the brain trauma and because I was not obligated to anything else I could devote all the time I wanted to it. The other side of that was I struggled for money, etc. When I turned 30 things began to turn around and I was able to pursue the things I wanted to do. I have done that since.

I sincerely believe that everyone should not make any major life decisions until they are 30. To that point the live, travel, experience. It's that way anyway. The choice is whether we do it consciously or not. And at the end of the decade you begin to winnow out the things you've learned that you don't need and the things that you do. Then you begin to move into the deeper "things"

I like to tell people, "It's your movie" Al Hirschfeld said, "Life is an art. Not a science. You make it up as you go along" The issues of your family sacrificing so that you can be where you are can be daunting. It also may be true that you are the one in your family that are supposed to make this step. Close friends have told me as such in relationship to mine.


1) There is enough to go around for everyone.
2) Nature does not cast shame or blame
3) Different cultures have different relationships with time. To Native Americans you are just
getting out of your crib.

Lastly, if you've put you're heart fully into what you have done, you won't have regrets for leaving. That is the nature of working with change. It sounds to me like you have.

From someone who does not know you this may sound strange. I have faith in you. And I have faith that you'll make the right decisions.

Feel free to e-mail me if you want to chat more. I've thought about this a lot.
posted by goalyeehah at 12:11 PM on October 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

What do you want to do exactly in the food industry? You are probably going to have to interact with lots of people, though admittedly my own job is helping market food produced by farmers who have better farming skills than people skills. If it doesn't involve people skills in the food industry, it will probably involve heavy manual labor or laboratory science (which would require a degree in bio/biochem/etc). Are you up for that?

That said, you might want to think about whether you really aren't a people person. At my last job, I thought that I wasn't a people person, but the truth is that I had to deal with incredibly incompetent people and my boss was one of them. These days, I deal with lots of people, but they are people I really do respect. Sure, I have some customers that are crazy, but the vast majority of people I deal with are highly skilled artisans or people who are very interested in how their food is produced. I *am* a people person, albeit with low tolerance for fools.

Also, I don't see the point of getting a master's that is not going to help you do what you are interested in, but I quit my master's program too. I knew I was never ever ever going to use the degree, so it wasn't worth torturing myself over. I've never regretted it.
posted by melissam at 12:13 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're in the second semester, and you have 2 more years... that's not a huge percentage done.

Is it the job/office, or is it the field/career in general that you don't like?

There's no point in getting a grad degree in a career you're not that into. Even if you're only paying 20% tuition, you're still buying somehting you don't necessarily want.
posted by aimedwander at 12:15 PM on October 3, 2011

Why not look for another job, and decide what to do after you have an offer that you think would make you happy? And take a break from the master's if you don't think you want to stay in the field.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2011

I do not have a master's degree and I'm doing fine. I do have a job, it is part of the reason I am doing fine.

In my industry we look at people with master's degrees slightly suspiciously -- did you get a master's because you really wanted to learn something else more in depth, or when you got your bachelor's were you simply unable to find anyone who would hire you then, so you went back to school hoping things would change in a couple years?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2011

I typed this great answer, but the Internet ate it!

Your reasoning is unsound. Quitting work and school is supremely foolish. Something is up with you because you are not coping well or thinking straight.

You need a thorough check up to look for vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues - stuff like that. Since you have insurance and this will absolutely be covered, get yourself to a good acupuncturist/herbalist. This person will be able to do a lot more for you than the regular doctor, most likely. Western medicine is great in a crisis, but not some much for what you are experiencing. Your mood, stress levels, and general sense of stability are being impacted by much more than a noisy co-worker. Start looking for physical health and balance. Getting the right nutrition and correcting any hormonal imbalances will make what is overwhelming you disappear!

Speaking of which, are you taking hormonal birth control or other meds?

Lastly. Start a yoga routine, meditation, morning hike or jog, a martial arts class - anything that gets your mind and body engaged in positive action.

After a week of this regular mind/body activity, you'll know on your own what needs to happen in your life. As an Internet stranger, all I can tell you is that $4,000 is NOT enough savings, a pretty much free masters is going to serve you well for the rest of your life, and you can learn to like dealing with people - especially once you get your health dialed in and are regularly and often engaging in positive input and output (meditation, self-improvement podcasts and books, yoga or martial arts, hiking, etc.)

Don't quit. Fix what ever is going wrong here from the inside. Don't blow up your life over fixable issues.
posted by jbenben at 12:36 PM on October 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

So, you hate what you're doing right now. Do you have a plan for what you will do if/when you quit and drop out? If so, I say go for it; if not, figure out a plan quickly and then drop out. If you don't want the career that would follow the master's then there is really no reason to finish it.

There is no point in finishing the degree if you don't want to use it, and there is nothing wrong with quitting something you hate.

The post above me has good advice as far as what you should do after you've dropped out, but eating healthy/yoga routine/blowing off steam/etc will not magically turn something you hate into something you love.

There is nothing wrong with your reasoning - find the root of your problems and change that.

Life is too short to spend 2 more years doing something you hate. Figure out what you love and do that instead.
posted by fromageball at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2011

Let me add...

If you get your health tuned-up and get the positive flowing, and you still can not find enough enjoyment in your current the job/industry/school, then feel free to quit!

I can't help but see that if you could spend a little time taking care of yourself right now (since you have a steady income and insurance) you will be better positioned in a few weeks to make this decision all on your own.

Seek some self-care and professional TLC, today. Re-visit this large looming life question when you are not in crisis mode.
posted by jbenben at 12:54 PM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

I second jbenben!
posted by goalyeehah at 12:57 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you seem to be going through such grief. It might help to point out that this isn't an either/or question.

It isn't "should I stay or quit" work and school. It might help if you put it in the context of "I want to quit work/grad school. What do I need to do so that I still land on my feet?"

That opens up all sorts of possibilities of steps you need to take. You need to figure out how long you can hang on without a salary. You need to update your resume. You need to know how people find jobs in the two choices you've mentioned. You need to apply for those jobs. You need to interview for those jobs, and see if they actually will give you the type of experience you are looking for. You need to see if they will give you enough money to do the things you want financially (like support your family). You need to be offered those jobs. And then you once again look at your current job, and decide if it is still worth quitting. If it is, you quit.

That's for the job part. The school part is a little different. It is: when I look at what career path I think I want to take, will this degree help me in any way? (It's okay if the answer is yes. Even if it is yes, it might not be in your best interests to do it now anyway). Would you get more money? Will you have a particular skill? Because if the answer is yes, then you need to find out how to do the minimum amount that gives you what you need (a degree, the skill), and still lets you take care of yourself, mentally. That means you might not be shooting for As. You might find that when you look at where you are going, you can't do that and work on your degree. So you might need to leave school, and stay in the job and use the extra time to find a new job/take care of yourself.

My point is this. And this is a total guess, but here it goes. There are people, a lot of people, who make professional choices that aren't the best for them, perhaps because they didn't know what else to do, or someone else told them it would be a good idea. Other times, the person just changes, and the choices they made no longer fit them.

There is a first moment when this happens, perhaps even as you're interviewing, that the person knows that this is a mistake. But they try to ignore it. They try to stick it out. They don't take any other steps to explore other options. They just hope the feeling will go away. And it doesn't. The feeling gets worse. And every time something crappy happens, that crappy job/school decision that they made feels more and more like a chain around their leg that is just dragging them down.

Eventually, the misery just gets to be too much. They waited way too long to acknowledge it, and the quiet little itching in their ear of "oh, I'm kind of unhappy" is a full on incessant roar of "I don't give a fuck". And the person just wants it to stop. They want out. So they treat the situation like they are fleeing a fire, they just want to get the hell *away from* the job/school first, and decide that they will worry later about where they are actually *going to*.

But the thing is, there is no fire. It just really, really feels like there is one. There is no rush to move away from that job - even if you don't like it. There is no rush to quit school, even if you don't want to be there. I'm not telling you to ignore your feelings. I'm just suggesting that you pay attention to them and respond to them in a slightly different way. That's because I think when people don't, they flee out of the fire (the crappy job/school choice), and right into the frying pan of another crappy choice that doesn't fit them either. And that's then people start to spiral, wondering why "they can never be happy".

So give yourself a month. You have a roof over your head, and an awareness that you want something different. You sound like you've identified some interests and strengths, as well as some things you'd like to avoid (consistent people interaction). Take that time to do a little research and find out where people with your skills and interests end up. See what the titles are of the jobs that would suit you well. See how people get those jobs. Does your school have a career center? Can you use it? Even if the answer is no, they might have an alumni association where people who are in jobs you might like, will talk to you. Also, ask yourself why you stayed in your current position for so long? Why did you take on a degree that wasn't a good match for you. This self awareness will help you in your next step. There are so many people who decide to leave the crappy job because their boss yelled at them, only to go into a crappy job where the boss was passive aggressive, but not a yeller. They aren't mindful, so they make a different, but equally wrong choice. Before you do the food industry or WWOOF thing, just do a little internet research (that's assuming you haven't, you might have!), and find out what day to day life is like there, and see if it really is a good fit for you.

Deal with the guilt of not caring about your job by deciding that your values require you to do the best job you can every day - taking into consideration what your other responsibilities are, regardless of how you feel. And do the best you can. So what if you aren't in every meeting making suggestions about new initiatives because you don't plan to be there. If your job is to do X, do X, and look for another job. At most, if you look around, this might take about 6 months.

Figure out the skills that will help you in any job - like how to work with difficult co-workers. How to be mindful in difficult situations. How to deal with the stress of other people's problems, and develop boundaries. How to give yourself moments of decompressing. How to manage "I hate this" with an answer of "and I am taking positive steps to make the next, best step for me". How to assess it a position is a good fit for you, etc. How to deal with the guilt of not living up to your family's expectations. There are books that cover this. There are people who know this. Find them.

This are the steps and skills that will help you land on your feet and avoid ever finding yourself in a situation like this again. It sucks, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to learn some valuable stuff. Stuff people don't bother to learn, until things suck enough. So before you drop everything, consider doing the following: acknowledge that you want to drop everything, ask yourself why you find yourself in a situation where dropping everything seems to be only/best choice, give yourself a little time (say 3 months), to take tangible steps to find something else that will still give you funds, and realize that even small steps mean that a year from now, you will be in a much better (head) space, whether you are in your program/job or not.

Good luck.
posted by anitanita at 12:59 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

getting a job right now is incredibly hard. lots of sites i've been reading include accounts of people "reverse-lying" (omitting or minimizing achievements as not to seem over-qualified) in an attempt to get extremely bad jobs.

use your dislike for your current job to motivate you to go job hunting for something new. not only will people be more likely to hire someone who is already employed, but you will probably be less nervous in interviews and so on.

take it from me, i quit my job recently because i got sick of it and found no fulfillment from it, and wanted to some to a new place with my partner. and now, in retrospect i'm realizing how i should have done it (for me, staying at the job while going back to school for what i want to do in the future).

as it is, i can't find ANY job now and my tiny savings is disappearing. if you quit your job you might just get depressed over the course of a few months and then run out of money.
posted by white light at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the actions you're thinking about are too drastic.

It sounds like you are unhappy in your field, so continuing to invest financially, intellectually, and emotionally in an advanced degree in that field must be compounding your misery. Can you arrange a leave with your school? Depending on how far (at all) into the current semester you are, you may be on the hook for that, but most places will let you take a leave for a year or more and hold your "spot".

As for your job- don't quit, at least without another job lined up. Unemployment is high. You don't have a good "interview-ready" reason for why you (will have) left your current job. It doesn't sound like you'd get a great recommendation from there. Taking a leave from school and accepting that this job is not your career may give you the perspective you need to compartmentalize your work life enough to stay sane.

The food industry, btw, is highly stressful and filled with, uh, strong personalities.
posted by mkultra at 1:06 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do feel for you and I don't know if anecdotal info will help you or not, OP, but here goes.

I've walked out of many jobs when I've reached your level of frustration (it may be a notice a day later, a few weeks later, or a few months later), but my rules were as follows: 1) if the job (by whatever factors were there, coworkers, conditions, etc.) were horrible and it began altering how I viewed the world or felt, then it was healthier to get out (your description of crying seems you have hit that point or beyond) or 2). If the job conditions are horrible and you find yourself snapping at others, then it is also time to get out. I have similarly quit with no jobs lined and only a small (or even less at different times) amt in savings.

Because of the need to get $ for rent, whatever, there was always a way to make ends meet until the next job (temp jobs, an intermediate job, whatever). Do realize that the transition job may not be that great, but it will probably be better than where you are right now.

As for graduate school -- I do believe graduate degrees can open doors, but why do it unless you enjoy the material? There are other jobs (and programs) that will pay for graduate school. Why do it if you don't enjoy it? Why not wait until the next job or opportunity, but only go if there is a drive (I started lots of MAs through other jobs and abandoned quite a few -- there is absolutely no loss at this point in my life).

I've never done WWOOF, etc, but at your age I did other things like the Peace Corps and it is worthwhile to do those things at sometime in your life. It will at least change your perspective for the moment and possible the next several years.

Also, you may be a person who is not a people person, as you suggest (there are jobs out there that have less people interaction or have introverts as coworkers).Or, it may be the environment you are in right now -- but the only way that you can find this out is to try working at other jobs.

I do think that it may be better to make a plan as to what you want to do next so that you don't jump from one job in a hot pan to another job in a hot pan, but if you are okay with struggling between jobs and until the next job, why stay there.

Do feel free to memail me if you want. I've been in the exact same place many, many times. Also, in the end, we can't tell you how your story will end, but ....I personally believe if it is truly that bad, give your notice and only leave one way forward (you will need to look for the next job, make the next decision, etc.). Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 1:23 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe planning an exit strategy will help you hang in there at work until you're able to find another job. When you get down, you can think, "I am going on interviews/learning a new skill/saving lots of money/whatever and that's going to get me out of here."

I probably would quit school in your circumstances. The only benefit you describe from getting this degree is better pay/benefits. Unless the pay increase is very substantial or the degree can be part of your exit strategy, it's probably not worth years of misery.
posted by Mavri at 1:36 PM on October 3, 2011

I was in a similar situation to you a few years ago and I'm back in another one now so I have thought a lot about this.

The current job market has to factor into your decision. Aside from the financial problems you'd have if you quit and then couldn't find another job quickly, it is absolutely no fun being bored out of your mind, constantly being rejected by employers and having no money to do anything with your endless free time.

The job I had a few years ago was making me pretty stressed out and I didn't really get on with my coworkers either. I was always pretty tired so I tended to spend my free time 'resting' and not doing very much. The result was that I felt like all I did was go to work, come home to sleep and then start it all over again. Looking back, I think that the job wasn't really all that bad and that if I had made more of an effort to be active and do fun and interesting things with my time off then I would have been totally able to handle the stresses and strains of work.

Maybe you should quit grad school and spend the time that you currently give to it having fun so that work doesn't seem so bad.
posted by neilb449 at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Make sure that you are getting your education reimbursment free and clear before you even think about quitting.

If your non-profit is as large as it sounds (federal exposure, good benefits, budget to pay for schooling), look into a transfer.

Either way, I second taking a semester off of graduate school to have some time to think about what you want.
posted by politikitty at 3:07 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless someone else is paying your rent and other expenses, the rule is that you're free to quit your job when you get another that will cover your expenses. One doubles down on this rule when the economy is bad and getting another job is tricky.

"Get out -- you'll be fine!", is terrible advice, unless it comes with a financial guarantee.
posted by OmieWise at 5:37 AM on October 4, 2011

Another really important life skill is learning how to disengage when you leave work. If you take work home with you - even "just" the stress from it - you're not giving yourself any time off to recharge.

Some things that have worked for me or for other people I know:
* Join a gym and stop for rigorous exercise (great for dividing work and home)
* Have a ritual for when you get home - take a bath and read? Take off all your clothes and wrap yourself in a soft blanket? Mine is to pet/play with my kitty (who is thrilled when I get home) for about 5 minutes.
* Scream as loud as you can in your car on the way home
* Yell to loud music in your car on the way home (nonsense, if you don't know the words)
* Watch stupid TV
* Tense every muscle in your body, then unclench

Basically, do something to signal that you're in a new zone and to break your mindset from before.

Another thing you can do is get poisonous thoughts and annoyances out of your head by writing them down. Take a journal with you to the bathroom at work or do it in your car before you leave, for example. If you just keep re-thinking them, they get a lot stronger and more vitriolic so acknowledge them by getting them on paper. You can ritualistically burn them if it helps.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:41 AM on October 4, 2011

Getting a graduate degree you do not enjoy to advance in a job that you do not enjoy does sound pretty soul-sucking. If you need to dial back, take a break from graduate school. I echo all of those who are telling you to NOT QUIT your job. Use your newly free time from leaving graduate school to look for a new job in a field you might like better.

I understand your frustration about your co-worker, but that is really a pretty minor deal in the grand scheme of things. Finding ways to let more minor frustrations go will greatly help your happiness in the long run. There are many good suggestions above on how to do that.
posted by jeoc at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2011

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