This week I made a life decision. A decision that took months of consideration, contemplation, and reflection. A decision that will, in many ways, alter the course of my life forever.
This week I quit graduate school.
Somewhere along the way I lost my passion for physics. Sometimes I wonder if I even had one at all. I love science in the way a child loves science--it's full of mystery and the unexplained. There is something inherently magical about it, like why magnets stick to the refrigerator or how paper airplanes can fly across the room. I loved learning the simple and elegant explanations for the everyday physics in my life.
But when physics broke down into equations full of Greek symbols and endless computer programming (as it invariably will), my curiosity was lost. The magic was gone. There was a disconnect from the wonder I experienced as a child and the reality of the situation I was in now. I was not enjoying what I was doing. I didn't want to do this for another five minutes, much less the rest of my life. I was positively miserable and outright unhappy.
And then something clicked.
I didn't have to do this to myself. It sounds obvious, right? But when you are so far down the rabbit hole, it isn't. I had thoughts of dropping out of school, but they were nothing but the far off fantasies of a good daydream--just out of reach and reality. But this time, when the light bulb flashed above my head, I realized this could be my reality. It wasn't out of reach. It was real and tangible and the appeal was so strong I could scarcely think straight. I am going to quit graduate school. I am going to pursue something I am passionate about. It was the most beautiful thought, the most significant mantra, I had ever felt or believed.
At the same time my misery in physics grew, my passion for food and baking flourished. I spent my lunch hours poring over food and photography websites. I longingly daydreamed up new recipes in meetings. I sketched detailed 3-tiered wedding cakes during lectures. My coworkers were fed hundreds of dollars worth of various treats. I spent an (embarrassing) large amount of time with this website. My heart had been completely captured by baking, sweets, and desserts. There was no turning back. Butter and sugar are going to be somewhere in my future, I knew that much.
I think we sometimes fit ourselves into molds. These molds can come from our current circumstances, family or friends' expectations of us, or expectations we have for ourselves. In my case, it was a combination of all three. I had an idealistic view of who I thought I should be instead of who I actually am. I was forcing myself into a mold that wasn't right for me. I didn't fit and I was miserable because of it. I was never meant to be an astroparticle physicist and that's okay.
It is absolutely okay to try something, to give it an honest shot, and realize that it isn't right for you. For some reason, our society frowns upon this. Quitting has been given such negative connotations. Society immediately wants to equate you with being a "failure" or "disappointment," which is not a true or fair assumption. I believe it is more honorable to quit something that makes you truly miserable and focus your energy towards something that might just make you happy. There is nothing particularly virtuous about sticking it out to the bitter, bitter end months or years from now.
After such a drastic career change, I find myself comforting others more than myself. You don't have to feel sorry for me. You don't have to apologize that it didn't work out. You don't have to worry about my future. And please, oh please, don't you lament to me that I'm making a "big mistake." Everything will be okay. Trust me.
Life decisions can be a mixed bag of emotions (and that is the understatement of the year). But they can also be such a source of relief, of happiness, and of excitement. The world feels brighter and a lot less gloomy. And, best of all, I no longer have to pretend that I am someone I am not. I'm sick of pretending. I've done enough pretending for a lifetime. Though I still have moments of absolute terror in which I wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life, I have never been more excited about my future. So, world? Bring it on. I'm ready.