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Sugar-Coated Daydreams

tea time

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.

mini chocolatine

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.

rose & black tea

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.

tea time

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.

lavender chocolate cupcake

Reader Comments (39)

I am so happy for you!!
Ever since I have found this fantastic blog of baking, I have developed the motivation to try out some of your recipes, and honest to god, I loved everything I've made so far. And in terms of your life epiphany, I know exactly where you're coming from and I completely agree about the cookie-cutter expectations we all have to overcome at some point, even though we're filled with the guilt of knowing we might disappoint someone. But somewhere down the line you realize that by keeping yourself passionate about something will inevitably bring you more happiness than by pursuing a road that has already been mapped out for you by someone else.
Good luck with everything, I'm still an avid follower of your blog and intend to be throughout my exchange in Amsterdam :)

11.29.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlma

Congratulations are in order!! What you did was a very hard and courageous thing! I too became disillusioned, but it was after school, and after having spent two years of my professional life toiling away in the corporate world. At first, I felt as if I had given up, as if I had quit. (I have always been fiercely independent and never a quitter!) As if I was a failure. As if I had let my parents down who had so graciously paid for undergrad and another degree on top of that. I realized after much worry and quite possibly the hardest couple months I've ever had to go through that it was none of the above. What people consider as the social norm of going through school and in four years magically knowing what it is your're supposed to do with the rest of your life is a big crock of poo. Being in your early 20's is about figuring it out, trying things out, making mistakes that turn into invaluable experience, and eventually finding your way! I say cheers to the people who gave it their best, who went down a path with great conviction, realized it wasn't their cup of tea, and used that same conviction to bravely move on. I know I gave it an honest shot (and it sounds like you did too!) and as you said there is nothing particularly virtuous about sticking it out. I do not want to stick it out, I want to live it up! 1 year later, I'm still figuring it out, and I would never trade the uncertainty (it is a gift!) for the utter misery I felt crunching numbers all day. Your blog is an inspiration- something truly special you have's obvious you've got the passion and the talent-run with it! :)

11.29.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoxy Te

Congratulations on pursuing your passion! Everyone should have your courage and self-awareness that sometimes your path changes.

11.29.2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I quit Grad School exactly a year ago, best decision I ever made, for essentially the same reasons you give although I havn't been able to articulate them that well, good luck!

11.29.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Congratulations on pursuing real happiness Kris, I admire your courage and your emotion for what you are planning to start. I specially love the way in which you talk about this situation while you mix it with some awesome pictures. You are definitively talented!
All the best! :)
Remember think always about you first. It is your life.

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterMon

Congrat's!! I couldn't agree with you more on everything you have said. Fitting into our "molds" that people set or we set for ourselves can really get in the way of where the true talent lies. Baking is your passion and I commend you for chasing after what you love!

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Good for you!! I'm glad you had the guts to make that decision! And I look forward to more yumminess on the blog.

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Wonderful post. Congratulations to you on grabbing a hold of your life and deciding to enjoy it. We are on this planet for just a blip of time, and it's an absolute crime to waste one minute of it doing anything other than what we love. What we are passionate about.

It almost seems wrong to say you quit one thing, when what you really did was begin something else...something awesome!

I love your blog and I look forward to many more delicious updates! :) Aimee

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

I'm very proud of you Kristin. You are an amazingly talented young lady. I love your website and I enjoy reading your blogs. You have a way with words and your photography is wonderful. I know you will find your place in life, in the future doing what you truly love -I've no doubt. Have you ever thought about writing a book of some kind?? I love reading your little stories.

I know the family missed you at Thanksgiving. It will be nice that you will be home for Christmas. Take care of yourself, and keep doing what makes you happy!!!

Love you - Aunt Shelly!!!

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelly

Congratulations on choosing to follow what makes you happy! You sound like an amazing person and I know for sure you are a brave one! You are right, everything is going to turn out just fine.

11.30.2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

We are very proud of you, not an easy decision.

12.2.2010 | Unregistered CommenterUncle Arnie

I just stumbled across this blog. Amazed by your baking, awed by your photography and writing, inspired by your choice to pursue your passion. Keep going. Don't stop!

12.4.2010 | Unregistered CommenterJay

Congratulations! You are obviously very talented -- talented enough to make a living with food. Best of luck...everything always works out in the end.

12.6.2010 | Unregistered Commenterjesslabz

Kristin - I'm so happy that you decided to make the right decision for yourself. I've always lived by this "you can't make others happy, if you yourself are not happy"! Don't ever worry about what other people think and it sounds like your not afraid and that is a huge step most people are not able to make because of the fear of what others will think. YOU ARE SO TALENTED and many people envy your talent! Stay strong girl!~

12.6.2010 | Unregistered CommenterMissy Schmidt

Who the hell would take shrodinger's equation over chocolate cake anyway ?!

You made the right decision !

12.14.2010 | Unregistered CommenterN.J. Atom

Wow, I wish I didn't go to grad school (math). Now I'm all done with nothing to show for it but a lousy piece of paper!!! It seriously hasn't helped me find any kind of work, and I hated every minute of it. When I read your post I could feel what you must have been going through. I hope things work out for you. You have such a positive attitude and that's so important. I've been beaten down so much in the past two years that I don't have any of that left. Good luck!

12.17.2010 | Unregistered Commentertheveggie
How wonderful that you figured this out. I, myself, have struggled with balancing my academic goals with my true passions, and I SO salute you for choosing the past best for you. All the best :)
12.27.2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
As a 20-something male, I don't think I'm too far behind you. I'm thankful for my degree and would not change it for the world, but sometimes you just have to realize that some things deserve going after. Your courage has given me yet another push to pursue a life of pastry and hospitality. Thank you! All the luck in the world to you.
01.2.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosh
I'm sort of going through this right now. I went to school for a degree in Marketing, and I can't find a marketing job, and don't really want one. I'm spending my time cooking and working part-time jobs. Reading this helped me, thank you.
02.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren
I know this post is a few months old, but what you wrote sums up with I'm feeling now. I'm in my 20's as well and have a degree that I'm not passionate about. I'm good at what I do, but my true passion lies in pastries and making goodies for my friends and families. Right now, I'm so scared to take the jump and telling everyone that I'm ready to make a huge career change.

I have a question to ask you:
How are you doing so far in the pastry world? Have you attended culinary school? Are you catering? Let me know how you're doing, because you are an inspiration.
02.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey
Hi Stacey!

I wasn't passionate about my degree either. But I realized being miserable all day wasn't doing myself any favors (I would take out my attitude on those I loved so they didn't like it much either). It was tough to tell family and friends (and my parents did take a month to let the idea sink in), but everyone has been very supportive! Turns out no one really wished misery upon me.

It took me about a month to find a job in a bakery and I love it! I'm also in my early 20's (and therefore quite poor) so I've decided to work in the industry for a year or two to save up for culinary school. I haven't regretted the decision of changing careers; it was the right choice for me. I love waking up and going to work everyday.

I've looked at your website and you have so much potential! Let me know if you decide to take the plunge. It is hard to do (and you might find yourself wondering what the hell you are doing), but that feeling passes and relief and happiness fill its place. I wish you the best of luck in making your decision!
02.23.2011 | Registered CommenterKristin Rosenau
I'm so glad I found this entry... I just discovered your site thanks to thekitchn, and I have to say that I know exactly how you feel. I haven't made the leap out of biology just yet (I feel the same way about signalling pathways and boringly-named molecules as you do about Greek symbols and computer programming), but I have a feeling it's going to be my next big move. Congratulations to you for following your passions!
06.17.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Finding this blog makes my heart sing. I could almost cry with relief knowing I'm not the only one out there with these 20-something feelings. How poetic that instead of trying to fit into a mold you can use a mold to fulfill your passion.
06.23.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
I do think that you have achieved a state of complete sense of self that many people are still searching for. Fantastic! Your photos are divine, your food sounds excellent, your grammar impeccable. You are successful :)
07.5.2011 | Unregistered CommenterPolly
I quit science grad school too, and for similar reasons. Science is magic and mystery to me, and grad school was sucking all the fun out of it. I love baking, but it's more of a hobby (photography too). These days, I am into teaching science. I use theatre and experiments and exploration to truly embrace the magic and mystery. I even taught an HP themed summer camp (but to preschoolers, so I don't think they truly appreciated the subtleties, but they did like saying "accio gusanos!" to bring the worms out). I love your HP food posts -- definitely using those to have an HP birthday party this year. Thanks for the great blog, and keep up the good work.
07.24.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah
Wow, I just discovered your blog and feel like I'm reading about myself. A few months ago, I had a very similar "lightbulb moment". I was about halfway done with a Master's degree in education, but when it would come time for me to do research for class or write a paper, I'd get the urge to bake something or read food blogs. Finally, after feeling so deeply unhappy, and faking my enthusiasm for my soon-to-be career, I had a breakthrough. I quit grad school, enrolled myself in a Pastry & Baking Arts culinary program, and have never been happier. I wake up thoroughly excited to learn and grow. I finally feel like I'm in touch with my true passion and purpose and am on my way to knowing the real me. Thank you for your inspiring words and I wish you the very best on your culinary journey :-)
09.5.2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
What an awesome life-changing decision for you! I am a bit older (33) and I am finally realizing that I need to follow my passion. I am definitely a science-nerd (currently in food safety...snooze). I am *very* good at science but it's not what I want to do. I've been doing some serious soul-searching this year and finally figured out that food is where I need to be. I haven't figured out exactly where in food I need to be, but I do know safety isn't it. I will be starting another blog (old one is rather utilitarian and rarely updated) where I'll be writing (and learning to photograph *well*) ice cream and cookies. I'm not financially in the position to be able to walk away from my current career right now, but a plan is slooooowly forming out of the fog. In an odd way, I am the happiest I've ever been because I am finally figuring out what I want to do.

Thank you for your encouraging post. Best of luck to you!

P.S. I'm totally adding you to my blog roll. Definitely want to keep up with you.
11.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSunshine
I can totally relate to your story of being somewhere that wasn't entirely you. Congratulations on this big switch...i hope i'll be able to muster the courage to do it some day too. :)

Lots of love and luck,
12.28.2011 | Unregistered CommenterPratiksha
This post resonates so well with me, even though in my case I first switched careers and only then realized that I really love cooking :-). Are you now a professional baker? Your blog definitely looks amazing. I just found it through the peanut butter cookies recipe, which were absolutely wonderful :-), and now I am browsing here, and I love everything! I subscribed and will be following your posts from now on! So happy I found your site. See you soon, and Happy 2012!
01.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCooking Rookie
Hi Kristin,

I stumbled upon your blog and absolutely love it! I've spent a lot time browsing, scratch that- wasting time, reading blogs and this is the very first one I've felt compelled to comment on. Your writing style is just amazing and you can count on me being a faithful follower ;). Keep up the great work!!
01.17.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHazel
Is that a picture of PAIN AU CHOCOLAT? Please tell me you have a post/will have a post for this :)
03.9.2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
I know this post is really old, but it moved me to tears. I'm currently on a path that I find absolutely dreadful and while I don't have the courage to quit just yet(financial issues), my resolve strengthens every time I come across someone who took the leap into the unknown to follow a dream!

I'm glad that you're still doing well at this. Grats, man.
04.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMockingbird
This post is incredibly inspiring. I am in the same boat as you once were--going to school for something I don't think I actually want to do, something that doesn't move me, something that doesn't make me happy. It is incredibly difficult to quit something that everyone thinks you should do and that you are actually pretty good at. Props to you friend. I hope to one day have the courage to walk in the direction of my real dreams.

In other news, I love your blog and I love to bake. Thanks for being awesome.
04.22.2012 | Unregistered CommenterNatasha
Kirsten, I cannot explain just how much I believe my stumbling on your blog has been an act of fate. This post right here has meant to much to me, and touched me in a way that only someone who has "quit" something she has been trying to fit herself in to for many years can understand. I have just stepped back form a career in advertising and marketing, to move into food and writing, not as a career but as a passion. To learn it and do it for my own satisfaction and peace of mind, rather than to earn a living. I was so busy trying to prove to myself that I could be an advertising professional that I failed to see how horribly wrong the choice was and how unhappy it was making me as a result. But the decision has been taken now, and even though I have NO idea where my life is headed, I have never been happier.

THank you for sharing your story!
07.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRevati
I feel you. I was also an advertising exec before deciding to stop being a cookie-cutter product of the society and be a baker. Now i've owned my own pastry business :) nice to know u!
10.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette
I feel the same... I am a practicing political scientist, but I need passion and I do not find it in my job... I have decided to quit the job and pursue my future... I feel excited too.
01.15.2013 | Unregistered Commentercinta
I have discovered your blog before Christmas and I did not have time to make any further inquiries :D until now. I just wanted to tell you that your decision was so bold, I wish I could follow my heart one day and just do fashion instead of law. I think you took the best decision, it is very important to be happy with what you do on a daily basis, life is more beautiful then. Your pictures are amazing!
01.22.2013 | Unregistered Commenterfashionsensitive
Guilty as charged... quit my job as a tax accountant to pursue a career in pastry...
...also working on my blog...
...also in early 20s...
...also looking for a job in bakery...
...also from Canada...

Glad I'm not alone that made a tough decision
03.18.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMare
This post, though a few years old, came to me at the best possible time. I'm just coming to the end of my first year of a biochemistry degree, and I've suddenly realised that it's not making me happy. I'm finding trying to make my brain transition from an intensely scientific mindset, to something a little broader, incredibly difficult. But that's half the battle, as I can't get over the nagging feeling that I've just let myself down; if everyone else can do it and enjoy themselves, why can't I? I'm studying an extremely well regarded degree at a very good university, why would I ever consider giving this up? I still don't know what I want, or what on Earth I am going to do, but knowing that somebody else has made the leap into something new is really reassuring. Thank you for making me realise that this isn't the end of the road. All my love, and I hope that everything is gong well for you! Caitlin x
05.4.2013 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlin

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