Sometimes the best career path is the one nobody expects.
When I told my parents I was dropping out of grad school (after seven years, hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, and only my dissertation left to complete…) — honestly, I don’t think they knew how to respond.
It was a choice people wouldn’t have expected. Especially if they were only looking at the surface level of my previous track record.
I was the girl who had always been good at school. I had been among the top of my class in both high school and undergrad, so advancing on to graduate school seemed like a logical progression.
And, admittedly, there was a lot I loved (and still do!) about academia and life as a professional intellectual.
What’s more, the truth is I had never really considered an alternative career path.
And that was precisely the problem.
Have you ever gone along making important decisions about your life and career, not because of any deep reflection about yourself and your unique potential, but simply because it’s what everybody takes for granted as “success”?
That’s what I was doing. And the irony is, I was doing it in spite of being committed on principle to self-awareness and self-actualization.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I found myself in grad school only because of some societal expectation. My passion for the liberal arts and the multidisciplinary studies I was pursuing in Literature, History, Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience were (and still are!) genuine.
However, when it came to the question of how I would pursue my passions and interests as a career, I went with academia by default.
Because “everyone knows getting a degree is a necessary signal of success.” Or is it?
It was only as I got further entrenched in academic institutions and found myself feeling more unhappy and dissatisfied that I lifted my head from my straight and narrow focus, looked around and asked:
What else could be possible?
And ultimately found a new answer: entrepreneurship.
It’s been over 8 years now since I abandoned academia to forge my own path.
And I have to say, it’s not been easy.
I’ve found myself having to work a variety of freelance and independent contractor gigs to pay the bills, oftentimes living month to month if not week to week, trying to carve out precious time for my true passionate entrepreneurial pursuits.
And I’ve learned the hard way that being an entrepreneur involves making lots of mistakes and learning to manage failure, which is never easy when you put your whole mind, heart, and soul into a project.
But I’ve also learned that, for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even with all its difficulties, I wouldn’t trade in the creative freedom I get as an entrepreneur for the established academic path.
If anything, I only wished I had dropped out sooner.