Thoughts on Quit Lit

I read a few articles last week about ‘quit lit,’ where various people write about quitting their PhD programs. I hadn’t previously considered that this merited an entire genre, although in retrospect there are so many stories I have read it would be silly if there wasn’t. I’ve read stories about bad situations, changing life plans, and ennui. Lots about overworked and underpaid.

I like reading stories about quitting. I think part of the appeal is that most popular stories are about rising over adversity. I like the alternate perspective. (Kind of like the Wicked perspective: How did the wicked witch feel?). But the story about the quitter who finds success on another path isn’t the ‘responsible’ perspective. Even in profiles of successful people who didn’t follow the standard trajectory, the quitting is downplayed. Responsible young adults dutifully follow the steps to success. Work hard, do the extracurricular activities, be a leader. College, PhD, work hard, job, better job, work hard, Success. Success will come to those who work hard. But what if you’re working hard at the wrong thing?

Sometimes the plan isn’t what you thought, and sometimes you aren’t what you thought. I think introspection has to be combined with a thorough investigation of where your passions lie. I don’t mean the liberal arts track, where you pick a major as a freshman and then take gen ed classes. I’m talking about internships and shadowing and talking to people. Having job experience in the profession you think you want.

If you think you want to be a pharmacist, work as a pharmacy tech. Want to be a doctor? Take a job as a CNA. Interested in research? Work as a research scientist. Jumping to the next step to achieve a job you don’t understand just leads to unhappiness when your expectations are shattered.

This is the niche I think quit lit fills. As young people wake up to the reality that they are on the wrong track, they need to read stories about how other people answered the same questions. What should I be doing? How do I know? What can I do to make a living while making a difference? How can I make a transition? The job isn’t the hard part. Changing expectations, worrying about disappointing people, and most importantly, changing how you define yourself are the hard questions.

Until we spend more time developing a thoughtful, experience-based career plan, I think the quit lit genre is not only here to stay, but completely necessary to help the younger generation.