I’m a serial quitter who walked away with two PhDs, two degrees and countless jobs and I don’t regret a thing

For years, we were in hysterical headlines about how entitled, fragile, and narcissistic millennials were. And now, it’s Gen Z’s turn to overtake the coal. ‘Work-shame’ comes up time and again as an allegation. This week, it was revealed via a Deloitte survey that half of Irish Gen-Z employees were planning to leave their current jobs within two years. And it’s not just in Ireland. In the US, 4.4 million people, most of whom are under the age of 26, quit their jobs in April alone. Experts are calling it the ‘Great Resignation’, as young people leave jobs in search of better work-life balance and more favorable conditions.

That thought of quitting as a negative thing is a hangover from the ‘job for life’ era. Leaving – work, college, relationships – is seen as something that is problematic. It is flaky. selfish. weak. It is the polar opposite of everything that people consider to be ‘good’ qualities. Compatibility. loyalty. loyalty. Never give up. Those who give up never win and winners never give up.

Well, I’m not buying it. As a serial dropout, I am here to tell you that
Gen Z, and indeed quitters of all ages, are very much on something. Sometimes, giving up is the right choice, and persisting in it does more harm than good.

As far as I can remember, I’ve walked away from situations that didn’t work for me. Even before snowflake was a thing, I’ve bolded, knowing that I didn’t want to waste any time on people, hobbies, jobs, or searches that didn’t at least give me something back. I’ve let go of friendships and relationships that didn’t serve me, sometimes looking at women backwards.

I like to think of it less as ‘giving up’ than making a decision and moving on. Far from sitting tight and waiting for things to get better, I still can. To the dismay of my parents, I quit gymnastics at the age of five when the instructor yelled at me too loudly. Ballet, harp, Irish dance, guitar – once it got hard to walk, I kept going.

In my teens, I accepted a live-in job at a London pub, and left before I could take my first shift. I surveyed the dull boss, the broken TV, and the blood stains on the bedroom mattress and decided to make an immediate peace. There was no safety net beneath me, and I was essentially a teenager in London who didn’t have a job or a place to live, but that was okay.

Later, as I recently returned to Ireland, I found a job at a Dublin financial office, inputting codes from various faxes and letters into a computer. For what reason we did this, I am still unclear. At forty-five minutes, I was numb from boredom. My restlessness soon turned into full body cramps, and we hadn’t even had lunch yet. I looked up to the two men who had done this exact thing for decades. He had clearly hit the wall of boredom a long time ago, and got through it. Sure, he was getting something out of there – a steady pay check, financial stability – but it seemed like a fruitless deal. At lunch, one of them took out the lunchbox and a copy of it Heat magazine, and read it without a word during the lunch break. We didn’t say a word to each other all day. In that moment, I swore that I would never stick to anything because it was expected of me and it was the ‘right’ thing to do. I never made it to the second day of that job. And I’ve done a few one-day stints in workplaces around Ireland.

I may also be the only person in Ireland who not only dropped two PhDs, but walked away from two degree courses at Trinity College. I’m in good company too: Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are all, famous, college dropouts.

Do I regret it? not one bit. Quitting freed me up to take another route. I could stubbornly pull it out, but it took me down a path I eventually didn’t want to go down. One afternoon when I logged into Facebook and saw photos of one of my old class celebrations adorned in their graduation finery, I felt anguished. Yet that moment was short-lived. I tried of course for size, and it didn’t work for me. It was the important thing the first time I tried it.

There is something toxic in the long-standing idea that quitting is a negative thing. It can put people in a situation or life they don’t enjoy, or even want. And while wanting to feel valued in a workplace may seem like something only a young idealist can bang on, there’s a lot to say as a basic requirement in any job you go for. It has nothing to do with being unreliable or impulsive, and everything to do with knowing your own worth.

Trying things out, getting ahead, taking chances and making mistakes are the core elements of a well-lived life. Choice may be the stuff of heroism, but it also feels a little unbearable.