No One Cares That You Quit Your Job

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Making the rounds yesterday and today, yet another “why I quit academia” piece. Quitpieces, I guess we’re calling them—or I am anyway. (The term “quit lit” has also circulated, but the “lit” designator seems generous to me.) There are lots more of these, if the genre is new to you.

Guess what. Working for a living is a pain in the ass. Nobody cares that I quit finance. Or advertising, retail, technology consulting, the entertainment industry, or anywhere else I’ve worked. The trick with quitting is that you want people to throw a party for you when you do it. Quitpieces are the opposite of parties. If you're writing a quitpiece you've already lost. Everybody knows that quitters quit.

You know what else is a pain in the ass?

The boredom and guilt of living off the interest from accumulated wealth. Also: living in abject poverty, or under the thumb of systemic injustice. So is shopping for groceries. Waiting for the wi-fi to work again. Studying at a university with wi-fi in every classroom. Driving to Disney World with kids in the car, or without them. Blogging, and not blogging. Forgetting your validation stamp. Forgetting your validation stamp and it’s raining. And there are already four cars behind you. And your kid is sick. Or your cat. Really sick, I mean.

There are reasons why scholars find succor in quitpieces, but they are both exhausting and counter-productive. Here’s the truth: academia is an amazing sector with some of the best features of any job, even if it also has substantial problems. Folks on the way out might feel like they're biting their thumb at something, and those still “stuck” on the inside of this troubled-but-terrific career might feel some welcome-if-temporary solidarity. But after that, it’s just more fodder for legislators, corporations, and the general public to undermine the academy. It helps nobody in the long run.

Why should anyone be impressed that somebody can quit something? Much more impressive is figuring out how to live with it. More staypieces, please.

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Update: A reader who quit academia fires back.