A week after passing my exams, I demanded the $3,000 promised by my dad and one month later, was on a plane to Italy with one of my best friends. Upon returning, I spent the entire summer relaxing and making happiness a top priority. The summer ended on a great note with a trip to Peru and I came back still determined to make an exit from the university.
When I shared the news that I had passed the exam to my dad, he was extremely relieved. I knew he had sat at home back in NY, over 1500 miles away stressing with me this entire time. But his position now was that “they had taken their pound of flesh from [me]” and wouldn’t bother me again. From my over 20 years of experience with him, I knew that he would not approve or be supportive of my decision to leave an academic program prior to completion so I chose to withhold that information from him for as long as possible.
I began my job search on 9/9/2009 applying first to openings that I considered my dream job in this country and worldwide. When those got no response, I expanded to include a variety of entry-level positions. About 200 applications and 4 months later, I still had gotten zero responses to my resume and cover letters. The economic meltdown was in full effect and I, along with every other job seeker out there, had become a victim of it. I took a week off to put some distance between myself and the defeating process and then got right back to it. Meanwhile, the department was M.I.A., I had no responsibilities other than to work on my dissertation proposal and my adviser was on her second sabbatical in 2 years – the perfect combo to keep me focused on my goal.
By Christmas I still hadn’t told Dad my plans. I was dreading it, giving vague answers to family members and confiding in only a handful of supportive friends. When I returned to Florida after the holidays I finally summed up the courage to write a letter to him explaining what I planned to do.
His response was as expected: harsh and unsupportive. A series of back and forth email tirades ensued where he was very reactive, threatening, judgmental and accusatory. It was distressing and exhausting to deal with after the last battle I just survived.
I wouldn’t have been able to get through this period of my life without help from the campus counseling center (blog forthcoming). With them, I was able to identify my dad’s reactions as an attempt to coerce me to still do things his way, like when a child keeps trying to stick a square block into a triangle-shaped hole. The counseling center gave me the support to stand my ground despite my dad’s anger and disapproval and I will be forever grateful to them for their services.
I can’t stress enough what a difficult time in my life this was. The decision to leave the program was not done lightly. I am an extremely analytical person and I thought this out for over a year. My decision to leave never changed because the thought of continuing to work with this circus, becoming an expert on theory I didn’t believe in, dealing with professors who would only continue to make my life difficult for an undefined period, possibly years, was so depressing that it actually sucked the life out of me. When I thought about staying in the program and continuing to deal with all the nonsense, I lost motivation to do anything I would otherwise have found enjoyable: watching TV, reading books, swimming, exercising, movies, my friends. I would have entered a state of long-term depression. The only reason I would have stayed would have been to make my father happy. But the cost would have been the erosion of my integrity, waking up every day angry and hateful of the people I was around, feeling like I had no control over my life and I am certain that I would have become self-destructive to cope with all that misery. Indeed, I genuinely would rather have been dead than see what I would have turned into if I had come out the other end of this program.
That’s exactly why I had to face my father. There should be no reason on earth why death would be preferable to life. The only thing keeping me from being able to see a future for myself with happiness, hope and possibility was the fear of standing up to my dad. Given that perspective, the fear was no longer as formidable as it had once been.
I didn’t back down from my decision. In the end, I had to threaten my father with leaving the family and cutting off all ties before he finally backed down. I was not playing chicken, either, and perhaps it’s what he needed to hear to finally realize how serious and upset I was.
Unfortunately, after 10 months and over 400 applications, I still had not found a job and had to move back to my parents’ home unemployed. But I was finally in control over the direction my life would take and this humbling circumstance was and still is much preferable to the one I left.