Sometimes quitting an old lifelong dream can lead to new ideas and opportunities.
“I’ve decided not to apply to graduate school,” my coaching client told me.
I looked at him in surprise. We’d spent several months talking about his dream to study mycology — specifically, how mushrooms can digest plastics and oil and help us save the world. He’d been fascinated by mushrooms since he was a kid. He’d been determined to earn a Ph.D. and work as a scientist.
This was a lifelong dream.
“I think I was more in love with the end result — of researching and discovering new things about mushrooms,” he mused. “But I’m not interested in what it will actually take to get there. I studied the advanced math and statistics in undergrad. I know what’s coming, and it doesn’t come easily to me.”
I challenged him: “Maybe those advanced math courses are just hard. Maybe they don’t come easily to anyone.”
“Maybe,” he agreed. “But I don’t have a natural aptitude, and I know other people do. I don’t want to struggle with this my entire career.”
Sometimes quitting is an awesome decision. We can hold onto dreams because, well, we’ve always had them. But dreams can change and evolve, and maybe that idea you had as a kid is no longer relevant.
Mark Manson, author of the very fun “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ____,” describes letting go of his lifelong dream of being a rock star.
“The common cultural narratives would tell me that I somehow failed myself, that I’m a quitter or a loser, that I just didn’t ‘have it,’ that I gave up on my dream and that maybe I let myself succumb to the pressures of society,” he writes.
“But the truth is far less interesting than any of these explanations. The truth is, I thought I wanted something but it turns out I didn’t. End of story,” Manson writes.
My client thought he wanted to be a mycologist. It turns out he didn’t. End of story.
I saw him again a few months later. “Any regrets about that graduate program?” I asked him.
“No, none,” he said. “Really, I just feel relieved.”
And then he told me about his new technical writing job, which he loves, and which comes easily. Maybe someday he’ll write about mushrooms.