“I’ve decided to quit my Master’s.”
My parents stared at me incredulously, as if I’d just told them I was pregnant and getting married tomorrow before moving across the country on a spontaneous road trip to look for the aurora borealis.
That was one of the most painful talks I’ve ever had to go through with my parents — the very same people who often spoke excitedly about me graduating with a PhD to be a lecturer at a prestigious university.
We had a hard talk for about an hour and a half; and then we hardly talked in the following 3 months.
I quit my Master’s Degree because I wanted to go full-time into a job in a startup that I was enjoying but could not fully give my focus to due to my thesis — a research project I’d been working on for nearly 2 years, with very little progress. My research was going nowhere and I had no faith or passion for what I was doing. I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I wasn’t going to make it.
I knew that making that tough call to quit would definitely alter my future and take me down a completely different path from that one I originally had in mind. And true enough, that decision completely changed my life.
1. Quitting my Master’s forced me to reluctantly come out of my shell.
Studying for my Master’s Degree involved either staring at my laptop from my room, or talking to my supervisor about research and data analysis methods in her office.
Most of the time, I was just buried deep in academic journals and research papers, either at home or at the university. The few friends that I met up with occasionally were always the same ones, and we’d talk about the same things. There was no diversity.
Being in my current job still involves me staring at the laptop; however, I have had to get used to meeting new faces, talking and interacting with them on new topics that I needed to familiarise myself with. I had to learn to be open to going to new places for events and meetings. I warmed up to genuinely getting to know people.
I learnt to socialise.
2. Quitting my Master’s forced me to be out of the comforts of the academic environment.
While I was studying, life revolved around tests, exams, assignments, and class presentations. I was protected by the four walls of the academic building, and all I had to do (and all my parents asked me to do) was to “focus on my studies”.
It was a fairly straightforward task, but that disappeared the moment I quit because those four walls disintegrated and I had to face what was beyond those walls.
I learnt that the world is a lot more than excelling at studies.
3. Quitting my Master’s forced me to work in the real world and I could no longer “be my own boss”.
I was working part-time as a tutor throughout my tertiary education. I could manage my own working hours, decide on my own salary (I was getting paid by the hour), cancel and postpone tuition classes as and when I needed to. On top of that, I was enjoying all those benefits while earning as much as a fresh graduate would earn with a full-time job as a teacher.
I was doing all these while being sheltered from any other real responsibilities because I was still a student and my main priority should be my studies. I was calling the shots for where and when I would study.
After quitting my tutoring stint to work full-time in my current job, I could no longer live by those same rules. I was in an industry that was still relatively new to me and I had to turn to people who were more experienced than me.
I learnt to have the humility to learn from others.
4. Quitting my Master’s led to giving up a job that I’ve had for almost 6 years.
And it was one that could potentially earn me more that what I’m earning now.
If I were to quit graduate school, it should be to follow my passion, but tutoring wasn’t it.
I was earning approximately RM50-100 per hour as a tutor, and I was getting a comfortable RM3000 every month while studying. And this was without any form of advertising as I was operating purely based on word-of-mouth.
Here’s some simple Math: If I were to take tutoring to the next level after graduating and advertise my services to work longer hours, by working 7 hours a day at RM70 per hour for 5 days a week, I’d be able to make RM2450 in a week. In a month, I’d be able to make RM9800.
This excludes working at night and during the weekends, and of course discounting the possibility of earning more if I were to teach classes with a higher number of students or if I charge a higher hourly rate.
There was one main problem with this —I really, really dislike tutoring.
So much so that I was actually turning students away because I was being selective in who I wanted to teach (or rather, who I felt had the potential to learn better because I didn’t want to waste my time and effort). Finally, I stopped tutoring altogether simply because I found the passion for something else.
I learnt that money isn’t everything.
Quitting my Master’s completely threw my life out of balance and I had to start all over without even finishing what I started before. Would I do it again?
If you’re thinking of making a life-changing decision that would probably turn your whole world upside-down but it’s something that you truly feel convicted to do, go for it.
It might be scary and unpredictable, but you might just learn a thing or two from the experience. Albeit a cliché, it really will be worth it. I know because I’ve never looked back since.