So last week, I formally dropped out of NYU’s interdisciplinary masters degree program for the humanities and social thought. The primary reason is that I ran out of motivation entirely, “burnt out” isn’t quite correct– I’m not exhausted, I’m not even exhausted with intellectual thought or writing, I just don’t care about school. I do not care. This is not the first time this has happened in the many years I have spent in and out of the academy, but it is the first time where I decided to say “fuck it, seeya.”
In any situation where something aint workin’, it’s usually a combination of me not doing what I should and them not doing what they should, and usually, it’s worth it to let them get away with it and take responsibility for my end of shit and walk away with the rubber stamp. This is the first time when I’ve concluded that what the institution has to offer doesn’t make up for what the institution should be providing and isn’t, and that is because I am “established,” by which I mean I have found a career, not just a job. It is also because in NYC, the things that the academy provides can be found elsewhere without any of that pesky “for credit” business.
All that said, there’s a question about what it’s like to be a grad school drop out that isn’t really related to the why or the how — I made a grownup decision on behalf of my grownup self and it is the first one I made despite the prevailing wisdom disagreeing with me. My co-workers were disappointed, my mom was disappointed, my friends were disappointed, hell my lyft drivers were disappointed. Yet: I’m still here. The world has not collapsed. And in fact, there are avenues re-opening that haven’t been available to me for a while.
There’s only so often we can do this, make decisive breaks that move us in a particular direction, leaving behind other paths, and other options, that we once seriously considered. Most of the time, we have to keep doing what we’re doing, even when we wonder if we’ve somehow missed some sign, some signal, along the way. But much more frequently, we can make the category of decision on a micro-level by simply asking ourselves, “why do I feel like I have to do this?” Even when we decide the reasons are legitimate and we must Do The Thing, we’re making intentional decisions instead of letting ourselves be driven by the events and pressures that surround us.
This is a good practice to develop because it is the key to not simply being products of the conditions in which we live, but exercising some control over the shape of our experiences. Insofar as we engage in reproducing our own conditions, we are part of any problems that exist within those conditions, and only by practicing this kind of mindfulness can we grasp our power to change conditions and solve problems.
By “grasp,” I mean both “to take or have,” and “to understand.” Dropping out of grad school has revealed to me a level of control I have over my own life that, though always assumed on some level, I never exercised before — to go against deeply held, common wisdom without a sure and obvious reason, because I can. Uncommon sense may be our sixth sense, the one that is capable of seeing a sum that is not simply the arithmetic of our parts.