Winning by Quitting

24 Jan

I dropped O-chem on Tuesday.

I agonized over this decision for days. And those agony-filled days followed several other days of torture induced by my efforts to learn/study this subject. And all of *that* suffering was exacerbated by background thoughts such as:

“Z, what kind of loser quits her job to become a student and then also quits being a student?!?”


“How are you going to explain yourself to all those people who believe in you and your ability to overcome adversity?”

and, again

“Seriously, who quits school after quitting work in order to go to school??? WTF are you gonna do with your life if you (a) don’t have a paycheck AND (b) aren’t pursuing full-time educational goals?”

I spent the MLK holiday brooding over these questions, in between bouts of trying to answer questions like: The decay of teeth can be slowed by the use of fluoridated toothpaste. The fluoride ions convert the hydroxyapatite in tooth enamel into fluorapatite, Ca5(PO4)3F. If all the hydroxyapatite is converted into fluorapatite, by what percentage does this conversion increase the mass of the enamel?  and that was supposed to be a “refresher/ fundamentals” question!

And after tossing and turning and fretting all Monday night, I awoke with great clarity on Tuesday. The answer to ALL of these questions was/is:

F*ck it. Life’s too short to agonize.”

So I dropped O-chem. And when I hit the “withdraw/refund” button, I was immediately overwhelmed with joy; giddy from a sense of empowerment; and 100% confident that I made the right choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still ALL ABOUT commitment and perseverance. I believe those two skills remain my defining personal attributes. I still eat challenges for breakfast and I generally thrive best in a competitive environment.

But I’ve also come to realize that when a competition –-particularly one that’s only with yourself!— begins to cause physical or emotional trauma, then it’s time to stop. “Quitting” in such a scenario isn’t losing, it’s just stopping. And it’s the right thing to do.

“Stopping,” by the way, doesn’t mean “giving up.” It’s just pausing to evaluate whether the challenge could be tackled another way –preferably one that doesn’t involve anguish or undue distress.

This summer, I plan to race my bike up the Haleakala volcano. If I tried to do that race today, I probably could get to the top, but doing so would involve significant pain and suffering, the result would be neither easy nor fast, and I very likely would regret the effort.

To summit Haleakala speedily, I need to train.

Using a brut-force training method (i.e., “ride hard, ride fast, and ride lots“) I could probably achieve a faster summit this summer, but I’d risk burning myself out in the process. A better approach is to train incrementally by laying down some basic building blocks (i.e., aerobic conditioning, cardiovascular endurance, a little bit of weight loss, improved flexibility, etc.). You can’t cram these things into a couple of days’ or weeks’ worth of work and expect to succeed. To confidently conquer a volcano, I first need to efficiently manage riding along the beach path.

O-chem is my academic volcano. I might be able to conquer it this quarter (barely) by relentlessly flogging myself and pushing beyond my natural limits in order to eek out a grade sufficient enough to pass. But, based on how friggin’ steep my learning curve has been over the last week or so, I almost surely would end up destroying my love of learning in the process, not to mention my ultimate ability to successfully forge a new career. That’s not a win.

I need to build a solid academic platform of basic algebraic and quantum chemistry knowledge in order to set myself up for an O-chem win. Once upon a time (i.e., ~23ish years ago), I had these skills and I’m confident that they will come back to me with practice, much like riding that good ol’ proverbial bicycle.

So, rather than beating myself up trying to win at O-chem at UCLA this quarter, I’ll instead enjoy refreshing my high school math and science skills, at my own pace, via the Kahn Academy. I’ll still take Statistics this quarter at UCLA (in fact, I have my first quiz  tonight) and I’ll get back to O-Chem eventually. For now though, it’s time to train my brain to take a smarter approach to this challenge. There’s no need for agony and there’s plenty of time to learn.

In dropping O-chem I feel like I’ve actually gained important perspectives and strengths that will steel me for my climb up this long and arduous road.

It may take a little longer for me to report on what the view looks like from the top, but don’t worry, I’ll get there…

Parting Thought: Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under the observation in life. — Marcus Aurelius

4 Responses to “Winning by Quitting”

  1. katerinadiaviano January 24, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    WOW Cristin–thank you for clarifying my thoughts about working vs retirement. I often wonder why I do what I do, but clarity comes when you have your ultimate goal in mind. Brava!

  2. Carissa Barker January 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    A great display of wisdom. You are clearly ready to turn 40.

  3. Amanda January 28, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    I have every confidence that you’re on the right path!

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