The greatest accomplishment of my 30-year career as an academic scientist? Choosing to leave early.
In 1993, I completed my Ph.D. and began my journey in academia. Along the way, I did all the things needed to earn the gold medal, a tenured professorship with total job security. Not being one for moderation (or for leaving things to chance), I checked all the required boxes. Then, I added and checked off many more: publications in the top journals, multi-million-dollar research grants, development of two brain imaging research centers and a PhD program….
Without a doubt, mustering the courage to slip the golden handcuffs and leave was the hardest. Relinquishing tenure and an endowed full professorship, I quietly walked off the field in January at age 58 and have not looked back.
As the people who truly know me can attest, I have fantasized with leaving academia from the moment I entered. I excelled at what I did, love science, have had times of deep satisfaction. Yet, I always struggled with the misalignment between my desire to have more tangible and immediate impact, and the self-indulgent and often esoteric nature of being an academic scientist.
My ticket out? Finally succeeding at identifying and dismantling deeply entrenched beliefs that had kept me stuck for most of my adult life. High atop that list was having come to view myself as a hyper-specialized creature, a one-trick pony capable of thriving within only the tiniest of niches. My rational mind knew this was bull shit, but at a much deeper level this belief flourished and generated sufficient fear to hold sway over my choices for decades.
Are you longing to make a big change? Do you know what is holding you back? Is it true? I would love to hear about. Leave me a comment, or feel free to contact me directly.