This I Believe

Linwood - North Sandwich, New Hampshire
Entered on July 2, 2007

I believe in quitting. Really. It’s not what you think.

I believe in quitting the ordinary to strike out on the extraordinary. I believe in quitting the comfortable to challenge yourself with the uncomfortable.

The first time I quit was during my doctoral work in Ecology at Princeton. After two very hard years of graduate study and research deep in the jungles of Peru, I knew that a career in ecology was not for me. I decided to quit. “No!” I was counseled. “You’re smart enough to be an ecologist.” But that wasn’t the point. I felt I was smart enough to be anything I wanted, why should I settle with being an ecologist when that gave me so little joy. I quit Princeton and within a year found myself studying at Harvard and then two years later at Yale where I studied environmental economics.

Somehow, because of my unintended success as an economist, I found myself as a professor of economics at a top tier university. The cost of this success was steep – I got divorced, spent countless hours in committees and in traffic, and suffered through many sleepless nights worrying about problems of economic theory that were of little interest to me and only of little interest to a handful of economists.

Fortunately, I quit and put the world of economics behind me. Life was grand, I started a small non-profit and finally had more time to spend with my daughter, time to spend surfing, and time to spend sailing in the beautiful Pacific where we lived. I even managed to mend my relationship with my ex-wife. Yes, life was grand … until UCLA showed up with an offer of tenure – an offer I couldn’t refuse.

As the students and committee assignments piled up, I watched the time with my daughter slip away, the time spent surfing became scarce enough that I could easily recall the days I surfed in the last 6 months. My relationship with my ex-wife, my daughter’s mother, grew distant. Once again, success had robbed me of all the things I worked for.

Fortunately, with the support of my daughter and ex-wife, I found the wisdom and courage to quit – again and I’ve enjoyed tremendous success as a result. Somehow, out of thin air, I created my dream job working at the Ocean Foundation. I work from our boat in California or our small cottages in Maine or New Hampshire or wherever I can find an ocean and internet. My family is reunited and we revel in our travels to the world’s great seas – in Malaysia, the Gulf of Maine, California, Mexico, and Hawaii. Together, we are saving the ocean, enjoying the surf, and enjoying each other. By quitting, and quitting, and quitting I’ve finally gotten it right. While the American way often encourages us to “stick it out” and “never, ever quit” we should instead encourage everyone to quit, and quit, and quit until finally we find the right course, the right job, and the right life. I believe in having the courage to quit and quit again until we find happiness and contentment. It worked for me.