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Confessions of a serial quitter

For most of my life, I’ve been the “anywhere but here” girl. I have never once started and finished at the same educational institution. Not elementary, middle, or high school. Not college or even graduate school. It was never about moving or what my parents wanted. Every decision to transfer was mine.

The first time I left a school was in fourth grade. I was a very anxious child, quickly diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I hated going to school because I never knew what awaited me there. I had trouble making friends and was sensitive to my environment, easily detecting any problem or conflict from a mile away. Just the idea of going to school caused me to experience physical pain, coming in the form of frequent headaches and stomachaches.

At the time, I thought that the solution to my anxiety was to switch to a new school. Things would be different there. I’d suddenly be with people who liked me and understood me. I could have a fresh start, a clean slate. Changing locations would fix all of my problems. My headaches and stomachaches would stop. I would actually like school and want to go.

While at first my parents encouraged me to stick things out, they also raised me with the belief that you shouldn’t have to stay in a truly bad situation. If something makes you uncomfortable or unhappy, you can speak up and try to make a change. It’s something they learned as career academics. They themselves had a tendency to change jobs when the politics or environment of a university became unbearably unpleasant. They never wanted me to feel powerless or stuck.

But what I took from their perspective was that the solution to all my problems lay in finding the right situation, the one that made me comfortable and happy. The problem was the school, not me. It wasn’t difficult to convince my parents that transferring was the best solution for me in fourth grade. I don’t think any of us wanted to admit the possibility that at least part of the problem—part of the unhappiness, social isolation, and discomfort—was me.

This quitting pattern continued over the years. I went to two different middle schools, then a total of four high schools. By the time I was a teenager, I’d developed a bad case of depression, making it even harder for me to feel understood no matter where I went. I continued believing that if I found the right school, the right place for me, I’d finally be happy.

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