Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

There are few college application topics more taboo than *gasp* quitting an extracurricular. We’re not talking some silly little throwaway activity that you won’t even remember signing up for in a year or two (looking at you, cooking club!). This is serious business: we’re talking about quitting long-term activities. Maybe it’s viola lessons (you’ve played since you were seven), or maybe it’s the varsity squash team you’ve played on for three years. Either way, you’ve realized that you’re not feeling the love anymore, but you feel like you can’t quit. You just can’t, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you why you can, and why it may be in your best interest to do so.

Beth’s Signs That You Need to Stop Doing What You’re Doing:

  • Your first thought upon realizing you have practice is “Oh sweet Jesus no.”
  • You’ve tried silently bargaining with the gods to get practice cancelled (you’ve offered up the soul of your first-born child approximately twenty-seven times)
  • You find yourself checking your phone every six and a half seconds during the day, praying to Thor to send some rain your way
  • When that fails, you resort to performing a traditional rain dance  in the middle of a crowded hallway
  • You’re doing it to please someone- your parents, your coach, your teammates, Oprah- anyone
  • When someone asks you “How is X activity going?” it takes all your willpower not to answer that it’s the bane of your existence
  • You would rather watch Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance on a loop for two hours instead of going to practice
  • You have zero cares to give whether your team wins or loses; you just want to go home and spend some quality time with your PJs, Netflix, and some Ben & Jerry’s
  • You count down the minutes until practice ends, and if it runs late, you feel as though you’ve been there since the dawn of creation.
  • You feel like Robert Thicke respects women more than your coach respects you

In summary: If you are doing an activity you dread like the plague, for whatever reason (even it’s to make dear ol’ mom and pop proud), you should probably stop doing it.

To illustrate this idea, I’m going to draw from the all-encompassing wisdom of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech that we all know and love:

“You’ve got to find what you love…your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is truly great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Beth, I get it. Do what you love blah blah blah fulfillment blah blah blah… but I’ve been fencing/playing oboe/competing in the javelin throw all through high school. Won’t colleges be upset if I just quit out of nowhere?”

Here’s the deal: you can’t fake passion- not in a written application and not in person. Try writing a college essay on the impact of fencing in your life without being passionate about it; it’s ridiculously difficult. Try telling an interviewer how much fencing means to you when it really means nothing at all; it’s way easier said than done, and an admissions officer can see right through it. Keeping up an activity just to prove something to a college isn’t any way to spend your time. I would know, considering that I tried it myself.

I played field hockey for three years. I endured countless preseason workouts, practices, games, tournaments and summer camps. My parents spent an obscene amount of money on equipment, tournament fees, and physical therapy. As for me…I couldn’t stand it. Well, that’s not completely true: I enjoyed it well enough freshman and sophomore year, but after that, I lost any and all interest. I wasn’t a very good player, and I didn’t like the team environment. It didn’t matter how much playing time I got. It didn’t matter how many goals I scored or assisted. It didn’t matter that my team got brand-spanking-new Nike uniforms. I just couldn’t get excited about hockey anymore. And I knew deep down why I was still doing it: to please my parents and to please admissions officers. I thought I could stick it for one more year. Of course I could. Just one teensy-weensy little season. Just four more months. But that all changed during one particular rom-com binge the summer before senior year.

I was watching Bridget Jones’ Diary (I can assure you that only the very best life epiphanies occur while watching Bridget Jones’ Diary) when I realized: “Dear God… I am Bridget Jones.”

I didn’t mean that I was dating Colin Firth, addicted to cigarettes or vodka, or recovering from an emotionally manipulative relationship with Hugh Grant. But I did mean that I constantly told myself that I would do things in my life (“I’m going to quit hockey and get around to being in a play… maybe… someday…”) and proceeded to never do them. And then, I’d sit around feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t happy. Which I think we can all agree, was exceptionally stupid.

So I quit. I really quit. And to be honest, I immediately regretted my decision. My parents were upset with me, my coaches were disappointed in me, and I’m sure my teammates were miffed. For those few weeks before my senior year began, I felt like I had just made a gigantic mistake; I had succeeded in making practically everyone in my life furious and I had no idea if I would even be cast in my school’s fall play, Antigone. After all, I had no theater experience besides singing along to Broadway soundtracks in the car–not exactly a skill in high demand for a Greek tragedy.

I decided that I’d prep to the best of my ability–reading the play, marathoning YouTube videos about it, and consulting my embarrassingly huge collection of Greek mythology books–and hold out hope to be part of the ensemble. I auditioned, went through the nerve-wracking callbacks, and waited for the cast list to be put up for ages (I only really waited for less than 24 hours, but it felt like a lot longer, okay?). When it was finally pinned up, I was on it. As Antigone. Within a few days, I had the script in my hands and was sitting through the first table read of my life.

Flash forward five weeks: I’m mentally exhausted from memorizing my lines and blocking my scenes. My legs are littered with bruises from running the same stage combat scene over and over and over again. I just finished a weeks-long hunt for the perfect character shoes. I’m working harder on and devoting more time to an extracurricular than I ever have before. But I’m working with friends who I love like family and the best director I could ask for. Instead of saying “I have to go to practice,” I say “I get to go to rehearsal.” I get excited just thinking about theatre, and if you engage me in conversation about it, I guarantee I won’t be able to shut up. Quitting field hockey was far and away the best choice I’ve ever made, and even though it was a hard choice to make, it has been nothing but worth it.

An important thing you need to remember when you’re thinking about quitting something is that you’re are not the first person to do it. I know that it seems like everyone in your high school is super devoted and dedicated, and that everyone’s been doing their respective activities since they learned to walk, but trust me: it’s exceedingly rare for your interests freshman year to align with your interests senior year. It’s okay to search around to find what it is you’re passionate about. And most importantly, you are not a bad person if you stop doing something that you can’t stand. Take it from The Prospect staff themselves:

Crystal says, “I quit piano lessons after it started feeling more like work than a hobby.” I can’t stress that enough. An extracurricular is something you do to make you happier, something you do to gain a new skill or new friends. If your extracurriculars feel like chores, you’re probably not doing the right ones.

Jillian says that she truly decided to drop forensics after many of her friends graduated or dropped out themselves, and she found herself kind of alone. This is another thing to really consider. I personally had no real friends on the field hockey team and was never really able to relate to most of my teammates. Now, I’m friends with almost every person in theater, and am consequently 100% more comfortable at rehearsal than I ever was at practice.

Michael used to dread band so much, he’d call his walk to the band room “the walk of death,” and eventually gave it up with no regrets. Michael, I feel you on about seven different levels. Walking out to that 105-degree turf field that never failed to smell like burning rubber filled me with the exact same feeling.

Jacinda resented the power that players’ parents had over which girls got playing time on her field hockey team, and had to deal with a blatantly disrespectful coach. She says, “High school is a time where you’re allowed to express yourself and at no point should you get bullied for it.” This is completely, totally true. If you’re on the receiving end of any form of disrespect from teammates’ parents or a coach, you owe it to yourself to cut them out of your life.

So whether you decide to stick it out with your extracurricular or kick it to the curb, remember a few things:

  1. Don’t force yourself through something that makes you miserable
  2. Don’t do something solely to please someone
  3. Yes, a college counts as “someone”
  4. You are not a bad person if you quit that something, nor are you the first person
  5. Find what it is you’re passionate about, and find a way to get involved in it

As Steve Jobs put it: “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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  1. Odalis on October 6, 2013

    This article is exactly what I needed to read right now. I have played field hockey as well since my freshman year. Now, I’m a senior and I am resigning from the team tomorrow. I have come to the realization that field hockey isn’t my passion, I just continued playing because I felt I had to not because I wanted to. I have found that I’m passionate about yearbook and that is what I am going to focus my energy on now. Thanks for the great article, it has helped me feel better about quitting field hockey.

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