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Why I’m leaving academia

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Personal Development

First, some great news: Think Like a Rocket Scientist was just selected as an Amazon Top 20 Book of 2020 in three categories: non-fiction, business and leadership, and science.

Following the book’s launch, I’ve appeared on dozens of podcasts. There’s a question that I’m often asked during podcast interviews: “Is there a relatively inexpensive purchase you’ve made recently that has had a strong positive impact on your life?”

This question makes me cringe. There’s a deeply flawed assumption behind it: We improve our lives by adding to it—a new gadget, a new app, a new habit, a new exercise routine. As a result, our drawers get filled with junk we don’t need, and our lives with baggage that weighs us down.

Much of the positive impact in my life has come from subtractions, not from additions. I’m more proud of the things that I stopped doing than the things that I have done.

Adding is easy, but subtracting is hardreally hard. When we’ve invested time and resources into building something, the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in and prompts us to stay the course. We behave like a snake that stubbornly refuses to shed its old skin even as the new one emerges.

And then there’s our ego. When we’re being rewarded for doing something, we fear becoming irrelevant if we let it go. If I stopped doing this thing that I’ve been doing for years, if I abandon the title of professor or senior director, what will I miss? More importantly, who will I be?

But there’s another, more important question we should be asking:

What will I gain if I let this thing go?

For me, letting go creates more space to think, explore, and write. My antenna can’t pick up unexpected insights if my head is filled with noise. If I want to soar, I must cut loose what weighs me down. Often, to subtract is to add.

Most recently, asking this question led me to make a pivotal decision. I decided to make this upcoming academic year my last as a law professor.

Why would I give up the security of tenure and a guaranteed paycheck for life? Why would I leave a decade-long career that I loved?

Multiple reasons are at work here, but at its core, I’ve outgrown this old skin. I’ve been teaching the same classes for nearly ten years. It’s become too easy. I stopped learning and growing. What’s more, the structure in most universities—where professors are required to grade students on a curve—undermines learning (more on that in a future email). I can teach and serve others in far more impactful ways.

Which means it’s time for me to move on.

I don’t know for sure what comes next. In the near term, I’m thrilled to start writing my next book, continue giving keynote speeches, launch exciting new features for the Inner Circle, and run a mastermind that Kathy and I are about to kick-off. I’ve been investing in projects like these for a few years now, and their success gives me the confidence to shed my old skin.

In the long term, the possibilities are endless. I can look at the infinite abyss and feel paralyzed. Or I can choose to follow my curiosity, loosen the grip on my past, and see where the universe leads me—step by curious step.

As Rumi writes, as you start to walk out on the path, the path will appear.

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