The pandemic changed a lot: The way we view friendships, how often we actually wash our hands, and many other seemingly trivial facets of how we are collectively reorganizing our sense of life. But perhaps one of the most significant things it changed in a lasting way is how we view our relationship with our careers and how we consciously choose to spend our time.
The pandemic has accelerated something social anthropologists are calling “The Great Resignation,” where young-and-mid-career professionals are quitting their jobs in record numbers, and more seasoned ones are retiring early after realizing they are unhappy with the way they are spending their lives. Many people, across cultures, are understanding that there are likely better and more fulfilling ways to lead a meaningful existence. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon is not just isolated to the professional world; it is also happening right here at Penn, in the form of resignations from student activities and organizations. I know this is true because I’ve participated in “The Great Penn Resignation” myself.
Approaching the end of my time at Penn this semester, my journey has been highlighted by my extracurricular experiences, and the various organizations where I have either been a member or held a leadership role. I was the 539th Moderator (President) of the Philomathean Society, Co-President of the Collegium Institute, VP External of the Penn German Society, Office Manager of Harrison College House, and too many other positions and commitments for my own good. At first, I joined everything and anything to figure out what I liked and where I could find a community I enjoyed, but soon, contrary to this plan, I ended up choosing to stay in organizations where I felt would best serve my future goals. This phenomenon — where our collective environment has instilled the false narrative that if you do not do X, you will not achieve Y — is all too familiar to us Penn students.
This all came to an inflection point in the fall of my senior year, when a club leader demanded I do something extremely time-consuming. This organization was nothing but a burden on both my personal and academic self, and higher leadership within the club did not seem to care. I thought back to my time during the pandemic, and how so much of life is fickle that we must try to enjoy every second of certainty in a sea of uncertainty. Knowing that my departure would not have any serious repercussions for the other members of the club, I resigned suddenly from my post at the beginning of my senior spring.
The excitement I felt after that one small message freed me was intoxicating. I then decided to reevaluate all of the other commitments I was in. For many of the organizations, I had no animosity toward them, but rather felt that my last semester at Penn would be better spent focusing on the relationships I have cultivated thus far and enjoying the amazing institution I am so lucky to attend. In short, I started my own “Great Resignation” once I realized that sometimes, you simply need to prioritize yourself.
What I gained from this was the freedom to explore the things that I am genuinely passionate about during my last semester. I was able to write more for the Daily Pennsylvanian, I have been able to explore Philadelphia with friends more often, and I joined the Wharton Passion Project program where I am teaching myself how to weave fabric. I even returned to acting in a theater production, something I have always loved but have not done since high school — all because my younger college self only prioritized things that would benefit my career goals.
Resigning in a fashion like I did, akin to Oprah’s “You get a car!” except it became “you get a resignation letter,” is not for everybody. Some may have tangible obligations, or their continued commitment in their clubs is genuinely vital to their life goals. But for most of us, we need to reevaluate why we are a part of the things we are at Penn. In Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, she encourages her readers to discard whatever physical items in our possession do not literally “spark joy,” or make one feel happiness. We should prioritize our commitments in the same way, where we keep the ones which our friends are in or those which genuinely make us excited to get up in the morning. If your strenuous commitment in an organization doesn't inspire any of that, resign. Your time at Penn is woefully too short to be unhappy and futile.
I truly believe the zeitgeist of our pandemic-stricken generation is in finding what genuinely makes us happy through reimagination. And for those of us who are starting to embark on the beginning of the rest of our lives, we may paradoxically begin to find that through the power of resignation.
JOSEPH M. SQUILLARO is a College senior studying philosophy, politics and economics from East Setauket, N.Y. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.