I completely support and endorse leaving academia. I left academia.
It may not be apparent on this site, but if you are struggling with a desire to get out of academia, I support you, and will help you with that. I left academia AFTER being successful and getting tenure. I know why you want to leave. And I’ll help you deal with the emotions, the feelings of failure, and get past them, and get a plan.*
What I do not endorse is telling anyone to give up their dreams just because their dreams are difficult/close to impossible to accomplish. Would blind people ever climb Everest if they accepted that?
Achieving financial, emotional AND intellectual well being in academia is somewhat akin to climbing Everest blind. It is damned hard to the point of being, frankly, impossible for many. You’re not going to get there without massive, simply massive logistical advance planning and preparation, and ongoing strategizing, and realistic goals, and a strong ethic of self-care and self-protection. And even with those, you might “fail” to complete the Ph.D., get the tenure track job, get tenure, or sustain a career that is joyful and life-affirming.
And this is not your fault. There aren’t enough jobs, and there are fewer every year. There isn’t enough funding, and there’s less every year. Graduate Student debt is astronomical. The payscale for assistant professors is shameful. And the culture of higher ed is increasingly soulless.
However. I support dreams. If your dream is to have an academic career, then I’m here to help. If a blind person asked me for advice about climbing Everest, I wouldn’t say “You can’t.” I’d say, “ok, do you have a guide? Legible maps? Do you have adequate funds? If not, do you know where to find them? Do you have a backup plan? Do you know the dangers? Are you in fit condition? Have you spoken to others who have done it? Do they encourage you?” If not, I’d tell them, “you’re not ready now; come back when you are and let’s make it happen.” And then I’d wish them well on their journey.
And then if they didn’t make it, that would be ok. Plans fail. Circumstances change. Life values evolve.
Academic careers are the same. What starts out as an inspired quest for new knowledge and social impact can devolve into endless days in an airless room, broke, in debt, staring at a computer, exploited by departments, dismissed by professors, ignored by colleagues, disrespected by students.
It is ok to decide that’s not what you want. It is ok to make another choice. There is life outside of academia. But academia is a kind of cult, and deviation from the normative values of the group is not permitted or accepted within its walls. You will be judged harshly by others and, to the extent you’ve been properly socialized into the cult during graduate school, by your own inner voices. Making the decision to leave involves confronting that judgment, working through it, and coming out the other side. It is long and hard and involves confronting profound shame. I went through this. I know.
So, go if it is what you truly want, and blessings upon your head. Quit if it is what you truly want, and blessings upon your head. Either way, proceed armed not with self-delusion and blind hope, but with knowledge and a plan.
*As of February 2014, I am offering formal post-ac transition services–consulting and application document editing.