My name is Lydia Hodgson, and I am opting out of college.
This is a non-traditional and an unexpected choice for a traditional and high-achieving student. I graduated from high school with honors and earned an amazing scholarship to a small but excellent private college, but the thought of attending made me exhausted and anxious. I was burned out and for good reason.
The summer before eighth grade, an arsonist randomly set my house on fire while my family was asleep in our beds. We escaped with the clothes on our backs.
So, the start of high school was a little bumpy. But I didn’t let post-traumatic stress hold me back. I juggled A.P. classes, multiple extracurriculars, volunteer opportunities, leadership positions, etc. Three summers after our fire, just as things were getting back to normal, my family was involved in a terrible car accident, like landing-upside-down-on-a-bridge terrible. In Canada. And then a year after that, the summer before my senior year, I had to undergo a major jaw surgery. Things began to unravel.
I had been trained to think that my shot of getting into a good college and ultimately succeeding in life was inextricably entwined with my ability to work hard and make sure I had a solid resume as proof. I had no concept of balance.
I deferred my scholarship, got a job, saved a lot of money and—most importantly—I exhaled. That next February, when most of my friends were well into their second semester of their Freshman year, I flew to London and set out on a six-month, entirely self-funded, backpacking trip around Europe. Alone. I was equally thrilled and scared.
I had an extraordinary adventure, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. At the risk of sounding all Eat, Pray, Lovey, I ate wonderful food and met incredible people in beautiful settings I had read about all my life. It was amazing. And yet there were times I was homesick and worried. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by all my choices. My mom told me “There’s no wrong way to do this.” She was right. As long as I remained wise about personal safety, kept to my budget, and watched my timeline, I could do whatever I wanted. How often do you get to say that?
Experiencing this freedom led me to Praxis, a nine-month apprenticeship, and accelerated curriculum. It is a practical and challenging alternative for people who want to gain work experience and one-on-one training. I’ll learn by building tangible skills in communication, personal branding, and web design. I get to learn alongside a group of kick-ass, ambitious people. In February, I’ll be placed at a business partner, move to a new city, and learn on-the-job.
Something that sets me apart from most of my peers is that I recognize the preciousness of time. While many people my age are spending theirs in class, worried over the approach of the “real world,” I recognize that it’s not something you can escape. It’s ongoing, and the sooner you avail yourself of it, the sooner you can start working in something you enjoy and creating value for yourself and the world.
If I’m having an off day, I give myself a change of pace: I go for a walk, listen to a podcast like “On Being with Krista Tippett” or read “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp. I find inspiration from other young people who are doing unique things like Jack Harries of JacksGap and Tavi Gevinson of Rookie Magazine.
I stay organized by writing down everything for my ongoing projects as well as future goals. I’m currently rebuilding my website Out From the Ashes, a website I created to be an online haven for young people who have experienced a house fire. I’m also learning how to code through Code Academy, and starting some blog posts for my personal website.