Should I drop out or should I stay in school?
Most people I talk to will choose unhappiness and boredom over disappointing their family and friends. I was like this a few years ago.
Few people know that I dropped out of college for the first time in the fall semester of 2014.
I skipped my finals, failed all my classes, and left the campus. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I’d wanted to leave ever since the first week on campus and about a year in, I’d finally done it. I’d finally freed myself from the Frankenstein that is college and I could start pursuing my own educational and professional goals.
So life has been a fairy tale since then, right? Not quite…
I arrived home for the holidays and my parents disapproval began to take shape. Every day brought a new conversation about my decision.
It was like they were moving through the stages of grief.
There was denial, where they commanded that I go back to school the next semester.
There was anger, where they reproached me for “throwing it all away” and wasting their money.
There was bargaining, where they told me all the things they’d give me if I just went back and suffered through college to finish.
And so on.
I don’t know what finally did it for me, but eventually I forgot all about my reasons for leaving, caved, and went back to school for the winter semester. I enrolled in the minimum required courses. “I can make this work!” I told myself. “Just finish. You’ve only got three more years.”
I started off the first week strong then promptly began missing assignments and tests again. It wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that nothing had changed. College still felt like a postponement of my goals and a suck on time and energy.
I would spend the next four months being bored, miserable, stressed, and uncertain about the future. Relationships suffered, I was unproductive, unhealthy, and unhappy. It was the worst four months of my life.
My story is very similar to those I know who are considering dropping out or who have dropped out.
They gather their courage, arm themselves for battle, leave school for the holidays and by the time those few weeks are over, they’ve been convinced by family to back to school and suffer some more.
Two of my closest friends both withdrew from all of their classes and experienced an existential crisis after only two weeks of shame from their family and friends. Both went back to school and graduated, and both tell me now that they should have stuck to their decision.
A simple mindset shift allowed me to avoid this cycle of insecurity for a second time. When I dropped out again at the end of the winter semester, it was for the last time.
If you’ve dropped out and are considering going back to school because of social or parental pressure, consider the following:
1. Life doesn’t magically get better just because people say it will.
I find most of the time, the “just stick with it” advice we tell ourselves is really just an excuse for inaction. It is not a metaphysically given fact that things improve with time. It’s your responsibility to make things improve, but it’s easier to pretend it is than to face the scary reality of figuring out how to actually improve this things.
More often than not, the best way to do this is to cut ties entirely. Just as going back to a bad relationship over and over and expecting it to be any different is a bad decision, so too is going back to college. If you don’t have the power to change the system, exit it.
2. Self confidence is earned through self ownership, not through taking queues from others.
Despite all the praise we give independence in the abstract, we’re terrified of it in practice. We do everything we can to optimize against it. We make decisions based off averages and statistics, choose colleges based off what others think, make huge life choices because everyone else is doing it too, and yet we expect to remain feeling independent and self confident.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You have to choose between a strong sense of self or letting others dictate the choices you make.
Learn to make your own decisions for your own reasons — you’ll lose some short term respect but gain long term self-confidence.
3. Parents are often wrong and that’s okay.
This is a controversial opinion, but the authority figures in your life are often wrong. Parents in particular. You can respect them, their love for you, and their success, and still recognize this point.
The reason is actually simple: they’re biased by their desire to see you safe. Parents are extremely risk averse with their kids. They’d rather see them lead a boring, average life than take the steps necessary to truly succeed, even if they might say otherwise in the abstract.
I realized during my second semester that my parents’ advice about college did not come from a place of wisdom about the world, but from their need to protect me. (Surprisingly I have a better relationship with the now than I ever had before.)
4. You’re going to disappoint people eventually anyways.
Whether you finish college or not, there is going to be a time in your life when a decision of yours goes against what others think you should have done. Why put it off any longer?
If you waffle on leaving college and go back because your parents want you to, its going to make it that much harder when an even more important decision comes up in your life that requires you to say no to them.
You need to habituate yourself to saying ‘no’ now.
(As an aside, many of the friends who told me I was stupid for dropping out now ask me for career advice)
And remember, you’re young. You’re just getting started. You can always go back to college later once you’ve had time to explore life outside of it. Only it’ll be your decision, not the decision of others.