This past week, I decided to withdraw from classes at my university. Probably definitely. I took the last semester off, and during that time I thought I had decided on what seemed to be a more stable plan for my studies. The problem is, the idea of college is exciting when contriving class schedules – but the reality of actually attending and participating, for me, is devastating to the most frustrating degree. This past Tuesday, having already completed the first week of classes, I was listening to a lecture about the beginnings of different literary genres. Gripping, I know. Suddenly an undeniable, overwhelming feeling of despair came over me. I became anxious, even nauseous. As I sat there, listening to the annoying ramblings of that random, obscure human being deemed fit to lecture us at our expense, I realized more than ever before that I was not supposed to be there. When class ended, I walked swiftly to my vehicle, got in, turned the ignition, gripped the wheel, and gazing aimlessly at the expansive maze of the university parking lot before me and said audibly to myself, “I am finished. This is over.” Just like that.
The truth is that I started off on the wrong foot.
For anyone who knows me well, namely my parents and close friends, it is known that my college experience has been the cause of much strife and irritation in my otherwise seamless and indisputably comfortable life. Nevertheless, I have participated willingly and put in a valiant effort since I first entered the university after high school. Since that fateful first day when I entered the doors of the establishment, I will be as bold as to say that my ambitious identity (including career aspirations and my perception of the very value of knowledge) has been distorted and diminished to an unrecognizable nothing. Now, after years of hopeless floundering and meandering from school to school and program to program, I am hereby declaring that at last the time has come for me to stop.
When I neared the completion of an Associates degree in 2015, I needed to make a decision as to how and where I would continue the endeavor as well as on which discipline I would focus. It was around that time that I noticed that my path was beginning to crumble. Not one avenue seemed to make sense. No path felt right. From not one direction did I hear my name being called nor did any one shoe fit (metaphorically speaking). So, I flew in the direction of the wind to another state school, only to transfer back to another, change my major a handful of times, and ultimately withdraw to “take a semester off,” meanwhile completely flushing away over a year and half of time I would have otherwise used happily picking away at a bachelor’s degree in a reasonable discipline. I might have even graduated by now. But lo, it didn’t work out that way, and here I am, no better off than I was at the start of the summer in 2015.
So, in essence, I dropped out. At least for the time being…
However, though the connotations associated with the term “drop out” seem agreeably negative across cultures, I prefer not to think of it as “dropping out” as much as I do “dropping in.” This idea was introduced to me while recently reading Tim Ferriss’ new book Tools of Titans. Eric Weinstein, managing director of Thiel Capital, is quoted in the book regarding the broken educational system we have created:
“I want as many of my dangerous (in a good way) kids out of that idiom, [even if] it requires…dropping out of college. But not for no purpose. Drop into something. Start creating, building. Join a lab. Skip college.”
For a long time I have used the argument “If people put as much effort into building a business as they do into business degrees, imagine how different our world would be.” You can decide if that’s valid or not, but the point is that the educational establishment as currently structured is not necessarily the ticket to inevitable success as it has been believed to be in decades past. I am suggesting that as youth we are wrongfully indoctrinated with the idea that after high school, we need go to a four-year college and only then are we eligible for a good life. Because of this, many people find themselves in my same circumstance having spent thousands of dollars only to have effectively learned nothing. In short, kids don’t know why they are going to college, they just go because it is what they think they’re supposed to do. If they could do it again they would have focussed their efforts elsewhere. Well now is that time for me. It’s time for me to focus my time and resources elsewhere.
I am not cut out for the classroom. I just can’t bear the talking head. My style, my character, whoever I inherited it from, does not cooperate in that environment. After numerous attempts, I just can’t seem to make it work (and I consider myself to be a perfectly capable, generally agreeable person, mind you). Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, put it well when he said the following:
“I don’t like the word ‘education’ because it is such an extraordinary abstraction. I’m very much in favor of learning. I’m much more skeptical of credentialing or the abstraction called ‘education.’ So there are all of these granular questions like: What is it that we’re learning? Why are you learning it? Are you going to college because it’s a 4-year party? Is it a consumption decision? Is it an investment decision where you’re investing in your future? Is it insurance? Or is it a tournament where you’re just beating other people? And are elite universities really like Studio 54 where it’s like an exclusive night club? I think if we move beyond the education bubble that we’re living in today, the future will be one in which people can speak about these things more clearly.”
I really sympathize with that. So for now, I have decided to take the world on in other ways. This is not me criticizing higher education, though I am being critical of it. Obviously if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, a college education is required and necessary. But in this day and age, career and educational paths with guarantees of stability and success are impressively less ample than they were 50 years ago, even 10 years ago. And the rate of change accelerates still. Like author Neil Strauss once said, “The biggest mistake you can make is to accept the norms of your time.” I am not dropping out, but merely dropping in on the real things that I am supposed to be doing. The real things that make me happy and motivate productivity. It’s quite liberating, honestly. I highly recommend it.