Pitfalls of a Drop-Out

I was a great student until I was about 14. I handed work in on time, I got 80s and 90s religiously, and I went to school like you're supposed to. (Huge feat, I know.) Naturally, I was also a perfectionist-meets-goody-good who was terrified of authority or disappointing anybody around me which wasn't conducive to "being cool." So when grade nine started, I started to care less. By grade ten, I cared less even more. And then by the time I was called into the vice principal's office for skipping a class almost every day in grades 11 and 12, I realized I might not be meant for academia.

It's a weird feeling to know that you're smart, you're just not good at school. (And now I'm paranoid about how not-smart that sentence may have seemed.) So I took a victory lap and went to college at 19, but when I was late for class and almost not bothered to go on the first day, I knew I'd made a mistake in enrolling at all.

Ultimately, I wanted to work. Even more ultimately, I wanted to write, but it was 2004 and the only way I knew how to do that was through a college journalism program that involved writing fake local news. I lasted a semester before dropping out and taking a full-time job at a hardware store. There, I decided I was going to be a nurse (I . . . I don't know, you guys), so I started upgrading my high school courses before realizing I was doomed, yet again: I couldn't — and can't — do math. So my science-based dreams came to a close, and I applied to communications/film/history at university. I got in — four years after leaving my post-secondary life — and hit the ground running. I went to every class. I handed in everything. I made the Dean's List. I was going to be a writer, I SWORE. And then summer came, and I started getting freelance work on my own, and when I went back for year two in September, that same old feeling hit: you don't belong here.

And I didn't. Now, more than ever — in the job that I have — do I realize that some people do well in an academic environment, and other people (like me) talk too much and have too much trouble following the rules. (And not in a rebellious "Ohhh I'm such a badass" way — more like, "Yeah, but I like my way better and it works so why can't I just do it like this?") In the "real world," results are what matters most, and the more I wrote (and write), and DID (and do), the more I like(d) the satisfaction of getting something done my way, on my terms, but while still delivering the type of piece somebody asked me for. I'm bad at schedules, and I'm terrible at routines. And while grades are subjective (like an editor's expectations), I was getting paid and building a career by jumping ship and just writing. And I could work on my own time (which is all the time), and give myself that illusion of control. I also could (and can and do) still learn, because technically we should all be learning something every day.

NOW, I know and respect and maintain that school is important. School is wonderful and it's a privilege and I know this especially well because I worked two jobs just so I could go to school at all. But I also know that being a university student when I shouldn't have been wasn't fair to a lot of people: not to me (who was miserable), not to professors (who weren't getting the respect I should've given them), and not to anyone who wanted to go to university (since I was taking up a spot that could've been used by someone who really, really wanted to be there). And ultimately, not everyone is supposed to do the same thing. For me, that meant I wasn't an academic. Which is fine! Most of the time.

Because there are times when, yes, OF COURSE I can feel a difference between academics and myself. I don't catch literature references because I didn't take an English university course. My writing reads differently (not better, not worse, just differently). And things like where you specifically went to school doesn't mean anything to me. (I don't know what's elite and what isn't and I don't really care, either way.) Earning a degree is a lot of work and it's awesome and it's hugely hugely impressive, but so are a lot of other things. (I mean, I haven't done those things, but hey — learning to walk is pretty big. And we've all done that, so look at us: we rule equally, in different ways.) But really: despite this being a post-secondary world, we know more than ever now that while school is terrific, it's not for everyone, and that's okay. You can still be a successful human being, and are no less "good" or "worthy" than someone with stacks on stacks on stacks of diplomas.

And I think we get that. WE do, as in this generation we are in, and younger. We, out of everyone, see that degrees do not necessarily equate to jobs or stability and that stability is technically a myth, anyway. (I mean, I'm from a town where a whole street is just abandoned, bankrupt factories. Nothing is permanent and we are all replaceable unless you convince everyone of the opposite.) Now, I think we're starting to realize that if you want to go to school, go to school. But if you don't — depending on what you want to do (like, if you want to be a lawyer, you have to go to school, I'm sorry) — that's fine, too. You'll be fine. It'll be fine. But don't try to fit into a mold you don't belong in, or ignore that gut feeling over the worry you're not doing what you "should" be doing. I say this because I did, and it wasted a lot of my time and a lot of my money. And I still don't know very much about Nietzsche, but I do know a lot about TV shows, and I am okay with my kind of education, too.

But, in the words of my running narrative when somebody brags about where they went to school like I'm Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman being shamed by retail associates, you're not better than me. (Also: in my head I'm shouting it. But you don't deserve that. Unless you're the sales associates. And in that case . . . deal with it.)

Tags: academia, back to school, dropping out, school, self help

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