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Lessons from a School Drop-Out

This December marks two years since I dropped out of University.

Let me preface this with two things: I am not discrediting the importance of formal education. I am, however, sharing lessons I've learned since I've dropped out, that I wouldn't have learned otherwise.

1. Do your own learning:

I dropped out because I felt like I was being taught a superficial sort of knowledge that had an expiry date. It felt like if I was asked the right questions, I could spit out a memorized answer.

To me, learning about myself, and emotions, and interactions with others felt more useful, and I have learned so much about that this past year just by having a particular interest in it. Point being, school is a form of education. Only one form of it.

Learning is everywhere out there – your classroom can take any shape.

Libraries are lined with exceptional teachers, documentaries are laced with lessons, each new place you travel to holds a new revelation, each person you meet tells a new story, each experience throws a new tool in your toolbox. Approach every day with an open child-like mind, and you’ll take in all the hands-on learning you need.

As a teacher from my high school used to say "Don't let school get in the way of your education."

2. Don’t Be something, Do something.

Don’t let an expensive piece of paper with your name on it be the only thing that validates you. When my mom read my blogs, she said, “You should go to school to be a writer”. When my student heard me play they said, “You should go to school to be a music therapist”. I showed interest in starting a business and Dad said “You should go to school to be an entrepreneur”.

First thought on this: I don’t need a music therapy degree to help people through music. I don’t need to be placed into a technical box bound by literature rules to express myself through writing. I don’t need a degree to start a business, because you have to jump in and do it to learn anyway. I have worked all those loves into my life right now – that would have taken me years of school and everything I owned to let the school system tell me I could do all those things.

Second thought – Don’t commit yourself to being, and just do. Follow your nose. Let your inquisition lead you and dabble in whatever is calling you at the time – who knows where it’ll lead?

When I was in high school, I remember being overwhelmed by wanting to be too many things. I wanted to be a performer, a teacher, a special needs worker, an outdoor adventure instructor, a marketing and promotions person, and the list goes on. It never occurred to me then that I can bite a little into all of those things, and if something sits especially well with me, I could run with it until I tire and pluck what’s next out of the view from there.

3. Stop covering up for yourself

When I dropped out of school and met up with old friends who asked what I was up to, I felt a huge need to cover up. I would let them know I dropped out, but proceed to list all of my exciting upcoming plans, to make sure they didn’t think I was a failure.

I knew what I wanted; I just wasn’t there yet. I covered my bare present self with the blanket of glamorous future maybes.

I now feel bad for that version of myself. I should have cut her more slack and let her be who she was then.

Right now matters, because all life ultimately is, is a stockpile of 'right now’s'. But at the same time,  it doesn't matter at all, because you, God willing, are the worst version of yourself at this very moment. You're growing, learning, and experiencing new things every day. Right now doesn't matter because you shouldn't pin yourself to it. Own your 'right now’s' proudly as benchmarks along the way of progress.

Let yourself be right where you are on the journey, and forget about what it sounds like to other people. 'Big picture' things, and be who you need to be at this moment to work towards who you want to be. Speed doesn’t matter, trajectory does. Don’t hang out somewhere safe to pop out an impressive answer when people ask what you're up to lately.

Proudly say 'I don’t know', if that’s the case. Maybe say 'I do know, but I’m not there yet'. Whatever your answer, own it, and show some love to yourself by accepting your ‘right now’.

Bring your value back to who you are, not what you do. You're worth something with or without an institution telling you that you are.

4. Don’t define yourself by standards other than your own.

I bore easily and have many different loves, so a vibrant patchwork life will be a trademark of my own success. Your version of success will look different than mine.

I just had a great conversation with someone who was intending on attending medical school. He had plans to be a doctor, but found a love for singing. He let himself pick up this little breadcrumb, and took a year off with his band. The breadcrumb turned into a trail as one year turned into four. He’s now a full time performer.

You don’t have to drop all of your practical aspirations to do what you love. In fact, don’t do that. That pressure can smother your inclinations. My point is, he just followed the white and yellow lines through the fog, and now loves the ride.

Listen; in my eyes, if you’re working little bits of happiness into your life, you are successful. I don’t care if you’re rolling in crazy figures, or graduated from Stanford. Look at the big picture – why do you think we’re here? Everyone has a different answer.

I believe we’re here for only a breath, and are meant to enjoy it. My purpose certainly isn’t to hop on the right track and chug away until it’s my time to go. I’m showing my love for life by my colourful unpredictable days. That may seem whimsical to others, it feels like success to me. And that's enough merit.

Flowers don't measure themselves against the rest of the garden, they just bloom.

5. Take your authenticity seriously.

Here’s something to think about. There is only one of you in all time. History has never seen someone like you, and the future never will. What you’ve seen and experienced, how you think, and what you love to do is so incredibly rare. If you die with ideas and hopes still left in your mind, that’s where they stay locked up forever. The world has lost that medium. An excerpt from one of my favourite quotes from Martha Graham reads “ It is not your business to determine how good [your expression] is, nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep this channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you”.

Isn’t that so poignant? Take whatever measures needed to flip yourself upside down and shake out all that's in there. It's also a stark reminder that offering what you naturally have to offer is more than enough. School doesn't have to be a safety blanket. Don't go chasing back-up plans to feel secure before letting yourself be free in your pursuit. In what other aspect of life do you get plan B out of the way first? Get out of your head and hit the ground running.

We can factory farm our future leaders, but if we’re all designed to add something so unique to this world, there’s no way we’re all meant to get our education in the same standardized way.

I’m not discouraging standard education – I just think it’s time to change how we perceive it. It’s not the only pathway, and it’s not only for the specially gifted. There are plenty of places to gather knowledge from, and as long as you’re learning, that’s the whole point, right?

It boils down to this: 

Do what you want to do without the storm cloud of wrong vs. right looming over you. Don't be driven by the angry mob of the fear of failure and the weight of success. Stay oriented by chasing your hopes, rather than being chased by your fears.

You’re drawn to certain things for a reason, so be authentic, and that’s enough. And please do. Please don’t take up space where you aren’t meant to be. Trust your instincts and ignore judgments, and just love what you love without trying to fit into a box to get a nod from society.

We all fit together best that way.

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