For some reason, our western world is still heavily geared towards having kids primed and ready to go to college by 18 with at least three ideas for a five-year plan set in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, I think having a plan is vital for making any moves in your life. I just don’t think it is reasonable to expect that 18-year-olds will enter higher education fully confident of their goals. For those that can, I’m grateful! They are often the doctors, lawyers, engineers, social workers, hospitality managers, and artists we need.
Yet, what about the people who will get to that point but need some time to explore their options? Have we created a culture where sowing wild oats are only for the people whose pockets are deep enough to support their aspirations?
I think not. Let me start with a bit of historical background.
In America, when the G.I. Bill passed in June of 1944, it created opportunities for male and female veterans to go to school with tuition coverage of up to $500 and a living stipend to cover additional expenses. The bill’s intent was well and good; President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to keep the economy from collapse after the war and expand the middle class. However, it created a pipeline that bypassed many well-equipped citizens of lower status who could not afford tuition. For those that landed in disparaged educational systems, the tools needed to prepare for standardized testing left them unable to compete for the necessary education to funnel them off to college.
As a middle-class citizen, I was in the pipeline that had me set to tackle a four-year degree right out of high school. I had enrolled early at community college to knock out some general education classes. I was studying fine arts, something that was more of a hobby than a full-time passion. By the time I decided to call college quits, I had been out of high school for one year, working part-time and studying part-time. My parents had been covering my tuition costs, and I knew that I couldn’t continue to ask them to do that while I was unhappy with my studies. We decided that I could drop out of school with the caveat of working full-time and pursue other options for my life.
Leaving college was one of the best decisions I ever made, and funnily enough, my time away ended up driving me back to school. I had traveled abroad to Israel and several European countries during my two years out of school. Those experiences opened my eyes to the value of other cultures and education. I knew making the things I was passionate about into a full-time career could be enhanced by returning to school.
I found an online program that gave me the chance to study essentially whatever the hell I wanted, and I jumped right in. This time though, I took primary responsibility for my schooling. I paid for tuition out of my pocket with the occasional help from my parents. I stayed at home to live rent-free to do this. I bought a smaller, economical car so that my gas bill would remain low. I haven’t upgraded my phone in two years. I pushed myself to take summer classes to graduate earlier than initially planned and decided that jumping headfirst into online business was the next move for me.
None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t left college. I mean, maybe it would have been possible, but I would have been up to my eyeballs in debt if I hadn’t left.
If I could tell high schoolers one thing, it would be to keep their options open. Work two jobs out of high school to pay for community college classes and get your general education done. Leave school, go work in a new city, or fly overseas, or move out and try a new hobby that invites community. Do something, and do it even if you’re terrified.
You can have a five-year plan, you can know what you want to do, and you are still free to change your mind. Be respectful of the voices that encourage you to go right to school, and be willing to challenge them as you show them why leaving might be right for you. Motivation is hard to come by, so be prepared to face the music of the mundane as you work day in and day out to see your hopes come to life.
Don’t give up. Be flexible and generous with your time, yet firm with your boundaries. You are capable, and failure is never the end, simply the rock bottom where you will find yourself standing on your own two feet, ready to try again.