How I Knew I Should Drop Out of College

Second semester began on a crisp and clear Monday morning. Sunlight streamed through the dorm window and unfortunately, I was awake 2 hours before I needed to be.

I have a habit of laying in bed long after I should’ve gotten up, alarm or no alarm. Sometimes I’m just messing around on my phone but I also like reading, journaling, and my personal favorite, drifting languidly in and out of conciseness for hours on end until I have to use the bathroom or I realize that I’m hungry.

I had created the perfect schedule. I am not a morning person whatsoever so I was lucky that none of my classes started before 10:30 AM, and on top of that, all my classes were on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays so I was completely free Tuesdays and Fridays. Of course, that meant I was in class from 10:30 to 4, sometimes 5:30 on those days with only 10 minutes between classes but I knew that’s what would work for me.

But despite that, when I woke up on that first day of the second semester of my first year of college, a singular thought flowed through my mind.

I should drop out.

I thought I knew exactly why that thought was there. It was the first day, it’s always hard coming back to school or work after a break, I was nervous about running into my ex, etc. I told myself, Dania it’s the first day. Get over it and go to class. So that’s what I did.

By the end of the day, I was on the phone with my mom to tell her that I was dropping out and that I’d be filling out the withdrawal form the next day.

I know that dropping out was the right thing for me but it’s hard for me to admit why because I feel like if other people can get through it, I should be able to too. I fear that others may see me as lazy or not determined enough. And that’s a big part of the reason I left.

It’s been said before but I’ll say it again- college has gotten a lot more competitive. Whether or not the curriculum is harder is irrelevant. The fact is, getting in and standing out to admissions officers (and later on, employers) is nothing like it was for my parents (born in the late 60s). And there are, of course, the ever-rising expenses.

College is filled with what I call high-octane people (HOs for short 😜). These HOs are the high-powered, over-achiever, “Type A” sort of people. HOs are super passionate and super driven. They are the standard for success in society, in admissions committees and in college in general. I was a HO in high school. I got straight A’s, GPA never under a 3.9, heavily involved in student leadership, did lots of volunteer hours, tutored elementary students, was in school plays, you get the idea.

This is magnified in college, particularly among Business students, which I was. And if you get into entrepreneurship, which I did, it’s like a religion. I no longer believe that there is only one way to “do entrepreneurship.” But there is a narrative, which I did believe, that is very prominent in this world.

The perfect illustration of this is a student who I met at an open meeting with the Executive MBA Director. No shade to them, they were very welcoming and lovely people. Everyone was encouraging and supportive.

But anyways, this student was in his second or third year and he was working on a startup in education (I think) and he didn’t currently have a team so he was doing everything himself. He was reading listening to about 3 to 5 books (not textbooks) per week which he accomplished by doubling or almost doubling the playback speed. Madam Director was impressed and asked if he could fully understand everything. He said yes. He also worked out regularly (I could tell) and refused the snacks Madam Director brought because he was on the Keto diet. He also had organically (i.e. his father is not Wall Street guy or Venture Capitalist) grown his LinkedIn network from 0 to 1,000+ connections. Again, Madam Director was impressed. He had raised over $1 million in funding for his startup and had competed in some very notable startup competitions and incubators. Tai Lopez Jr. over here also stated that he worked 80 hours a week on his startup, in addition to classes.

I came into that meeting with nothing but an idea and I wanted to shrivel up and disappear. I told them about it when they asked and they said it was a good idea (of course) and then asked if I had contacted any manufacturers yet. No, I hadn’t. This is the main reason why I don’t like sharing my ideas with anyone other than my mom. People always ask how far along you are with the business and I never feel like where I am is good enough. I know, that’s not their fault; they’re just being polite and asking questions to make conversation.

After that meeting, I knew I wanted to continue with my idea but not like that. When Tai Lopez Jr. said that he had over 1,000 LinkedIn connections, I wondered, for what? How many of those people actually care about you? And hey, maybe all of those people really are genuine connections. But maybe it is like a religion and you just instantly have a massive network by virtue of being in the startup game together. What I’m saying is, having that many people in your circle doesn’t seem like authentic connections to me.

Just to show that Tai Jr. was not an anomaly, there was a girl in my dorm (also a freshman) who had already sold her shares in one of her startups when she was in high school. Another girl started and was running a multi-million dollar non-profit.

Madam Director offered to set up a lunch date with me the week after. She got sick and had to cancel the morning of. I never rescheduled. I’m sure she’s a busy woman and no matter how much of an open door policy someone may have, I always feel like I’m an annoyance. But what’s more than that is that I found myself working more and more on my business plan solely so that I could say I had made more progress when we had lunch.

What I dislike about this mode of entrepreneurship is the sanctimonious self-flagellation and glorification of HO behavior. This way of doing things idolizes putting in 60, 80, 100 hours a week, reading high volumes of books (self-improvement and business related of course), but above all, (in my biased humble opinion) it is driven by a craving for recognition.

I saw how satisfied Tai Jr. was when Madam Director ooh’d and ah’d when he recounted his success. And again, no shade, we all like to take pride in our accomplishments. What I mean by using him as an example is that this is the undertone of the business community and the atmosphere at college in general. The reason for this, I think, is that HOs are good profit boosters for colleges. More HOs means more students getting featured in business magazines & the press, which turns into more prestige, which attracts more HOs which makes the school more selective and allows them to raise tuition, which increases the school’s ranking on U.S. News, and rinse, lather, repeat.

Some people can thrive in that environment. Maybe most people can. Not me. I can’t help but compare myself when I’m sitting in rooms and living in halls with such people. And I know that if I had stayed, no matter how successful my idea became, it would never compare to someone else with more awards and a bigger LinkedIn network because small (yet successful) businesses rarely make people ooh and ahh. Working 80 hours a week and getting coffee with people for no purpose other than to “network” (What does that even mean? Do I want something from you? Do you want something from me? Why are we here? Cue existential crisis.) sounds like my personal hell. My good friend invited me to a networking event that goes on every Thursday in Cambridge. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed talking to people.

But I’d never want to get lunch with them, especially not for some undefined purpose. I call getting lunch with someone for no reason being friends. And the goal of networking isn’t to make friends, it’s to make connections. I didn’t grow up with connections, I grew up with friends. I have no idea what the protocols for “connections” are. How often do we stay in touch? Do we send each other weekly emails? Are you mentoring me? Do I want a mentor? When is the other foot going to drop and someone starts asking someone else for a job or for funding? Is this crossing the lines into friendship? Is that professional? Is it allowed? Are you trying to date me? You see how anxiety gets the best of me.

I met the founder of a startup at that event towards the end of the first semester. He was looking for students to intern with the company to do market research since his target group was college students. I agreed to help not because I believed in the idea or that I was all too excited about it. I agreed because I needed something to add to my LinkedIn account to impress Co-op employers (Co-op is a semester of full-time work at a company which replaces classes and is required by the university for all students) and because I felt bad and wanted to help. I never actually started working with him because I dropped out.

I lost 10 pounds during my first semester of college. I attribute this to walking through the city a lot and only getting 10 meals a week on the meal plan (which cost well over $3k). I would’ve bought groceries but I was so broke. And I walked everywhere because even a ride on the T was too much.

I didn’t get work-study which a lot of students had. It being work-study I can’t imagine most of my friends working more than 15 hours a week, at the freaking most, but even if it was only 10 hours, $100 a week before taxes would’ve been a blessing for me. I felt bad asking my parents for money considering that they had paid my entire bill for the first semester so I didn’t need a student loan.

I went to college, above all, for the freedom. I wanted to get away from my strict, conservative parents and have fun. I never wanted a degree or to “get a good job.” But it’s hard to have fun when you have no money. I couldn’t even go out to eat with my friends unless the restaurant took dining dollars (which, the best places never do am I right?). I would jokingly tell myself, “The price of freedom is high, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”

But to be honest, no amount of partying and social freedom is worth $30,000+ a year.

I applied to a few jobs during my first semester and was going to start working at H&M during second semester. I knew things would be better once I had money. The only problem is that a job takes time. It also means commuting back and forth in the cold but mostly, the issue was time. Not only did I have classes and homework, I also had this business I wanted to start, a campus magazine I wanted to continue writing for, a campus club that volunteered in local high schools I joined, a pilot women in business mentorship program I was in, and of course some time to sleep and have a social life would be nice too. Doing all of that with a job felt impossible. Maybe that makes me lazy or not disciplined enough or not focused enough. Other people do it, why can’t I? 

What other people are doing wasn’t good enough anymore. Yes, I felt ashamed that I was dropping out and my mind told me that people were judging me for being a quitter or that I had some secret problem that prevented me from being able to “keep up.” But spending $15k per semester (not including books and transportation and groceries) is a lot of money just to keep up appearances. And I thought it was stupid to be paying money to stay at school when I was kinda miserable. No one would pay money to work at a crappy job, no matter how nice the benefits were so why do that with college?

My depression was getting better but once I got to college, it got worse. Maybe it was just stress, a new environment, or being away from home for the first time. I kind of just accepted that I would always be depressed and that no matter how well I could pretend that I was alright, it would always rear its ugly head.

I developed anxiety too, something I had never felt before. It kept me from going to the dining hall to eat if I didn’t have a friend to go with. And I didn’t have a large number of friends there so usually, they were busy when I texted or had just gotten done with their meals. I knew it was stupid that I didn’t want to go eat. I knew that no one gave a shit about me and what I was doing, everyone is too preoccupied with themselves to care what a random girl is doing at the dining hall. I told myself all of the logical platitudes but nothing changed how I felt. I never could eat more than one plate at each meal once I got there anyway. At the start of the fall semester, I could easily have 3 plates full at lunch and dinner. By the time I left, I barely could have 1.

Once I got home, the depression and anxiety were gone. Yes, I cried for a long time after I broke up with my first boyfriend. But I no longer cried because I felt inexplicably alone in the world and that no one cared for me and life just wasn’t worth and I was doomed to be depressed for the rest of my life. I still can’t gain those 10 pounds back though, no matter how many times I grab french fries each week. When I weighed what I did pre-college, I thought it would be nice to lose 5-10 pounds. Oh boy, was I wrong. Yes, my waist and my thighs got smaller but I also lost 3 cup sizes off my boobs and 2-3 inches off my ass. I didn’t feel any happier with myself and it was so not worth it. Sometimes it takes getting exactly what you wanted to realize that it isn’t what you want.

College is supposed to be a time to “reinvent yourself” and “find out who you are” and “figure yourself out.” I thought I knew exactly who I wanted to be. I thought I knew exactly how I wanted to dress and act and what I wanted to do. And although it wasn’t inauthentic per say, I had created a persona for myself that I wanted to fulfill because if I could live up to this idea that I constructed, then I would be ok and everything in my life would just work itself out. Society didn’t create this impossible standard for me or tell me who I should be. I did, that was all me.

Stepping into this persona required new clothes, shoes, a lot of skincare, makeup and hair products, and a totally new personality. I thought that stepping into character in this way would somehow make me better. Prettier. Sexier. More bubbly. Extroverted. More confident. I couldn’t just accept who I truly was (and am) because first off, I thought that confidence was not for “people like me” and second, I didn’t know who I was. Who I was had been buried alive and replaced by a HO, a quiet, high achieving yes-woman who wanted nothing more than a perfect report card for the first 18 years of my life.

The 4 Hour Work Week introduced me to the idea that it is a waste of time to try and improve weaknesses and that instead, you should play to your strengths and outsource what you’re not good at. So in the past week, I’ve decided to stop denying the parts of myself that are supposed to be fixed. A prime example is the fact that the entire world runs on a ‘”up at 7 am” schedule and people like Tai Lopez Jr. are inclined to wake up at 4 or 5 am in the name of productivity. I’ve tried that path. I’ve tried all the tricks to get up earlier- bought a fancy sunrise alarm clock, took melatonin, avoided napping, went to bed earlier, set up alarm clock apps that are supposed to wake you up between sleep cycles, etc. I am not a morning person and I am so f’ing done trying to be because “that’s what successful people do.”

Furthermore, I am lazy. I don’t want to work 30 hours per week, let alone 60-80. And if all goes according to this book, I won’t have to. Being an entrepreneur so you can set your own work schedule is nice but owning a company and paying other people to manage it day to day is even better. And starting a business doesn’t have to mean some big never seen before innovation. It doesn’t have to mean making millions or getting to an IPO. It can mean making enough to support yourself and a moderate lifestyle, which is what I want.

Not only do we all have to define success on our terms, we have to make our own path to getting there. Having the same idea of success as someone else doesn’t mean that you have to follow their recipe. There’s more than one way to bake a pizza. If your pizza has pineapples on it or doesn’t have any cheese, then you do you and don’t let other people tell you that you’re doing it wrong. 

Would I rather be living in Boston and not in my parents’ house in Carolina? Yes. Do I want to move out ASAP? Yes. Do I miss my friends? Yes. Did I learn anything at college? I learned a lot but nothing academic. Am I happier, healthier, and closer to a more authentic version of myself here than I was in college? Yes. And that’s what’s most important.

I don’t regret going to college. I met some amazing friends who I love and I can’t imagine not knowing them. Even though I walked away without a degree, that first semester taught me a lot outside of the classroom and I had experiences that I’m still learning from today. It would’ve been nice to have learned what I did without spending $15k + but I’m grateful for the experience and I’d do it again. I left college knowing that I learned everything college life had to teach me. And even if that isn’t true, I wasn’t about to pay next semester’s tuition to find out.

Plus, I can always go back, either to the same college or a different one. Who said you can only go to college from 18 to 22 anyways? I may never want to go back to school but I could also be 55 and decide to go back and earn my first degree. Whenever we make big changes, it’s easy to think that they’re permanent but few such changes really are. If you move somewhere new, you can move back. If you get married, you can get divorced, If you buy a house, you can sell it. If you quit your job, you can go back later or get a different one.

But as for now, I’m just looking forward to the day I move out from my parent’s house, with no student loans and a whole world of possibilities waiting for me.

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