Finding a career can be so confusing and treacherous. Especially these days. After reading Cal Newport’s books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work, I agree that the “follow your passion” ethos is dangerous.
When I was at Northeastern, I thought I wanted to complete a whole host of entrepreneurial ideas. Then I thought I wanted to go to fashion school. I thought I wanted to work in finance. I thought I wanted to be a blogger/Youtuber. I thought I wanted to be a freelance writer.
At every turn, I thought there was a career out there that would be my ticket. A ticket to financial self sufficiency, to freedom, to free time, to passion, to control over my own life, to travel, to whatever. And it’s not that I just wanted an easy get rich quick scheme. I guess what I wanted was all of those things right now, all rolled into one perfect job.
I lacked patience. I’ve always been desperate to move out of my parents house. But all of those other things take time. It takes time to build a blog or YouTube channel. It takes time to build a company. It takes time to finish fashion school and then find a job.
When I was in such a rush (and I kinda still am) there were two opposing ideas that I tried to uphold simultaneously. The first is that I don’t want to follow the traditional career path of going to college and getting a job; I don’t need college and being a worker bee is unsexy and will make me miserable. The second, is that I want immediate results. So what ended up happening was that I could never stick with one plan long enough for results. I wanted results and I wanted them yesterday.
If I had stayed at Northeastern, I’d be a junior by now. I’d be graduating next spring. And now, I don’t think I’ll be able to move out of my parents’ house until next spring. I guess technically, I’m still on track as far as the timeline right? However, now I have this bizarre winding trail in between the Fall of 2018 and the Spring of 2022. Instead of a neat path from high school to college to internship to a full time job, I have periods of attending two different schools and a collection of 3 low-wage unskilled jobs plus whatever lies ahead of me once I graduate with my AA degree this Spring. But I won’t have any college debt, one of the main reasons why I dropped out in the first place, so that’s a good thing. I maintain that dropping out was what I needed. I think too few people realize the severity of what student loans mean for their lives.
I don’t regret the journey. I dropped out because something inside me told me that I should. This voice spoke in the first person and the message came to me clear as day on the first morning of my spring semester as a freshman:
I should drop out.
But I knew that voice wasn’t really mine at all. Call it the Holy Spirit, my higher self, the divine feminine within, my guide or guardian angel, woman’s intuition – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I knew that voice. I had ignored it once before and while the consequences weren’t too bad, I should have listened. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and I have never regreted leaving Northeastern
And yet… I still feel like I’m under accomplished without a degree. If I’m being quite honest, I wish, on some level, that the residency hall director (Matthew I think his name was) had sat me down and asked me what was going on. I’m not sure if I would have been brave enough or open enough to tell him the truth even if he had so I don’t blame him for prying at all.
But if I was, I would have told him this:
Student loans were very scary for me and the reality of having to get them had just hit me. I had always labored under the delusion that Mom would pay my tuition or “cash flow it” (meaning she would take on extra shifts to pay for it out of pocket) as she would say. She paid my first semester tuition in full. But that was only because we had just moved and sold our old house. My parents never really sat me down and told me what would be affordable for us. My dad complained about the price of the school but I interpreted that as him being controlling of me as usual and my mom always acted like we would just make it work somehow and that I needed to go to the best school available to me.
Then the reality of student loans hit me and I didn’t want anything to do with them. They terrified me. After years of growing up hearing my mom calling in to Dave Ramsey and how debt was always bad, bad, BAD, there was no way I was taking on student loans. No freaking way. I can’t even handle not paying off my credit card in full every month. Having student loans hanging over my head for years and years would have crushed me and stressed me out to no end.
I also would have told him that I didn’t feel quite good enough to be at that school. I was broke and had no spending money and I felt guilty asking my mom for money because she had already paid so much for my tuition. I was in that awkward middle class space where my family was “too rich” on paper for me to qualify for a work study job but not rich enough for my parents to just give me an allowance to compensate for the lack of a job. And on top of that, I wasn’t some hot shot entrepreneur like the other kids at schools who had impressive extracurriculars and started non profits and wrote books and all of that. It also didn’t help that I was just a very insecure girl in general and I thought that I need to have the right clothes and the right “look” to have a good social life.
The social life aspect was my main reason for going to college in the first place. And my secondary reason was going to a “prestigious” school. I always said “the price of freedom is high, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay,” jokingly quoting Captain America. I meant that college was expensive but that it was worth it to get away from my stifling, controlling conservative family members. Before college, I had never been on a date, never held hands with a guy, and never kissed anyone and I wanted the freedom to experience romance and love and all of that. And I thought the expense would be worth it until reality hit me.
In the days leading up to my decision to drop out, I increasingly felt like a fraud. Like I didn’t belong on campus. I wasn’t good enough to be there among all the other star students. I felt very much alone and I had never had anxiety before but I started feeling very anxious. Even just leaving my room to go to the dining hall to eat was a major struggle because I felt so anxious. And the social isolation of having my own dorm room and no roommate as a freshman probably didn’t help much either.
It was probably also a factor in my decision to dropout that I only had 10 meals per week on my dining hall meal plan. Even if I only ate 2 meals per day, that would still leave me without food for 2 days out of the week unless I bought food to keep in my room. But I didn’t buy much more than carrots and hummus because I didn’t want to ask my mom for more money or to ask her to spend more money on a higher tier meal plan.
I was on the verge of getting a part-time job at H&M before I left school. But I was feeling so anxious and overwhelmed, it was already hard for me to concentrate on my schoolwork and on the clubs and side projects I felt like I had to participate in to “keep up” with some of the other star students.
I wonder if telling the res-hall director all of this would have made any difference. Would I have stayed? Would I have gotten a roommate instead? I could have moved in with my friend who was living on my floor and whose nightmare roommate moved elsewhere on campus. Could he have helped me apply for more scholarships? Would I have been able to see a therapist on campus?
I’ll never know. Ultimately, I was never there for the right reasons to begin with and my parents and I never discussed the money aspect seriously enough so I think it’s just as well that I left. After all, if I had stayed, I never would have met my next boyfriend. And although we’re no longer together, that relationship was a really positive experience for me.