Caution: The non-sexy version of a college dropout’s journey is up ahead.
The Origins of a College Dropout
As I explain to anyone who listens, I received two emails that signaled the downfall of my life:
Email A: We’ve got your internship set up and the internship manager would like to meet with you. (Paraphrasing of course)
Email B: You’re out of financial aid.
I’ve still been recovering ever since.
Email A gave me hope. Finally, after over 4 years and 120 credits, I would finally be the first one in my family to graduate from college with a Bachelor’s degree.
Email B destroyed everything that I am.
The Survival Memoirs of a College Dropout
Flash forward four years and 2 months later……I survived.
This kind of journey I have been on, as a college dropout, is not the kind that makes it in the newspapers. I don’t have Bill Gates’ or Steve Jobs’ technical skills. I can’t build a social network like Mark Zuckerberg. I don’t have some extraordinary hacking abilities that have start-up companies knocking on my door.
I’m just me.
My version of the college dropout story involves many ups and even more downs.
As a college dropout, I learned the power of self-directed learning. I have always been someone who wanted to know everything there is to know about my interest. (I’m an INTJ, after all). That trait has been an advantage as a freelancer because it helped me adapt to a constantly changing market. As a result, I dabbled in marketing, publishing, bookkeeping, and more. It was fun, necessary, and interesting.
In short, I learned that I didn’t need an educational institution to learn amazing stuff.
I also came to realize that I didn’t always need a “JOB” as I commonly thought about it, to survive. There is always a way to make money. (Be aware that opportunity doesn’t always mean a guarantee!) I could supplement or even supplant my income using skills that I learned, talents that I have, and interests that pull me in a certain direction.
In short, I learned that jobs aren’t the only place to develop jobs skills or to get income.
I also got to spend more time developing who I am. When I was pursuing a college degree, my whole identity was wrapped up in getting a degree. I either received the degree or failed. When I did fail, I realized that I still had a lot of personal developing to do. I began that personal development during my time away from college:
- I gained more skills, mentors, friends, and communities in Paleo.
- I started this blog.
- I gained a boatload of friends on Twitter (which has become my second community).
- I wrote poetry
- I gained experience in MovNat, PaleoFitness, and everything Primal-related.
- I learned how to budget money better.
- I became a more involved social justice activist.
But, I have also experienced incredible downs as well:
Finances: When you live as a freelancer (especially from scratch), you remain poor for a long time with a few weeks or months of abundance sprinkled in. One month, I might have enough for steak, brocooli, kale, and whatever else Paleo. The next month, I might only have Ramen Noodles.
Employment Options: I’ve experienced the self-employment curse (trying to explain to employers what I did as a freelancer), and what I call the “curse of the all-power Bachelor degree” (entry level jobs that require a Bachelor degree, credit check and more) when applying for jobs. I’ve applied for jobs that I wouldn’t have applied to necessarily if I graduated (like McDonald’s). As a result, I experienced feelings of worthlessness and lack of motivation.
Emotional & Physical Roller Coaster: Living a freelancer and college dropout life, while glamorized in magazines and movies, is not what it’s cracked up to be. It has been a weird ride, and that ride has taken its toll on my emotional, mental, and physical health. In some ways, I’m stronger and more adaptable. In other ways, I’m tired.
So, what have I learned from all of this?
Success will never be what you think it is. I have come to see now that my journey is only partly in my hands. Despite all of the inspirational quotes on Twitter and Facebook, success is not all about what you do. There are just too many factors. Success involves what you plan, what you do, what happens, and how you respond. You can take all of the right classes, do all of the right things, and still not graduate (because of funding). You can fill out all of the applications, create the perfect resume, say all of the right things in the interview, and still not get the job.
Life happens. We have to learn to live within in it. (A good course I learned that helped me integrate that lesson into life was Modern Stoicism)
Your job is what you do, but it’s not all that you are. Yes, as modern humans, we spend a lot more time at work than previous generations. It’s only natural that we tie our identity to that. The problem in that behavior is that it’s external. Should you ever lose your job, get demoted, or can’t handle a job, then your happiness goes out of the window. I’m learning to not get so caught in the hype. A job is what I do to earn income and help someone do something better or faster. It is not a reflection of who I am as a person (even though it feels that way) or what I can offer the world.
Your life will never be static. For a long time, I worked toward a static view of happiness. (To be honest, I still fall into this pattern now). I have the belief:
- If I just get this job, then I’ll be happy
- If I just get this degree, then I’ll get the job I want.
- If I just get this date or marry this person, then everything will be incredible.
- If I just get 6-pack abs, then life will be awesome
It is not wrong to pursue goals to be more awesome in life. (In fact, I endorse that belief!), but you have to be careful that you don’t get caught up in the “If I just…then” mode of happiness. So many things happen in life that no goal is ever guaranteed success. Even if we reach our goal for happiness, our brain is just going to create another one, anyway.
And what do I plan to do next??
1. I‘m going back to full-time work (away from the computer) and freelance in a skilled occupation. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about freelancing is how to build and grow a service business. In doing so, I’ve learned that the only way to really make is a freelancer is to have a defined skill that really helps people. If you’re just a “data entry” person or “I’ll do anything online that’s legal” freelancer, you will get paid $.01 and stuck in the lower-paying jobs mill. I’m training in a skill that businesses need on a regular basis and will pay for, so I’m going to focus on that.
Having said all of that, I must admit that I like the stability of a full-time job. Despite all of the hype that “the world will be freelancing in 2017″, I like the idea of having defined work hours, a payroll department, and a boss. I’m going back to the cubicle, but this time I realize it’s a cubicle. I also now I can work outside the cubicle as well.
2. I plan on helping more people who are in a similar situation as me (college dropout, work-at-home people, anyone struggling to be more fit on a “real budget”, etc.)
One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences as a college dropout and freelancer. I wanted to share my story and the resources I found. A big part of that was because I learned about resources from other bloggers like Real Ways to Earn Money Online and Work at Home Job Adventures. These two sites helped me find my first jobs as a freelancer and still serve to this day, as a source for additional income opportunities.
Plus, I also created this blog to counter all of those really happy “success” blogs out there that just annoyed me. You know the kind where the blogger goes around the world, earns $500 per hour, and speaks on TEDX, then turns around and says “You can do it too in 7 easy steps”. I want to talk about the journey to that level. What is it really like to go from a famous blogger when last month you only had $3.50 in your bank account?
3. I plan on blogging more, at least for a little while. As time allows, I’ll be doing a bit more than book reviews. If time and budget allows, this blog will grow into a bigger blog with a bigger purpose.I’ll be adding new categories, new posts, and may dabble in interviews, videos, and who knows what else.
4. I plan on finding more unique ways to bring more awesome into my life. I’ll still on the journey to awesomeness, I just know that it will be more interesting, incredible, terrifying, and complicated than I imagine.