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So You’ve Just Dropped Out Of College (Or Made A Life-Changing Decision)

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image - Unsplash / Patrik Goethe
image – Unsplash / Patrik Goethe

A few weeks ago, I saw on r/relationships that there was a girl who’d just dropped out of college. Her parents were threatening her, she was scared out of her mind. She had no idea what to do.

I relate to that story very deeply, because I’ve lived my own version of it. Anyone who has made a life changing decision has.

Maybe you just left school. Maybe you decided you didn’t want to be a lawyer or abandoned a profession someone else picked out for you. Maybe you just ended a long term relationship.

As if that wasn’t hard enough, you’re now experiencing what comes next: People in your life deciding to not be supportive…or worse.

What should you do?

Well first, calm down. Freaking out rarely makes anything better. Next, I hope the advice below (expanded and updated) I gave her helps.


When I was 19 years old, I made the decision to drop out of college–I had a job offer in Los Angeles that I felt was too big too pass up. My parents, seeing only the scholarship I was leaving, the fact that they’d worked so hard to see their kids go to college, disagreed. They did not handle it well. My father called me to tell me that he thought I would fail and that I would regret this for the rest of my life. My mom accidently sent me a ridiculous email intended for someone else that she tried to recall. They tried to take back the car we’d bought together. They cut off my cell phone without notice. As you can imagine, it spiraled out of control there. In my eyes, they disowned me.

But you know what? It was the right decision for me. I flourished by taking this risk. Though at first the job was rocky, I ended up getting another even better one soon after. I’ve written and published three books since then. I’ve actually been invited to speak and lecture at colleges far better than the one I dropped out of. I make a lot more money than people in my family do. Also, I’m happy.

Now that you’ve made a similar decision and are dealing with two parents who sound absolutely out of their minds, what’s going to be critical for you in this time is this:

  • Learn how to take care of yourself–physically and mentally. Find therapist (even if you have to go to some sort of public clinic), get healthy (whether that means exercising or just eating right). Your body and brain are under immense amounts of strain and you need to compensate for that.
  • Take control of your own life. It sounds like you’re already doing this but you are now an adult who is on their own. That means it’s all on you. Take that seriously. Plan for your future and continue making smart choices (with your money, with your job, with your friends, etc).
  • Surround yourself with people who care about you and support you unconditionally. Maybe that’s a mentor, maybe it’s just a friend. I talked every day with my grandfather during that period–he had no judgement and was just there for me. My girlfriend (now fiancee) was my rock during this time. It was scary for her too but she was amazing because she could see that I needed her. It sounds like you have that with these new people you’ve met. Protect that and lean on it.
  • Education doesn’t end with school. Just because you left the classroom, doesn’t mean learning stops. In fact, now you have to work on it more than other people. Same goes for relationships. Cheryl Strayed has a good line–just because you break up with someone or say, stop speaking to your father, doesn’t mean the relationship is over. It’s just different. It continues, albeit one-sidedly, and has to be managed, just like your education.
  • Don’t sweat the tiny details. Your parents don’t have a case here–it’s just intimidation (note: they were threatening to prosecute her for theft.) I was so worried about leaving school, about my course credits, about my job, all that. To change your life you have to make bold decisions and that’s what you need here. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. That’s what the drama you’re going through now is. I lost a $900 deposit on an apartment when I made my choice. It stressed me out so much at the time. Now I just laugh at that and consider it the best money ever spent.
  • Continue to take risks after this. I hope, once you make it out of the other side of this, that you’ll have a new perspective on big life altering decisions. In a sense, you’re getting a peek behind the curtain here–you’re pushing through something that other people are too afraid to experience. It doesn’t matter what else you end up doing with your life, you’ll know be better prepared for it, less fearful and hopefully more open to taking risks…because that’s where the payoffs are.

You have to remember, this decision you made effects other people. Your parents had a vision for you to go to college, your boyfriend thought you guys would be together forever and now he’s losing you and his child (note: the girl in question decided she was going to get an abortion.) That’s all come crashing down. So understand that–don’t get caught up in it–but understand it.

But here’s the crazy part: over time, unless your parents are utterly toxic people, that relationship will mend with time too. If you had told me in 2007 that I would be willingly spending time with the people who abandoned me at the moment I most needed them, I’d have thought you were crazy. But decent parents–even ones that make huge mistakes–realize that the most important thing is their children (that’s why parents visit their kids even in prison). Mine have apologized, sincerely, and slowly over the years the relationship has begun to get better. It was painful and uncomfortable for me to have to look them in the eye and tell them how much they hurt me and how disappointing it all was, but I did and now we are moving past it. If that doesn’t happen for you, it will be sad but also lucky–because that negative force will now be absent from your life.

The other good news is that I’m sure right now this feels like the craziest thing that ever happened to you. Because it probably is. But guess what? In a few years, you (and hopefully your family) will look back on this and shake your head at how worked up everyone got. It’s just life, man. People make decisions, they decide to turn back after going down a certain road. It seems controversial at the time, but in retrospect, it just seems like any other major decision–especially if it works out. What if you’d been drafted in the Army? What if it was a medical diagnosis? It’d be just as disruptive but you wouldn’t be as upset because you’d know you had no choice. Consider that.

You should be proud of yourself for having the guts to pull the trigger here and to do this hard thing. I wish I could tell you that it was all going to be easy and simple, but that’s not true. It will be worth it though and it was the right thing. Good luck.


Wherever you are, whatever decision you’ve made–trust that it’s going to be alright. Because you made that decision. You’ve taken control of your own life.

 

While I haven’t heard back yet from the girl this advice was written to, but hopefully we will soon. If you’ve done this yourself, feel free to reply in the comments and let us know how it worked out.

And of course, if you ever need anything, you can email me too. TC mark

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