There are times in our lives when we need a change. Whether it’s a job, a relationship or dropping out of school, everyone wanders down a path they realize isn’t for them. An example of this in my life was my first (and last) office job. I spent four years working as an education headhunter in downtown Boston. I made good money, had benefits and there was free coffee in the break room. What more could you ask for? In my fourth year, right in the thick of busy season, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was working hard yet receiving negative feedback and since I didn’t love my work, I quit. My plan after leaving? Live by the beach that summer, which wasn’t much of a plan. Quitting your job can be romanticized, but the fact of the matter is, its only glamorous when someone else is paying your bills.
If you are reading this, you may not have started your first full time job yet, but the same concept applies to dropping out of of college. Giving up on a major commitment, like a degree, should be done with some thought and ideally, some strategic thinking. If you are considering leaving school, here are three things to consider that will facilitate your transition when making a change.
Make sure you have a job lined up, or you have some money saved
It's great to have supportive parents, but it's even better to support yourself. Dropping out of school, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons, will probably drive whoever raised you crazy. So, if you’re going to do it, you need to be able to support yourself through the transition. Sure, the first two weeks of being able to do whatever you want is going to feel great, but the sad reality is all vacations must come to an end, or else they wouldn’t be vacations in the first place. Being smart financially is the only thing that saved me from leaving my job on a whim. Even though I didn’t have a plan for what I was going to do, I was able to support myself. If you leave school, you should do it to pursue work or an opportunity that will lead you to work in the future. Just want to travel the world? Great! Just make sure you can foot the bill.
Manage your transition like a game of chess
If you’re making a significant life change, its important to think a couple steps ahead. This was something I neglected in the past but it is at the forefront of my thinking now. In your teens and your early twenties, you have plenty of time to make decisions by the seat of your pants, but the earlier you think strategically, the more ground you can cover at a young age. Chess is a great metaphor for this practice. In chess the final goal is always the same, capture the opponent’s King. How you go about it is up to you, but if you are going to do it successfully you must have a strategy. Are you going to target their queen first? Create a diversion? What about when your initial attack doesn’t work out? What is your backup plan? Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” This quote resonates with me because no matter what your path is, it is going to have obstacles and take unexpected turns, but knowing where you are going will help you achieve certain goals and milestones. If you want to leave school, make sure you know what you want to do instead. Have a clear goal or destination in mind, work toward it, and expect to face adversity along the way.
If you leave it all behind, leave the door open
College may not be right for you at the moment, but that shouldn’t be a reason to leave on bad terms. Change is something everyone experiences in their lives. You may be frustrated with school, your boss or a partner, but respect is the single most important piece of leaving everything behind. It is invigorating to take control of your life and embark on a new path, but remember, that path may very well intersect with your past at some point. You control the narrative, if you decide to burn bridges, you will likely encounter those impassable routes in the future. If you make your exit with a sense of mutual respect, even if it hasn’t been reciprocated, you will find yourself above the situation. Take the steps to move on but be able to return if you need to.
In these situations, the longer it takes you to realize you need a change, the harder it is to make that change, and when it’s too late, life makes that change for you. Let’s use college as an example. Getting an undergrad degree is a societal norm for students in the USA. Everyone’s parents want them to do it because, in the past, that has been the most effective path to financial security. If you are in college and you decide to drop out, it’s going to be a tough pill for your family members to swallow, especially your parents. They probably won’t sleep for a couple days, and as a son or daughter, that will be a weight on your conscience. Do not fear this weight, because it only gets heavier as you get older. Feel the weight, and take responsibility for it. If you are in school and you can feel it is not right for you, acknowledge that, even if you know those feelings will hurt your parents. Then take the time to look ahead and evaluate options that might put you in a place that does feel right. This process will allow you to see the transition coming and manage it effectively.
If you don’t like school but stay enrolled just to please your parents you are either going to leave suddenly when you can’t take it anymore, or graduate with a degree that you don’t really care about. Neither of these scenarios put you in a good situation. At the end of the day, when you turn 18, you are in the one in control of your life, so start making the decisions you want. This is not to say decision making is easy, and believe me there are consequences for everything. The sooner you start navigating your life for yourself, the sooner you can learn from your mistakes a steer yourself effectively into the future.