University Not For Everyone, Part 7/8: Years of ‘trying’ prepares dropout for his return to academia

I left university because I did not have a reason to be in university. I did not arrive with a desire to learn, nor even an understanding that I had things to learn. I found my way to university because it was the natural flow, the trodden path and the encouraged direction.  I finished high school with reasonable grades, so university was just the presumption.

I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I did not come to university searching to find myself, nor a future direction. My end goal was, and had always been, to write. It hardly seemed like a distant dream at 18. The word ‘difficult’ only came off of the lips of others. The path seemed clear to me: go to university, get a degree, publish a book and then repeat step three indefinitely.

I did not have my ambition dismantled or my passion snubbed.  But, I did not feel like I was moving forward, either. The gap between studying English Literature and producing literature clarified itself. The difference between the expected path and the intended destination exposed itself. I encountered a paradox too many people find familiar; I was told I needed a degree to get the job I wanted, but the degree I worked toward would never result in a job. I took this to mean that the career I wanted did not exist or that a degree would not help me realize it. I refused to accept that my dreams were impossible, so I left. I dropped out of university. I was not disgruntled, nor even disheartened. In retrospect, I would say that my fire was burning at its brightest the day I walked away.

“School just wasn’t for me,” I reiterated to friends and family. Why spend years summarizing the critiques of another author’s work when my time could be spent becoming an author?  I moved to another country a year later, with a novel tucked under my arm, to sit on the doorsteps, both literally and figuratively, of publishers and agents. I loved it. I relished in the risk and the minuscule chance of reward. I basked in the audacity of my ambition.

Rejection letters stacked almost as quickly as debt, yet neither deterred me. I didn’t shy away from my dropout status and I had a staring match with every set of eyes that rolled when I identified as a writer. But, soon I was spending more time working than writing. The effort to maintain my ‘trying’ status began to inhibit me from trying to succeed as a writer.

I had to have my ignorance gift-wrapped in my ambition and thrown back in my face. I know that not everyone needs that, but I needed to be humbled. My ambition remained intact and my dreams were not dampened, but it took the testing of both, before I turned toward school once more. I accepted that I had a lot to learn and that university might teach me.

I was tentative and anxious about returning to school. I feared hating it. I feared failing. I didn’t want to waste my money or increase my debt. I didn’t want to waste my time. But the experience of life outside of academia and the maturity that snuck its way in during my time away, put me in a position to appreciate my return. I found myself enjoying attending class. I listened, I heard and I learned. And I am learning.  

A part of me wishes I had not made that first attempt at university. My pockets would not be quite as empty, I would be a few years younger and I might have found a path a little sooner. But another side of me believes that I needed it. It took disenchantment with the traditional route to grow stubborn and it took a couple years of university to find the confidence that ‘trying’ required. Then it took a few years of trying to be ready to learn; it took the time I spent trying to want to return.

I don’t regret my first attempt at school. I don’t regret the time I took away. And I don’t regret coming back. Perhaps it has been convoluted. No doubt it could have been smoother, simpler, even more successful. But, it wasn’t and it rarely is. It took me six years to find a reason to attend university, but now I know why I’m here. And now I know that I want to be here.