Today I dropped out of university.
I am now (in the literal sense) homeless, unemployed and unqualified.
It feels good. Amazing, actually. I feel better than I have for a long time.
For the first time in my life, I am doing exactly what I want to do, rather than following a prescribed path. Oscar Wilde wrote that we are never more true to ourselves than when we are inconsistent. If that is the case, then I have never been truer to who I am than now.
Like 99% of people my age, my entire life so far has been laid out for me without much of my input.
I was born (no one asked me for approval of that.) I went to preschool (I would have preferred to stay home and play with stuffed animals.) I went to primary school (six years of books in bed would have been my choice.) Then I went to secondary school (no sane person would opt for that.) I got to choose between sixth form and college, but that wasn't much in the way of autonomy. I went to college because there were ponies and it meant I could avoid having to take a maths or science A-level.
College finished and everything and everyone told me university was next.
It seemed like the logical action to take. My A level grades were so good that every university I applied to accepted me. My application letters were excellent and I got offers for courses which I was not at all qualified for. The first inkling something was wrong came when I was offered an art history degree on the basis of my personal statement, even though I met none of the criteria for it. The university in question said I seemed more suited to that. Being set on English, I turned the offer down.
I didn't do much research. I spent no more than 2 minutes reading over the curriculum for an English degree. That's less time than it took me to evaluate my last new toothbrush. No one gave me any real information about the value or use of it. Heck, I didn't even know if it was a 3 or 4-year course when I signed up.
Asking the basic questions seemed idiotic, so I didn't. I didn't ask: What will I be doing all day? How will this help me with the work I know I want to do? How much will it cost in total? Where will I live? How much more can I expect to earn as a result? No one showed me any concrete numbers. No one told me much. Of course, it was my fault for not asking. University just felt so obligatory.
I had offers from 5 universities. I visited 2 of them. My decision was made on the basis of which one had a 24-hour library and ranked highest. It would be nice if that were sarcasm, except it isn't. The campus cat also swayed me.
So, I began the course back in September. Don't get me wrong, I loved it and worked hard. I adored the lectures, the required reading, the seminars, the essays. The topics were fascinating. I didn't find it hard or too challenging. The library was as wonderful as I had hoped. I completed my assignments on time and got good marks. I rescued the campus cat from getting hit by a car. All was well.
Then the negative feelings started to creep in. Doubts began to pop up. I wrote an essay about my feelings of confusion. And another. And another. To everyone who responded with thoughtful advice - thank you. It helped me a lot.
I read the advice of smart people, like James Altucher and Ryan Holiday. I turned to my trusty mentors - Seneca, Patti Smith, Thoreau. It may have been a case of confirmation bias, but the signs were clear. My options outside of university were better than I had thought.
One night, I opened my notebook to a blank double page spread. On one page, I wrote all the worst possible outcomes of dropping out. On the other, I wrote the potential solutions for each one. Laid out like that, it became clear that the worst which could happen was not that bad. There were options for everything. Risks were minimal if I took the necessary precautions and planned with my usual obsessive care.
Dropping out is a somewhat simple process. It's almost too simple. Fill in a single form, ask the faculty head to sign it, hand in the dorm room keys. That's it. I cleared out my room in half an hour (another benefit of being a minimalist.) I sent most of my stuff to my parents' house, then took the bare essentials with me to Chapman's flat where I am now being a leech.
In the end, I dropped out because I want to do something different, not out of laziness. University was not too hard. I can be sure that I will not return to my parents' house and nap on the sofa all day. I dropped out because I want to control my life at last. Maybe that is follish. Maybe it's not. Who knows.
What's next? Well, I am taking a few days to tie up loose ends and then I will begin traveling. My options for where I can go are limited as I will be alone, but I have enough savings to stay afloat for the next couple of months. First stop is a simple, Thoreau-esque month in an isolated country cottage I have rented from Airbnb.
My plan is the write full time, explore my options and take the next year for myself. If I want to, I can return next year to complete my course without losing my credits from this semester. I'm going to work like crazy to support myself through my writing and potentially through speaking gigs. We shall see where it takes me. I have a lot of plans and can promise that my writing is set to become a lot more interesting.
Here are some relevant words from Keri Smith (creator of Wreck This Journal) which I have been keeping in mind.
'Life is a constantly morphing thing. Just when you think you know where it’s all headed you wake up the next morning to a completely different view. The landscape has changed along with the seasons, but the trees are the same trees, only your view has changed. So you try to cling to the old things that used to comfort you, clinging to the familiar, but they provide little or no solace. The fears do not subside. At this point, we have no choice but to surrender to the unknown. That is where the real beauty lies. It is not in the knowing, the familiar, the expected. But in the embracing of the unknown. A willingness to walk down a new path and to trust that everything is as it should be.'
Here are some more from Declan Kiberd. This passage is from a paper on Oscar Wilde and it stood out to me.
'In being true to a single self, a sincere man may be false to half a dozen other selves. If all art must contain the essential criticism of its prevailing codes... an authentic life must recognize all that is opposed to it. '
Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments.
P.S.If you would like to help support my plan to write full time, I recently set up a Patreon page for this site. By pledging the cost of a cup of coffee each month, you can receive access to exclusive additional articles and hundreds of pages of my personal notebooks where I catalogue my inspiration and ideas.