The following is an essay I wrote shortly after deciding to drop out of college.
I want to set a record for myself stating why I dropped out. This is one of the biggest and most independent decisions I’ve ever made, and I don’t want to lose the reasons for it with the fading memory of time since passed.
I dropped out today; I signed the paperwork at 11:32 A.M. Central time. I decided to drop out at approximately 3:28 A.M. this morning, after deliberating on it for roughly the past three days. The decision had been on my mind since at least April, and resurfaced again this September when I fell onto duty premises (the idea that “I should be doing this or that” without reasons, or because bad things will happen). It came up again several days ago with the increasing pressure of school and the need to split myself between school and what I wanted, like STRIVE. I needed to decide if college held any value for me still, if there was any rational reason to stick with it.
I made up a list of reasons to stay and reasons to leave. The reasons I found to stay were:
- the fallback security a degree provides
- the access to cool and potentially interesting classes through the university (not the classes I was currently taking as a philosophy major, though)
- the guaranteed financial support from my parents, and
- the guarantee of staying involved with STRIVE
The reasons to leave were the more convincing ones. They’re the rest of this essay.
I chose to leave because I’m not gaining enough in school. Although I enjoyed the chance to read about the other positions in philosophy apart from Objectivism, that’s such a minor value to me at this point in life that the hours required to invest in it and do well in class aren’t worth it, not when it comes at the expense of higher values, like STRIVE or my freedom to learn and explore what and as I please.
I chose to leave because I don’t know what I need a degree for. Yes, a degree (supposedly) provides a fair amount of job security/employability. But the only jobs that require a degree are the ones that aren’t in my Plan A. They’re the jobs I’d choose if I was in dire straits and needed a fallback; even then, I don’t think I would take them unless I’d given up on pursuing the life of my dreams – but at that point, what’s the purpose of living? I haven’t confronted that situation or experienced those jobs, so I can’t say; maybe I’d find a way to enjoy them. But either way, so much time is required to accomplish Plan B that it’s at the expense of Plan A. I’m setting myself up to fail at the life of my dreams by investing in the backup plan to protect me if I fail at the life of my dreams. It’s nonsensical. I have good opportunities through STRIVE and with coaching, neither of which require a degree. Although I may find a legitimate reason to come back later, I have no need for a degree that I can see.
That leaves the last reason, which is the most important one, the one that makes this such a monumental decision: I chose to leave because I decided to stop being afraid of independence. For the longest time I was afraid of independence, both in matter and in spirit. I was afraid of having to support myself by my own effort and my own thinking. Over the years I’ve pushed myself and come to fear independence in spirit less; independence in matter has always been tougher, as I’ve never had the confidence that I can support myself, that I can survive. (“Independence in spirit” being things like making decisions based on my own thoughts and opinions, rather than those of others.) That’s been part of my reason for staying in school: I get supported a little longer, with the vague idea that I can set myself up now to not need to worry about finances; a rationalization which, as I found out and explained above, leads to losing the life I want. I knew, in the back of my mind, that college held no value for me – I’ve known it for some time – but I’ve acted off of fear, rationalized my action, and stayed in school.
The problem, though, is that fear – running away from fear – can never be a value. As Ayn Rand says,
“…achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death. Joy is not ‘the absence of pain,’ intelligence is not ‘the absence of stupidity,’ light is not ‘the absence of darkness,’ an entity is not ‘the absence of a nonentity.’ Building is not done by abstaining from demolition; centuries of sitting and waiting in such abstinence will not raise one single girder for you to abstain from demolishing.”
Running away from my fear of death will never lead me to the life that I want; avoiding the destruction of my life isn’t the same as building it. And I experienced this: in the lack of motivation (throughout my whole life) that acting from fear brings – the days where getting out of bed took a monumental effort; in the reduced time available to do the things I enjoy, because it took me 12 hours to write a rough draft of a paper; in the increasing suffering, apathy and depression I was feeling; in the active sacrificing of Plan A to Plan B. Yet because I was afraid, I told myself I could live with a contradiction for another year or two, that running away from my life would be fine and would have no consequence. But A is A, and contradictions carry consequences.
When I evaded that knowledge – when I pretended I could get away with staying and suffer no consequences – I was still telling myself I’d act reasonably (versus being explicitly irrational), and I did, except for the times I didn’t feel like it. It’s just that I didn’t feel like it because of fear, not laziness. But I can’t follow reason only when I feel like it; reason used only at whim isn’t reason. When I chose to evade, even just once, I gave up using reason. I gave up my mind. I told myself that I’d follow what I thought unless I didn’t feel like it. My emotions were what I was actually following. Along with my mind, I gave up my self-esteem, my happiness, and my self.
“The self you have betrayed is your mind; self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think. The ego you seek, that essential ‘you’ which you cannot express or define, is not your emotions or inarticulate dreams, but your intellect, that judge of your supreme tribunal whom you’ve impeached in order to drift at the mercy of any stray shyster you describe as your ‘feeling.’ Then you drag yourself through a self-made night, in a desperate quest for a nameless fire, moved by some fading vision of a dawn you had seen and lost.”
All the suffering I’ve had, for years, has been because I’d evaded and surrendered my mind.
I thought that I’d be safer accepting my parents’ money and not taking the risk. In reality, I was setting myself up for destruction.
“Man’s life…is…life by means of achievement – not survival at any price, since there’s only one price that pays for man’s survival: reason…. Accept the irrevocable fact that your life depends on your mind. Admit that the whole of your struggle, your doubts, your fakes, your evasions, was a desperate quest for escape from the responsibility of a volitional consciousness – a quest for automatic knowledge, for instinctive action, for intuitive certainty [emphasis mine] – and while you called it longing for the state of an angel, what you were seeking was the state of an animal. Accept, as your moral ideal, the task of becoming a man.”
I realized that if I’m ever to have a life worth living, I have to be true to my mind. I realized that I had to make the jump, or lose my values and my capacity to value. If I didn’t take this jump, I would’ve always regretted it – I’d never know whether I could’ve been true to myself, or whether I would’ve.
So I jumped.
And now I know that I do have the courage to follow my mind, wherever it may lead; I do have the courage to stay true to myself when it really counts. I have no idea what will happen. I might succeed; but I also could fail miserably, with no backup plan at all. But I’d rather show up, step up, and burn out in a blaze of glory rather than play it “safe” and know nothing meaningful in life.
But I don’t think I’ll fail. I don’t need a lot to survive, and I can support myself for several months off of my savings if need be. I don’t know what the rest of my life will look like yet, but for the first time in a long time, I’m excited for whatever’s in store.