So… I just dropped out of college.
Yeah, that’s what I said. I dropped, I dipped, I skedaddled outta there. A week ago I was sitting on my dorm bed, typing out a lengthy character analysis and lyric sheet for a 1910’s musical theater song I was working on, and planning what dance classes I would take next semester. Today I am sitting in a rocking chair at my mom’s house in Grover Beach, searching for jobs online, and all of the shit I took with me to college is now shoved in the back closet. How did this happen?!
Well, it all started when I was still a wee junior in high school, when I was starting to look at my options for higher education. I only applied to one college. I used to say it was because I was sure what I wanted to do, but in reality I was just massively lazy and didn’t want to take the time to write cover letters and essays or pay the application fees for multiple schools. I didn’t even take the SAT, for reasons I honestly can’t remember. So my options became extremely limited, even though I had good grades and the potential to attend some pretty prestigious universities if I tried. But lo and behold, I did not try.
Somehow I managed to crank out the entire application process for the American Musical and Dramatics Academy in Hollywood, California. I had heard about it from a graduating senior who got accepted, and she said great things about it. I had always loved acting but never considered it as a valid career choice until that moment. Plus, this school didn’t require that I take the SAT!! (Yes! Laziness!!) So I toured the campus twice, made multiple phone calls to my admission adviser, and seemed to be heading in the right track. I was never head-over-heels in love with it, but acting was really all I knew how to do well that could become a successful “adult career”.
Needless to say, I was accepted, and ended up attending AMDA for six months. I wish I could say that the entire experience was breathtakingly perfect, but if that were true, I’d still be waking up in Los Angeles today. But I loved so many things about it. I loved learning how to use my voice, and how to create characters, and how to act genuinely through a song. I made some of the most meaningful friendships at school, and got to live in an apartment with my best friends that overlooked the Hollywood Hills. The Greek restaurant down the street had $1 fries on Thursdays, and I was within walking distance of a handful of delicious vegan restaurants. The farmer’s market was every Sunday, I spent many hours in the aisles of Amoeba Records, and I got to go to the LA Women’s March with my best friend, where we were twenty feet from the stage. There are major perks to living in the city.
I could have stayed there for four years and graduated with my BFA in Musical Theater, next to my amazing friends, in that big crazy city, with agents calling me up for work right away. I could have done it pretty easily; I’m in good physical shape, I have a promising singing voice, I can act, I have good work ethic, I can speak and write eloquently, I manage my time wisely. Last semester I pulled almost all A’s in a school that is nearly impossible to ace. I can do it. I’m even good at it. But what struck me recently, in a week-long, bone-crushing wave of spiritual power, was the realization that I was not happy.
When I first settled in at AMDA, I developed a routine schedule of emotional breakdowns. You could be sure they were always on a Thursday or Sunday, and my sobbing usually consisted of telling anyone who would listen about how much I missed nature. My friend Andrew told me once that all I said was “I miss dirt”, and I have to admit that sounds ridiculous, but that was the reality of how sad I was. I actually missed the dirt! And I missed sitting in the grass, and hiking barefoot, and surfing, and swimming in the ocean. LA had so much to see, but Mother Nature was hidden from me. So I started bringing all my crystals back to my dorm every time I’d visit home on the weekends, and I tried meditating and going outside a lot more often. I felt better, and I started to break out from my state of city anxiety, but it was still pretty difficult to find time to take care of myself in between the non-stop class schedule. So I started writing.
I have a good friend who is a poet, who just recently decided that she wrote poetry. One day she started writing things down, in between classes or on her breaks at work, and she made a promise to do that a little bit every day, because it made her happy. When I visited her over Christmas break, she had already blossomed into the poet she is today. Her writing guided her through a sea of dreams and ideas that she didn’t know she had before, and now she is planning on studying abroad in Europe next year. She told me that writing helped her get to know herself better.
I started writing a little bit each day. It didn’t matter what I wrote about (and a lot of it was shitty writing I wouldn’t want any of you to read), but it made me happy. Soon I started jotting down little notes to myself, like “write about the music teacher that talks with his piano”, “write about tasting matcha for the first time”, “write about that awful food truck horn you hear every day”, and other things I would discover about people I knew. It made me see the world around me with brighter colors, even if the world around me smelled like human poop on a daily basis. And through that little bit of storytelling, I realized that I am meant to write about things. Just like how my friend realized she is supposed to write poetry. Our writing, the bits and pieces of our souls that we scratched onto paper for no reason other than to please ourselves, told us a story about who we are as people.
Everything I wrote down was important to me. I wrote about feeling sad and lost, and I wrote about falling in love. I wrote down my grocery lists and why I needed each thing I bought. I wrote a piece of spoken-word poetry for a workshop that was offered on campus, but I wasn’t accepted. I didn’t have the option to take a creative writing class until my fourth semester, since my curriculum was chalk-full of prerequisite classes for more important subjects than writing. Then I remembered that I was attending a school for actors, not playwrights. And then I got pretty bummed out.
I decided to leave AMDA after a meeting with the on-campus therapist, because I was afraid my depression was sneaking up on me again and I needed to get help. After ranting to him for a solid thirty minutes about how the school never let me have any down time and didn’t care if I wanted to write or draw or hike, and how my family wanted me to be successful and believed in my acting potential, and how I didn’t want to let anybody down by getting bad grades or skipping classes or changing my major, he looked up from his notepad and smiled. He said, “If you didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks, and you just focused on being happy, what would you do in this situation?”
So I dropped out of college.
Yeah, I get it, that’s pretty extreme. I understand that it’s not for everyone. But the best explanation I can give is something that I read on the little square tag of my tea bag this morning. It says, “You will always live happy if you live with the heart.”
A lot of people are sad that I left. A lot more people have been extremely inspiring and encouraging and uplifting to me. I do have other plans to continue my education, but this time I am looking a lot harder for something I can really, truly, fall head-over-heels in love with. The best part? I’m still alive! Nobody died, the world is still spinning, the sun still rises and sets, and more history will be made. Just because I made such a big change in my life, doesn’t mean the earth cracked under my feet. (But at first, I thought it would).
The world doesn’t care what you do with your life. Of course, there will always be people around you who care, but if they are true, they will support you when they see you doing what is right for yourself. What I did this week was selfish, but in the best way. Writing every day for myself is also selfish. Making a cup of tea with extra honey is selfish. The difference, I believe, is that selfishness is only negative when it is weighed down by greed and entitlement. By being true to myself, and following my path without worrying what others think, I have gained more confidence to share my journey with others. I want other people to be selfish in this way, too.
I’m glad I learned while I am young, that the purpose of living is not to have a degree from a big fancy college, or to be famous, or rich, or perfect, or have the best Facebook feed, or otherwise fit in with the rest of society. The purpose of living this life on Earth is to find out what and who makes you ridiculously, outlandishly, childishly, blissfully, and simply, happy.