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On College (Part I)

06/11/2022

I’m a two-time college dropout. This post talks about the first time.

My first experience with college was when I arrived in Delaware, Ohio in August of 2016. I’d graduated high school with a subpar GPA and wanted to go somewhere far from home. Until that point, I’d never spent more than a week away from my parents. I knew that eventually I’d have to break away and live on my own. Going to Ohio was my way of biting that bullet. And Ohio Wesleyan University was where I was due to start my post-high school life.

To set the scene, OWU (and Ohio in general) was very different from my life in LA. The university was a small private liberal arts school in the heart of a tiny town thirty minutes from Columbus. It had only a few hundred more students than my high school. Delaware, OH was a primarily conservative town that paled in comparison to Los Angeles. I was in a different world. It wasn’t a world I liked much, but I wasn’t surprised. I had done my research and knew what I was getting into. Or so I thought.

Fast forward two years and I was home for summer vacation before the beginning of my junior year. I had done well academically, made good friends, joined a fraternity, and was on track to graduate with a degree in business administration. Unfortunately, I was also $30,000 in debt because of student loans. It was a daunting number made even more so because I expected it to double by the end of my college career. And what about an MBA after I graduated? It made sense, but financially it was a scary thought. I was worried about my financial future like so many college students of my generation are.

I was also becoming disillusioned with my major and the career path I was treading down. The choice to study business was not one I made quickly. I bounced between options like computer science, history, political science, and even accounting. They all interested me in some ways. But I made what I believed to be the logical decision to study business because of one reason: I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even in the early days of my freshman year, I was trying to find a business idea that I could bring to life. So many ideas were floating around in my head and none ever saw the light of day. As most aspiring entrepreneurs will tell you, the hardest part of starting a business is starting. Even as I junked idea after idea, I devoured content about business, startups, and entrepreneurship. YouTube videos, books, various courses, everything I could get my hands on. After two years at OWU, I came to the conclusion that to create a business that would change the world, I would need to think outside the box. (My views on this have changed since then, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

While I was developing my own philosophy on business, I started looking at my classes as stagnant, uninteresting, and downright useless. The further I got into the courses for my major, the more I felt like I was wasting my time. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d chosen the marketing concentration within the business administration major. Marketing is a core facet of business and something I was less than good at. But it began to seem more like a mess of opinions and luck. There’s also the psychological side of marketing, but that side tended to be talked about in passing and often used as an ex post facto justification for why a certain campaign worked.

The biggest worry I had was what job I was going to get after I graduated. Like any good college student, I researched the job market – open full-time positions, internships, and more. All of the descriptions I read were generalized and I almost never saw any listings with concrete job tasks. It felt like I was working toward a degree in “business” and would then look for a job doing “business”. But what did that mean? Then the “administration” portion of my major settled in. I would “administer business” – meaning I would manage people while being managed myself. And maybe I’d actually do some marketing or accounting or something vaguely similar to running a business.

I want to take an aside here and admit that I don’t know everything about the world of business. I’ve never actually started a company and probably never will. And I know that my understanding of business administration and marketing is woefully narrow. The things I’ve mentioned so far in this post are my thoughts at the time put to words. These thoughts may have been misguided or even wrong, but they shaped my decisions in the past. I’d also like to say that OWU was not a terrible school by any stretch of the imagination. Like any other university, it had its pitfalls. Many of these issues are specific to smaller liberal arts schools and rarely avoidable. It could be that I didn’t chose the right school for me. Perhaps I would’ve been happier somewhere else. You can play that game with any choice in life. For those that loved their time at OWU, I’m happy for you. I made some of my best memories there as well. But my eventual departure was the best choice I could’ve made for myself.

Now let’s get back to it.

So, here we are. It’s the summer of 2018 and I’m an incoming junior with a mountain of debt and a warped view of my major. But it was summer vacation, and I wanted to forget about all of this and enjoy myself. My last hurrah was visiting one of my best friends in Santa Barbara, CA where she went to school. I took a train there, enjoyed the day with her and went to sleep. The next morning, I got a call from my mom that changed my life.

She told me that my dad had died.

That hit me like ton of bricks. The next day I flew to Ohio to begin my junior year of college.

Sometimes in life you can feel yourself spiraling into the abyss. In the first months of my junior year, I saw the signs. I drank almost every day, skipped classes, and neglected everyone and everything I cared about. My mom was home alone and getting older while I was clinging to my falling GPA in hopes of graduating.

One morning I woke up and had a realization that brought a kind of peace I can’t easily describe. I was going to drop out of OWU and go back home. So that’s what I did.

To say I was terrified is an understatement. After the initial wave of peace wore off, I came to grips with the reality of what I was going to do: drop out with an incomplete degree, $30,000 of student loan debt, and no job experience to speak of. I was leaving close friends and shirking my responsibilities at OWU. It was a terrible feeling. Thankfully, the people I care most about supported me. Most importantly, my mom told me that she believed in me – that she would stand by me if I thought this was the best decision. I love her for that and so many other reasons.

By the time I landed at LAX, I had decided not to question myself. I made this choice with a clear mind and could honestly say that I was excited for what life brought next.