Should I Drop Out of School?

This is not a dilemma I ever thought I would be in.  Let me just start off by saying that I do not define myself as a quitter.  I’m trying to make the best decision for my time and resources and future.  I’m trying to decide whether or not I should continue with my schooling.

I already have my bachelor’s degree, but I started taking classes at the local community college last fall.  Why?  Well, frankly put, I was bored.  I was trapped in a dead-end job, looking for an escape.  I enrolled in a class, just to see if I would like it, just to have a creative outlet, just to feel like I was still moving towards something instead of treading water.

It was okay.  I learned some stuff.  I met a great friend.  We enrolled in a few more classes this semester, and I decided to work towards a certificate.  I needed to have a practical reason to be taking all of these classes and spending all of this time and money.  If it counted towards a future, then it made sense.  And it sounded good when people were asking me what I was doing lately.

I have a 4.0 GPA.  I’m getting approximately 110% in all of my classes (and that’s not too much of an exaggeration).  I’m not trying or valuing it very much because the classes are so easy for me.  And sometimes, frustratingly, they are more about jumping through the correct hoops than learning–for example, I get marked off for participating in an online discussion only two days a week instead of three.  Never mind the fact that that discounts the quality of the content I’m posting.  It has nothing to do with whether or not I’m learning the information or adding worthwhile thoughts to the discussion.  The professor simply decided that I wasn’t going to have enough time for the class, according to her own perceptions about time management, so I get marked off–this really bothers me…can you tell?

On the other hand, it’s valuable stuff to be learning.  It’s going to be useful someday, probably.  And identifying myself as a student is comfortable to me.  But I’m still bored.  It’s not the creative release I thought it would be.  I don’t see myself necessarily working in this field someday.  I spend a lot of time being frustrated with it.

So I’m four classes into the degree program and six away from finishing, so now is the time to decide.  Is an extra line on my resume worth sticking it out?  I have to choose between a potential use for it in the future (and there has been a lot of debate about whether going to college is even worth it anymore when so many college grads are working at jobs where college degrees are unnecessary) or being labeled a “quitter” (but saving myself time, money, and frustration).

Is it worth holding onto my identity as a student because of its comfortable familiarity and despite its frustrations?

I think I know which way I’m leaning, but what do you all think I should do?

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Why I’m So Mad

I am a rule follower.

I wait in line.  I pay my taxes.  I return library books on time.  I don’t interrupt.

Yes, I am a rule follower, and I was raised by a rule follower to be a rule follower.  My whole life has been built around following rules.  If I follow the rules, I’m a good, obedient girl.  If I follow the rules, I won’t get in trouble (on a related note, I have always been terrified of getting in trouble–I got sent to the principal’s office once in third grade for cutting a boy’s finger with a pair of scissors.  It was all a big misunderstanding, but I still remember it to this day and how awful it felt to be unjustly accused of NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES, this specific, unspoken rule being “Do Not Cut People”).  And this is key: I will get what I think I deserve or what has been promised to me for following the rules.

I’m hope you’re following me here.

I don’t speed, I don’t enter doors labeled “EXIT,” I don’t sneak into movies, and I don’t bother people who are on vacation when I have specifically been asked not to bother people who are on vacation.

So I’ve been doing this my whole life.  And as I got into high school, the rules became about my future.  Get good grades and participate in good extracurriculars, and get into a good college.  Get good grades and participate in good extracurriculars and get a good ACT score and write a winner of an essay, and get into a great college.  Study hard in college, graduate with a superb GPA and do an unpaid internship (or several) and get a good job.

But that’s where following the rules have failed me.

So the reason I’m so mad is because I followed the rules.  I held up my end of the cosmic bargain.  I do not have even a sliver of the life I thought I would, and I feel that familiar feeling of injustice–the same one I felt waiting outside of the principal’s office in third grade.

I understand that the world doesn’t work the same as it did a generation ago.  I understand that “life isn’t fair” and doesn’t necessarily adhere to the same rules I do.  But aren’t I allowed to mourn for a future that has died as nothing more than a vision?  Aren’t I allowed to be mad, at least for a little while?

Moving forward from here…

Well, I’ve been a little lax on the blog updates lately.  Life has been a little crazy lately, and in the spirit of my last update’s question, I would like to let you guys know exactly what I did about my bad day(s).  This might also answer the question of where exactly I have been and why I haven’t been updating my blog in the last, oh I don’t know, month or so…

  1. I got a new job. True to my word, I applied and interviewed twice at a big coffee chain last week and by Wednesday, I had a new job.  On Thursday I gave my two weeks notice at my current job.  So, in a matter of about a week, I will be making my transition into what I hope might be a more life-giving job.  Now, I know on paper it might look like I took a bit of a step backwards, but I think it’s actually going to help me a lot in the long run.  I’ll have more flexible hours which will give me more time to research grad schools or teach myself SEO or take more classes at the local community college.  Either way, I’ll have more time to do something that will get me closer to my goals.  I won’t just be sitting in a cubicle, staring at a computer monitor all day long.  I’ll be interacting with people and engaging in things outside of work that are interesting to me.
  2. I’ve been traveling a lot to see friends–this topic could be an entire week of entries by itself.  In junior high, a friend of mine referred to be as being like the center of a Venn Diagram (yeah, we were kind of nerds).  I have always had multiple groups of friends that never really overlap except through me.  Even now, I have my sorority friends, my creative writing friends, my friends who lived in a certain dorm in college, my high school friends (this group is split into several sub-groups), my Oregon friends, etc.  This has been both a good and bad thing, especially since graduating.  The bad news is that they are all spread out all over the country.  The good news is that I get to go to a lot of cool and fun places to see them all.  This weekend I went to Bloomington, Indiana where a creative writing friend is in law school now.  Last weekend I went back to my college town where I got to spend a lot of time with my sorority friends as well as a smattering from some other groups.  Each group of these friends knows a different part of me, and when I’m having bad days like I described in my last post, it’s easy to just keep to myself.  But after spending two weekends in a row with really great people who know me in such different ways, it’s like I’m able to rediscover those parts of myself that they love.  I’m able to come home feeling refreshed and ready for whatever comes next.  I am so appreciative of the people in my life.  I just want to say thank you to all of you out there.  Everyone I’ve talked to has been so supportive of me, especially recently with this blog and the job change.
  3. A brief grad school update–kind of. Going along with my last point, when I was in Bloomington with my creative writing friend it just felt so good to be on a college campus again.  She also pulled a bunch of old projects off of her bookshelf and we spent a couple of minutes going through them and reading old poetry from our peers and each other.  It was just so good to be with someone who knows me as a writer because people around where I live now don’t really know me like that.  Likewise, she was surprised to find out that I was a singer in high school, which is mostly only how people know me here.  I digress, but the point I’m trying to make is that it was nice to rediscover some projects that I don’t even have copies of anymore and to be with someone who knows my writing and is so encouraging about it.

I had every intention of making this a tighter and all-round better written blog entry, but the traveling and interviewing and giving two weeks notice has all taken its toll on me when it comes to stress and sleep deprivation.  But at least I wrote something and at least I’m making positive steps with my life.  So in the interest of keeping my health and sanity in tact, I’m saying goodnight for now.


An Introduction: Life Plan B…or C…or D

Well the weather is beginning to turn.  I’m sitting on my balcony wrapped in a nubby blanket, and the leaves on the tree near me are yellowing.  I really enjoy autumn, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be here quite yet.  Autumn is a reminder that time moves on.  Leaves fall, the sun is around less and less, and before we know it, summer will be buried under the ice and snow that we adore so much here in Chicago.  Lately it’s been reminding me, at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, that time is speeding up, and I need to figure out who I am before I run out of it.

I graduated from college with an English degree a little over a year ago.  Post-graduation, I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where I had a job working for an internationally-known sculptor.  For a hectic seven weeks, I wrote press releases, newsletters, and grant requests, edited photos and filmed installations, and traveled across the country taking down exhibitions and meeting with potential buyers and heads of museums.  Seven weeks in, I got laid off.  I didn’t know anyone in the area except my roommate, a college friend of mine who was working as a waitress at the local dive bar.  I spent months unemployed because I found that in Chatt, if you aren’t related to someone, you’re an outsider.  And as a result, no one wanted to hire me.  I was working as an intern for a publishing company, but it was unpaid.  By October, I decided I needed to go home to Chicago.  On Halloween I packed up all of my stuff, drove 12 hours, and moved back in with my parents.

I remember in high school the media started calling people my age the “boomerang generation” because of the way they went off to college and then, after graduation, moved back in with the ‘rents.  I promised myself that I would be independent, make my own way in the world, and not rely on my parents for everything…and yet here I was, post-college, living in my parent’s guest room.

I spent a long time looking for jobs, finally landing a temp job doing data entry for a financial firm.  That ended after a couple of months and I was back on the job search.  One of my mom’s friends found me the job I have now doing data entry for a payroll company.  I’ve been at this job for 7 months now.

My story is like so many other recent graduates out there these days.  Recently, a friend told me she just feels lost.  Like she doesn’t know who she is anymore since she graduated from college.  That is how I have described myself quite frequently since donning my mortarboard.  May 2009 was so beautiful and full of hope.  I was so excited to “begin” my life.  I am baffled by how I got to where I am today.

I’m blogging about this because I feel like it is a pretty common sentiment among my peers and those going through transition during this awful economic time.  My story is one of thousands out there–maybe even tens of thousands…or more.  I’m looking to answer these questions:

What is my identity now that I’m not a student anymore? I spent 17 years of my life in the education system.  And I was good at it!  Now I have to develop a completely new skill set, new goals, new outlook on life.  How do I even begin going about that?

Who am I when I’m unemployed? Or, more applicable to my situation, who am I when I’m unhappy in my job? Our society places so much of our identity on our occupations.  As a result, it has begun to color my outlook on meeting new people or seeing old friends because I know the inevitable question, “What do you do?” or “What are you doing these days?” is going to come up.  I have difficulty finding the energy for it.

What can I do to make my life more fulfilling? I assumed (naively) that post-graduation I would find a job that had some aspect I enjoyed.  I had this grand image of living in an exotic place, making interesting, creative friends, having stimulating conversations.  It’s not that my life doesn’t have its happy moments, but most of the time, I feel as if I’m just marking time until I become that person I envisioned.  A blog entry I read recently by Michael Hyatt stated that you should be moving towards something, not away from something else.  Right now I am stagnant.  What can I be moving toward?

I want to hear from all of you out there in similar situations as well.  How are you coping?  What are you doing to make your lives more interesting?  What kind of person to you envision yourself being, and how are you doing making that a reality?

First, A Story

Recently, I attended a night out for a dear friend who was about to get married.  I sat on my bar stool and made small talk with a friend of a friend who I had met a couple of times before.

So, Allison.  What are you doing these days?

I knew the question was coming sooner or later.  A variation of this comes up nearly every time you meet someone or see an old friend for the first time in a while.  Where are you working?  What do you do?  Or, as this person stated it, What are you doing these days?  This form of the question is popular with my peers, as it leaves room for a non-job, like a graduate program, or, more realistically, for unemployment.  Needless to say in this economic state, the latter is all too common.

It’s a question that, since college, I have come to dread.  I have applied to grad schools and been rejected.  I have been laid off.  I am a college degree-holder who is underemployed and already on life plan number 12.  I give him my canned answer:

I work for a company that does payroll for extras in TV shows and movies.

I hope that he picks up on words like “TV” and “movies.”  It makes what I do sound glamorous…or at least vaguely interesting.   I leave out the basic truth that I spend my days with never-ending stacks of paper on my desk, and I type the information into a computer word-for-word.  Sometimes I calculate payroll.  I answer phone calls from very angry people.

He says,

Oh.  What was your major?  Accounting or something?

I laugh and politely say it was English.  Our snickers are sharp, sarcastic.  I twirl the straw in my drink.  He tells me he’s a fitness trainer at a gym.  I ask him what his major was in school, and his face forms a lopsided smirk:

Civil Engineering.