No one told me that I had to go to college. It was a self-inflicted obligation; an expectation I think most high school graduates face.
At the time I graduated, I was working a weekend job, and spending the rest of my time consuming energy drinks, playing video games until 3 a.m., and driving aimlessly through downtown Rochester finding fire escapes to climb.
I had barely experienced life outside this city, and yet felt I was expected to know exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my existence. I was faced with the sinking feeling of investing years of my time in a degree I wasn't yet decided on, and having to eventually pay off, quite possibly, tens of thousands of dollars in loans. That was a tall order.
The necessity of college is shoved down our throats as young adults, and we often neglect, or even fear, to explore other alternatives. The classroom isn't for everyone — some people learn best by doing. The issue is that no one ever mentions the other option.
Even with that in the back of my mind, I still ended up going to college, and ironically, I did it because I didn't know what else to do. With lingering uncertainty, I enrolled in a community college Fine Arts program.
Much like I did in high school, I floated from class to class, barely mustering any attention. Most of my time was spent scribbling, drawing, and writing stories of my own. My grades weren't bad — I put the work in — but it was clear I wasn't finding value in how I was investing my time.
By my second semester, I had moved from home into an apartment with my girlfriend and worked a decent job at a clothing store. I had become fully self-sufficient in paying my bills and taking care of myself. But my attention was all over the place — I wanted to make music, make comics, maybe even act — yet I was forcing myself to attend classes. How I was investing my time not only did not make sense, but it was confusing me more than ever. At the end of my third semester, I stopped. I simply didn't enroll for my fourth.
My journey to discovering what I want to do is ongoing, but things changed after I allowed myself to quit school. I gave myself permission to experiment, to fail, and try different things.
Now I'm a writer. But until I got there, I was an artist, an actor, a musician, a performer, a game tester, a barista, a filmmaker, a model, and most of all, just flat out lost. But I embraced it. It should be clear that I did most of these things while maintaining a day job or two. Most of what I pursued creatively — like making movies, music, and playing shows — was out of my own pocket.
These were the steps I took once I decided college wasn't for me. No two journeys are ever going to be the same, but by examining others' steps, faults, and successes, you can adapt your own path for finding what you want in life.
Get a service job
I know; this is last thing someone wants to hear. Working at a cafe or restaurant can feel like you're spinning wheels while trying to discover a bigger purpose. But aside from paying the bills, service jobs can be under-acknowledged hubs for networking.
Get to know your regulars and what they do. You never know who they might know, or how they can connect you to opportunities. It's only inevitable that if you try to learn about someone's life, that they'll eventually want to learn about who you are and what you do beyond the counter you're placed behind. I heard about the job I currently have at CITY Newspaper when I was working at a cafe.
Exploring unknown territory not only broadens your sense of culture, but it triggers your mind to be more aware and open since you're experiencing something new. It's inspiring. It gives you perspective beyond familiarity. You don't have to take lavish remarkable trips, go to a nearby city you hadn't been to in a while, or at all. New York City isn't too far.
Anything. I mean, anything. Start scribbling. Keep a journal and write about yourself — what you love, what you hate. Take up programming, or knitting. By doing, you narrow things down. You'll discover what you don't like to do, and what you may love to do. Take that, and then apply it to a bigger picture. Love playing video games? Start studying eSports or SpeedRunners. Do your friends trust your judgement of movies? Start reading movie reviews, and then begin to write your own.
Give yourself permission to fail
Failure is vital in understanding what a success even is. By allowing yourself permission to fail, you allow yourself to freely create without expectation. This is especially important if you've yet to find you what truly love to do. Because after you fail at something, it's the thing you continue to try at again and again that is most likely the passion you'll want to follow.
Find educational resources in your community
Sometimes Googling and watching YouTube videos doesn't cut it. So instead, turn to your community. Makerspace is a nonprofit organization that encourages learning anything from programming, 3D printing, to woodworking. The Rochester Brainery is a self-proclaimed "community classroom" that offers classes taught by local industry leaders on anything from graphic design to beer brewing. Or find people around you who are also doing and exploring. Talk to them, and learn from them.
Build a routine
This varies for everyone. There are some people who can just get up in the morning and start going. Others need a strict A-to-Z for what they're going to do in their day. If you have trouble pushing yourself to work on what you want, then a routine may be vital for you. The objective is to form habits based on how you function best.
Give yourself the chance to explore and experiment. Give yourself time. Find what works for you. You never know — you may even discover what it is you'd like to go back to school for.