Why I Almost Dropped Out of College

September 23, 2009

I almost dropped out of college during the first quarter of my return. There were two reasons I didn’t: 1) I wanted badly to be a teacher; and 2) both my husband and I had been laid off in the previous three months and had just been rehired, although my job had become independent contracting. I knew that I needed to get a degree and a more stable job, and that if I didn’t stick with it, I’d be sorry.

I hadn’t planned to go back to school fulltime. I went to register for one class and realized how long it would take me to finish if I just took one class at a time. I called my husband and asked how he would feel if I went fulltime. He said it was up to me since both of us realized that with the extra cost, it wouldn’t be realistic for me to quit working. Because I was a graphic designer, I could do the work on my own time as long as I met deadlines. The downside—my job, my home and family, and school were in three different towns. I spent a lot of time and gas on the road. NOTE: This was in the days before graphic design could be done from home!

Here’s why I almost dropped out. It wasn’t the work, it wasn’t the driving, it wasn’t the stress. It was something that probably seemed like nothing to the professor, but was hugely humiliating and frustrating to me. At the start of class, the professor said that he was going to tell us everything that would be on the final and that we should put our pens and pencils down and listen carefully.

I can’t remember things if I just hear them. It’s as though they don’t even go into my ears unless I am writing them down. I knew this from many years of getting instructions on the job. I felt a moment of panic, but since I was about halfway back in the middle of the room, I thought it would be safe to write down what he was saying on a notebook in my lap. I was concentrating on listening and writing and didn’t see him heading my way until he was almost at my desk. He grabbed my pen out of my hand and said, “I said to put your pens and pencils down and listen carefully. I don’t want you distracted.” I never heard another word he said. Instead, I plotted my escape from school, thinking of all the good reasons why it would be better for me to just give up on something I obviously wouldn’t be any good at anyway. Fortunately, this happened on a Thursday and by the following Monday and a long weekend of work, I realized that I needed to stick with it.

I never said anything to the professor and I should have, just to clear the air and let him know—kindly, of course—that even well-intentioned comments can have unintended consequences. He may have been a learner like my best friend who didn’t need to write things down. It’s difficult for anyone, even teachers, to remember that what works best for them might not work best for everyone. Anyone who is in school gets lots of advice about what to study and how to study. After all, school is the one thing most of us have in common.

Listen to their advice (or write it down!), but discover what works for you.

You’ll probably get your feelings hurt, feel humiliated, be discouraged, wonder why you’re putting yourself through this torture and misery, and think about dropping out. Don’t. There is also elation, excitement, joy, the realization that you can do things you never thought you could do, and it’s all part of the same experience. I changed my life by sticking with it despite the times when I’d like to have walked away. Persistence is one of the most important choices anyone can make in school, and it’s often a week-to-week decision.

Did you ever experience a time when school frustrated you? Why? What did you do?

Each difficult moment has the potential to open my eyes and open my heart.
• Myla Kabat-Zinn


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