It recently struck me that I could be graduating from college this month. I could have spent the last four years earning a degree. But I’m really happy that I didn't.
I've thought quite a bit about the lifestyle I want to have:
I want to get married and have kids more than I want a career. I want quality time with people. I want to glorify God and serve others. I want enough money and time to pursue my hobbies. I want to create things.
With those goals in mind, here are some of the things I've done with my last four years:
(* indicates things that I made some $ doing)
-started selling my knitting on Etsy*
-spent 5 months working at McDonald's*
-joined a book club
-Became a founding member of a Christian modern dance company
-Was a guest dancer for a production of Tarzan at a Christian university
-started studying Aerial Silks
-read about 30 Classic books
-got to teach knitting as a job skill in Haiti
-started a coffee roasting business*
-YWAM Performing Arts DTS: 3 months performing arts/missions training, 2 months touring Japan and South Korea
-cooked lots of new things
-taken African dance classes at a University
-helped my aunt with her vintage shop
-worked with my dad running sound at a church*
-taught dance, mostly as a sub/assistant*
For me, they have been highly rewarding, challenging and educational. I've been able to do a lot of things that bring me joy and spend a lot of time with people I love. I don't regret for a single second that I did these things instead of a traditional education. I've learned more about God and the world and myself in the last four years than I did in all of elementary, middle and high school. I’ve fallen in love with learning in a way I never had before.
My life is eclectic and sometimes hectic. Sometimes my brain is working on 18 different projects in the same day. Sometimes I get tired of people asking me if I’m going to college or what I’m doing with my life because my answer is so complicated. Sometimes I wish I could just say “I’m majoring in psychology.” But for me, variety is the spice of life. There is a concept called multipotentiality—basically describing people who enjoy/are good at a lot of different things. My mom calls me a renaissance girl. I’ve never been “normal.” I’m a tall, freckled, curly-headed homeschooled ginger so being completely conventional has never really been an option.
I acknowledge that it is not easy or cheap to travel or start a business. I have been very blessed that my parents let me live at home for free while building a business and that people have been so supportive of my mission trips. But most alternatives cost a lot less than a four-year degree. (Although it’s probably easier to get loans for college than for alternative education.)
I don't want to be a college-basher. We are super privileged to have access to education and that education is essential for some careers. I'm really glad that doctors and lawyers go to college.
But I think going to college has become a default in the U.S. Something that costs four (typically stressful) years and $80,000ish (very rough math, based on out-of-state public university cost in this article) should not be a default. I don't think most parents would buy their 18-year-old an $80,000 car without giving it some SERIOUS thought. At least with a car you have something tangible you can sell.
$80,000 and four years is a huge price to pay to just goof off, or to "find yourself." (Not that there aren’t lots of hard-working, focused students.) For a lot of people, college ends up as just a way to delay actually figuring out how to be an adult. A lot of college grads are having a hard time finding good jobs and moving back in with their parents after college anyway. I feel like I skipped a super expensive step by not going to college.
And I think there are some things about the college system that aren’t great. Not sleeping, over-caffeinating, and cramming facts into your head only to forget them a week after the test is not an effective or healthy way to learn. I think America education has become to test-driven, and too career-focused. I would love to see more people getting practical, hands-on job training through trade schools and internships, even starting in high school. And college degrees are starting to mean less. Companies care more about potential, teachability, actual job experience, etc.
Also, news flash, life is not going to be easy no matter what path you take. Even your dream job will be hard work. A college degree does not entitle you to a high-paying, easy job. But it turns out, hard work is rewarding. It teaches you, you grow, you strengthen, and you feel accomplished and confident because you overcame something, or you contributed something to the world.
*gets off soapbox*
I hate articles about how 20-somethings (and please, can we ban the word "millennials"?) should live their lives, but I’m guess I’m writing one now. Honestly, I think this is some good stuff for anyone 14-94 to think about. Here is my advice about deciding what to do with your life:
Jessamyn’s Guide to Planning Your Life
20ish Things Every 20-Something Should Consider
One 20-Something Didn’t Go to College, What Happens Next Will Blow Your…
Here are some things to think about:
The overall lifestyle you'd like to have:
Is it worth it to you to spend more hours a week working have a fancier car? Do you want to have a family? Do you want to settle in one area or move a lot?
What do you want to do with your life in the next 1-10 years?
If you haven't seen the Neil Gaiman commencement speech, do it. It's one of the few YouTube videos over 6 minutes that I've ever watched.
Do what he did and write an exhaustive list of everything you want to do in your life, big or small.
Mine has everything from "write a screenplay" to "learn Italian."
Then look at your list and think about priorities:
Is there anything with a time limit?
You probably can't become an Olympic figure skater at age 60.
What goals take longer than others?
It only takes a few months to be in a local play or road trip through the U.S., but it takes several years to go to law school.
Consider these job options:
A. Job that you don't hate, but pays the bills and leaves time for hobbies.
B. Job that is your hobby and doesn't suck the fun out of the hobby.
C. Job that you don’t hate, pays the bills while you turn the hobby into something that pays the bills.
Now, for any option, does my career path require a degree?
Doctor, lawyer, teacher...
What alternatives to a degree might get you to the same goal, more quickly and without little or no debt?
Internships, trade school, teach yourself, auditing college classes, entry level jobs in your field….think creatively about ways to achieve your goals.
And some important things to remember:
It is okay to not know what you want to do with REST OF YOUR LIFE when you're 18.
It's never too late to go get a degree if you change your mind. The choices you make now are important, but they almost certainly don’t lock you into one thing for your entire life.
Work hard. Know what you value. Love well. Listen to God. Enjoy life. Don’t waste time. Never stop learning.
And I’ll leave you with the Relient K classic I took this post's title from:
I've been wanting to write on this topic for quite a while, so I've been saving relevant articles. These are some that I enjoyed:
Renaissance Soul (A book I haven't read yet, but want to)
100 Successful People Without College Degrees
100 Successful People Without College Degrees
Thoughts about college/life/making money/hobbies or anything else? Questions about my "renaissance" life? Leave a comment.