Looking back now, my college experience was not the typical college experience, although I desperately wanted it to be. After aggressively hating high school, and virtually flipping off each individual classmate on graduation day, I had already started to romanticize the college lifestyle. I had this idea in my head of waking up early on crisp autumn mornings, walking to the community showers in my towel with my plastic caddy, going to the local coffee shop with a friend to discuss recent events, debating in class with students who had the same level of intelligence and wit, meeting a cute boy at a party who not only wanted to get into my pants, but also wanted to know who I was voting for in the upcoming election. Turns out, I was full of shit. (Also, I voted for Obama.)
The romanticizing actually started somewhere around my junior year of high school when I developed a slight eating disorder because of anxiety and mild depression. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes — in my case, skipping breakfast on purpose and eating entire bags of Chex Mix at 7 PM. I would spend fourth period chemistry doodling apartment layouts in my notebook, instead of listening to the quarterback’s brother drone on about the molecular structure of an atom. I didn’t care. I just wanted to find a nice place for a reading nook in my halfheartedly drawn apartment doodle. At the time, I had a very clear path. My future had a complex surrounded by trees and foliage in a college town on the coast, where I would start novels on napkins in coffee shops, write for the local newspaper, and wear the navy and silver school colors proudly as I worked toward my English degree. It felt easy. Everyone knew how invested I was in a writing career.
My friends started getting huge envelopes from their first college choices. One by one they would bring them into school, sit proudly at their desks as they ripped them open to find the information needed to officially enroll. Everyone knew an acceptance letter came in thick envelopes, so when my mom came home after work, beaming at me with a small skinny envelope in her hand, I knew I didn’t have the same fate as my classmates. My heart sank as I read the words, “Chelsea, we regret to inform you,” because I knew it was a standard template rejection. They didn’t regret to inform me. They had to regret to inform a lot of kids. Approximately 10,000, in fact.
I’m still a bit bitter about the rejection from my first choice college, but I also learned over time the reason it was my first choice was 99% location, 1% the brick buildings, and 1% my romanticism of anything that wasn’t high school. I had assumed that college would make everything better, I had assumed it would make it easier to eat, I had assumed it would rid all of the negative thoughts my 17-year-old brain was so good at coming up with.
Long story short, my college experience was a bumpy road, and probably the path Robert Frost wouldn’t have taken. I jumped into my last choice university, partied hard, drank a lot, hooked up with strangers, barely did any homework, went home for the summer, and stayed home. Eventually I moved to a city up north, went to a community college, and then went back to my original school the next year, hoping I would actually stay this time. Basically, my college life was a huge mess, and I was taking abrupt leaps to try to make it to a finish line that I’d invented in my head.
That’s when I realized life doesn’t have a finish line. Sure, a higher education has a finish line, and at the end of the extremely stressful race, you get a shiny diploma that you can show an employer. I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to race toward. I wasn’t happy. Nothing felt right.
My life changed dramatically when I made the decision to stop attending college. I started eating better, I was drinking less, I ended up losing quite a bit of weight. Dropping out of college didn’t bring me happiness, but it definitely put me on a better path. But of course, there are still flaws in my path. I own a photography business now, so I live paycheck to paycheck, and those paychecks don’t come every two weeks. They come when I book a shoot. Before I buy groceries, I have to check what’s in my account to see if I can afford to have a side dish with dinner that night. Before I plan a trip in my car, I need to check prices and find out where I can get the cheapest gas. I can’t always follow through with plans because I might not be able to afford vodka sodas or vanilla chai teas. It’s definitely challenging at times.
I took a pretty big risk turning my side hobby into a career, and it’s possible that I may have to find a part-time job to continue with my photography, and actually live comfortably. But for me, leaving college and starting a business was about my happiness. Although I love learning, I hated school, I hated the standardized tests, I hated retaining information for a final exam and forgetting it two weeks later. So when I realized I didn’t even have an end goal or the slightest idea what route to take in college, I knew I had to get out. I saw myself spending all of these extra years trying to graduate only to get a diploma that would allow me to take jobs I didn’t really want. Maybe I disappointed a few people along the way: family, friends, and probably some random people on Facebook who are under the impression that they know exactly who I am. But to me, it’s more important that I never disappointed myself. And while I don’t regret my decision, if I change my mind, it’s good to know that I can earn money and go back — and this time, be in a much better place.
Chelsea Moudry is a writer, photographer, and a creative entrepreneur.
Image via Pexels