Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why I Never Finished College

I don't have a degree. There, I said it.  This is the thing I am most ashamed of in my life and as such I find this a difficult subject to discuss.  Usually when someone asks I just say something dismissive like "Oh, life got in the way!" and attempt to change the subject because I know I'm being judged harshly.  

I've read "Stuff White People Like".  I know how much emphasis society (specifically the leftist, NPR listening part of society that is outlined in "Stuff White People Like" which is the part of society in which I reluctantly include myself) places on having a degree.  Even if the degree has NOTHING to do with one's current job, having a degree puts them in a much higher echelon.  I admit to coveting said echelon.  

Where I work, anyone with a PhD is automatically seen as untouchable, even if said PhD is in Russian poetry or something else that has nothing to do with our business.  "She has a PhD so you know she knows what she's doing."  Really?  Since when does a PhD in French philosophy give someone the edge in the insurance world?  

But I digress.  

I am very, VERY ashamed of not having a degree.  I'm sure everyone agrees with me that I SHOULD be ashamed of this, but I think everyone would be surprised by my reasons behind my shame.  Surely the likely conclusion is that I feel bad because I am stupid and/or flunked out because I'm just not smart enough and therefore am just another reality TV watching idiot who doesn't read.  It's actually much more complicated.  

Every reason I have for not finishing college has to do with a personality trait about myself that I absolutely hate.  All of my bad traits and habits came to a head around 1998 to create this perfect storm of complete and utter failure.  And by failure I mean my failure to finish, not failing classes.  Did I have a 4.0 GPA?  No.  Was I struggling?  Yes.  Did I flunk out?  No.  Could I have done better?  Of course.  So why didn't I finish?  As I stated previously, the reason is a complicated web of personal issues, which I will now list. 

1-I am not good at finishing things.
I'm not.  I often leave projects unfinished or get distracted by something new.  I also find that when I'm about 64% through something, I realize, usually too late, that I really don't care for what I'm doing and as such, I don't wish to continue.  This is one of my greatest faults.  I will see anything through to the end if I am doing something for someone else, for example a work project or a favor for a friend.  But when it comes to doing something for myself, I'm really good at rationalizing my way into moving on to something else.  This was a major issue in my college life.  I had 3 majors in 3 years, and the reason I changed so often is because I'd get involved and start to dislike my course of study.  Sometimes it was the subject matter, other times, it was the other people around me.  Which leads to the next factor in my web of fail.  

2-I am very uncomfortable around other people to the point where I am often paralyzed.  
This was a big one since I went to The Ohio State University.  When you are afraid of social situations or other various forms of human interaction, a school of 55,000 people is extremely intimidating.  Why did I not simply choose a smaller school seems like the logical follow up question to this one.  I've thought about this, and after visiting friends who were attending small schools, I realized that a small school would have been EVEN WORSE for me in regards to my issue with people.  At least in a sea of 55,000 you can blend into the background on occasion and simply survive on your academic achievements.  But in a small school, everyone sees you all the time and you become even more of the weirdo who doesn't hang out with anyone.  At a big school, you can show up, do your thing, interact with your professor during office hours, then leave.  This could have been a perfect way for me to operate, but I was too scared to do even that.  College scared me.  I was even too scared to go to one of those support groups for students who were not adjusting well to college life.  As such I was a bad study group member, and I did not get involved in anything and made NO friends.  Seriously, I have NO friends from college.  I have friends I made while I was IN college, but these are not friends FROM college.  

A former friend also went to OSU and joined all kinds of groups and just loved it.  Every time she talked about them I thought about how much I would not fit in to these groups and how it would be a hellish experience if I tried to join things.  Part of my discomfort is the fact that I really don't fit in anywhere.  I'm always the weirdo, and I've been asked to stop hanging around or to please quietly remove myself from club membership.  As such, I'm so scared all the time when I'm around other people.  I'm afraid of being rejected, and I'm afraid of looking like an idiot.  I'm also afraid of coming off as too needy or trying too hard, because I really do WANT friends and adore the people I consider friends.  I'd hate to lose them or be told not to come around anymore, so this leaves me too scared to try.  College was no different, and as such, I did not fit in with the proper groups and societies.  Turns out college is as much about learning to network as it is doing good work.  I was unaware of this and as such was left behind or unnoticed. Another black mark against me.  

3-I am bad with money.
There really isn't much more to say about this.  I suck at managing money.  Therefore, I screwed myself out of being able to pay tuition.  End of story.  Learn from my fail and stay the fuck away from those people giving away free shirts if you sign up for a high interest credit card.  Walk right by them as if they are invisible.  Don't even talk to them.  

4-I have no dream worthy of focus. 
I am kind of good at a lot of things.  But again, we're back to that 64% completion rate issue.  I've never really had anything that I've been obsessed with, so I've never been notably proficient at something.  My husband came to the conclusion that he wanted to draw for a living at the age of 11.  He now draws for a living.  The only conclusion I came to at age 11 that stuck with me was that Prince rocks.  I don't have anything that causes that burning drive in my gut.  I once thought my dream job was to be a Muppeteer, but even THAT lost it's luster when I learned of the right arm apprenticeship.  I am easily disheartened by the reality of dreams, and as such my dreams are easily abandoned. 

5-I am mediocre.
I am very mediocre, and that is the cold hard truth that makes me so sad I want to lie down.   Homer said it best - "No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you".  That is of course, Homer Simpson. Although, "Life is largely a matter of expectation" works in this situation too.  I expect a lot from myself, and rarely deliver up to my expectations.  As such, I'm often disappointed and ashamed.  

Part of what makes me mediocre is the lack of obsessive focus.  I'm too much of a Jacqueline Of All Trades.  Tom Wiebell once said to me about himself, "I know enough to be dangerous".  In my case, I know enough to talk to anyone at any time, and I'm always willing to learn, but I'm not an expert in anything.  No, not even Pez.  

I've also been cursed with aptitudes that are the opposite of my interests.  I love music and literature, but my brain is better wired for mathematical and scientific study, which bored me as a kid.  It's totally screwed up.  I have since opened my mind more to the idea of embracing my left brain and filling my head with scientific knowledge, but I'm a bit late to the party.  That's where pig-headed youthfulness gets you, kids.  If I've learned anything from this, it is to be true to my nature.  

Long story short, I could no longer afford to continue with something terrifying on which I had difficulty focusing.  Perhaps one could make the argument that a lack of focus also denotes a lack of intelligence, however I heartily disagree with that assumption.  I rarely struggled with the understanding of material in college.  The struggle was with the process.  I have grown as a person since my time in college, and I think were I to go back now this would be much less of a struggle.  I've been living in the world for a long time, and have learned to venture outside of my own bubble and face my fears when necessary.  I now know how to play a game that doesn't always have the kind of rules I would prefer.  And, I know the value of a lesson learned that wasn't necessarily on the syllabus.  

So, why don't I go back, you ask?  See #3. 


Ashley said...

Your story is exactly the same as mine on all counts, except I just happened to get lucky and finish. Come to my house and I will take you on a tour of all of the unfinished shit everywhere. I think this is a sign of very high intelligence, BTW.

Sara said...

Oh, Xanadu, you are, I believe, exactly the same as, oh, 85% of humanity. I have exactly the same lack of focus. I cannot commit to any one thing. I got a music degree because it felt, at the time, to be the thing that would take the least effort on my part. I practiced during school, but do you think I practice now? No chance. As soon as I graduated I ignored that bass and taught myself how to knit. Do you think I knit now? No chance. I taught myself how to quilt. Am I quilting right now? No chance. I am writing a novel. Will I finish the novel? Probably the rough draft, but I think it is terrible, and I probably won't edit it.
I do wonder about your insistence that you are a weirdo. I always felt like the weirdo around you, like if I wasn't cool enough or smart enough, you wouldn't like me anymore and I would have no friends. So again, those feelings are universal, in some respects. I was told two different times, by two different sets of "friends" that I was too clingy. And it is almost impossible for me to make new friends. The two friends I have now, after SIX YEARS of living here, are really the only ones I have. Friends I made in college I haven't spoken to for years. So don't be so hard on yourself. We're all just a bunch of losers and idiots and perfectionists who will never be perfect. And I, for one, think you are awesome, and one of my favorite people to be around. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Tatiana Tate said...

I identified with so much of this. Yes, I have a degree, which I think I finished more out of stubbornness and a fear of my folks than anything else. But I have such a complex about only going to Kent State. Which is funny because there's no guarantee that I would have done any better at a more 'elite or ivy league' school. Wondering about the true importance of status in the end.

I guess this is a really interesting example of how you can never really know the interior of someone else's mind. You always seemed so confident to me in HS, especially with knowing about music and going to concerts and being in the know about something I never knew anything about.

I've often struggled too with the idea that I have no real *passion* about anything. Many things I get interested in, but no life long consuming passion. Figuring out how to be ok with this is a real challenge. I think we must be more of the norm in the end, and I'm no longer convinced a great passion is a path for a healthy life.

Anyway, from the outside I've always admired what I saw as your toughness and ability to understand yourself. Plus you seem to truly care about other people which is not so very common. god knows I could write a ton about anxiety disorders myself. Didn't you ever think we would out grow that stuff one day? I sure did.


Koopa said...

As someone who changed majors too many times and dropped out I can relate. I can definitely relate to feeling socially awkward. Telling myself I'm good enough but feeling weird in those situations around other people. But I'd also argue that you can challenge those preconceptions of who you are.