It is part of growing up, I keep telling myself — doing what I know — for some definition of know — is right, despite the advice of my family and almost everyone (but my best friend who is my only beacon in this whole mess). I have a good family — supportive, have my best interest in mind, certainly not the image of the disapproving father so pervasive — and partially I haven’t been completely honest with them, because it’s scary. Nonetheless, I feel a lot of pressure from their attempting-to-be-neutral positions, and I know what I want — what I need to do, but when the time comes to say it I can’t, condemning myself to this purgatory.

I’m not going to finish college. I am very close, only a few credits away, but it is not going to happen at the end of this semester, and everyone is like “but it’s just one more and it’s important for the future” — not so different from my reasoning for returning to college in the first place — I have been at this decision point before, and did convince myself with the assistance of my family that it was the right thing to do. Maybe it was once, and although I did not achieve the goals I set for it, it isn’t right anymore.

Here’s the really hard part, and I have to speak this with less certainty than the other, because different parts of my mind and body are fighting over it. I don’t think I’m going to finish this semester. Try as I might (whatever that means) I cannot commit myself to something that I don’t truly believe is serving me, and right now that is school. I don’t have that kind of control over myself. My grades are really slipping; each moment here feels like trying to run in a dream, suspended in the air. I know, what’s another month? It really doesn’t matter either way. It would matter if I wanted to go to grad school, but years of getting to know myself and being friends with grad students, I don’t think it is the place for me. I am too disorganized, my intellectual exploration is founded in too much curiosity and not enough desire to contribute. Suddenly a pursuit will become uninteresting and another will take me by surprise, but you can’t just switch like that in school.

But you can just switch like that in life. Why would I arbitrarily obligate myself to someone else when I am exploring what I love? Out there in the cruel, forgiving, free world, I can pursue whatever I like whenever and however I like to. Yes, I need to make money, but that’s not such a huge deal. I don’t really get why people make their way of earning money the centerpiece of their lives. Insert canonical white-picket-fence rant.

I don’t have a good phrase to describe who I want to be or what I’m going for. I think of such phrases as potentially guiding, locally, but ultimately limiting. To define myself with words is to forget every moment the words do not account for — when would someone include the Pepsi they had for breakfast in their self-definition? — but that bottle of salt and sugar is part of me, negative or however you want to judge it. Of course, not having such a phrase makes it difficult to assess the value of a difficult easy decision like this, and without a mechanism for assessing value I have no choice but to be human and follow my hearts — there’s nothing else that I can say with my vocabulary that doesn’t sound like a waste of my life.

I have long valued every moment of my time. A year of my life spent unhappy in order to support the remainder of my life never seemed worthwhile to me — I know that sounds irrational — but that seems to be the way I relate to time. A month spent in school, a month not making my living by sharing my musical heart, a month depressed and careless, a month of missed opportunity.

And yet, it is only a month. But why would I stay? I can’t articulate any convincing reason. It will make it less work should I ever decide to come back and finish — but that is actually false. One class is just as many as four, if not more.

I have had my struggles, but at important times I have always listened to the guidance of my family, I think I have always made what they saw as the best choice. This time, I think, their poor choice is the right one — if only symbolically, if only to remind myself whose life I am living.

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5 thoughts on “Heart

  1. Curious.

    I felt similarly about finishing my thesis. Perceived value was low; impact on my life was low; stress and depression values were high. I consistently assessed that the pain-to-future-door-opening ratio was worthwhile (what if I want to become a politician? what if I want to be an astronaut? what if I want citizenship in another country? )… Even though I have no use for my degree in the foreseeable future, I can imagine situations in which it could become relevant.

    A degree is a slip of paper that makes for a useful entry on a resume. Resumes and applications are by far the most minuscule part of starting any life adventure… and yet failing to get past that part can bar you. If my thesis unbars me from something someday, it’ll have been worth it.

    When I finished, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I realized that it had been stifling me. I would come up with projects that I desired to explore — creating games, playing with new technologies, building furniture… — but consistently realized that the effort/reward ratio was worse than that of just finishing my thesis. Therefore, I should be working on my damn thesis….. commence staring at wall and feeling crappy. With its completion, I realized that I’d unlocked all of those little projects. If I had instead abandoned it, I don’t think the unlock would have occurred as quickly if at all.

    I don’t have an opinion on if you should stay in school or not. Depression sucks. If you’re getting depressed, that’s probably a deeper matter. I’m confident that you’re capable of finding a way to finish school and not being depressed while doing it. I’m also confident that drawing ones own conclusions, as you have been, are pretty critical to living happily in the environment crafted around oneself.

  2. Nice post, Jude. I agree with you in the 2nd to last paragraph that sometimes when our spirit has been stifled by doing something that’s not where our heart is, that when we finally get to dispose of said activity, we feel like a race horse that’s just busted through the opened gate and we run at full speed.
    Luke, you have ALWAYS been unable to do something your heart is not into. I understand how very difficult this would be to tell us, especially if you’re not planning to finish this semester. I only had 2 years of college, then dropped out for the same reason you are contemplating this. No juice to go further. I was in the wrong major. There have been a few times it would have served me to have a degree, but I’ve also managed to survive without one. I did graduate from court reporting school (2 3/4 yrs), and was a court reporter for 10 years. That was very useful at the time, and nobody knows this till now, I cheated to pass the last darn speed test so I could get the hell out of school.
    However you have told us (your family) this news, now we know. In this day and age, they’re saying having a degree doesn’t ensure one a good job. So….degree or not, you have to create the life you want. I know you are totally capable of that. I think that more than not having a degree, your difficulty will be that your interests are so changeable. Hopefully you can include that aspect of yourself into the life you create for yourself.
    I’ve been very aware that you have not been keeping up with school this semester. As you said, I would love to see you finish this semester just to have “finished” stamped on your forehead. Completion feels really good, as Jude pointed out. I wanted to celebrate your completion. I still can if you decide to finish. If you decide not to finish, then I will celebrate your next step. But I’m not going to advise you either way. I want you to be happy, and the choices we make now affect us in the future. So follow your heart! You are better at that than I. Do what you love. You have my support.

  3. I feel your pain. I feel like my life has been on hold for a long time. Right now, I want to change careers and states, start a family, buy a home of my own… You get the idea. I don’t want to move until I’m ready for the career change and I don’t want to start a family just to move them within a year. This means I’m stuck in a job I no longer care for until next summer. That’s over a year. The problem is that the career change is extreme enough that I need the time to be ready.

  4. Dear Luke,

    I can totally relate to your feeling. I was going to be a pianist but an unfortunate injury stopped my career. How frustating. Then I went to college, two very good years, computer science, then 10 years lost, grad school. I was also living out of curiosity, for reference, I spent just one year studying WWWII, etc…

    First, what is going on in your mind is completely normal. There are a lot of people with your same thoughts. Fear.
    Second, heart? One step with the heart, one step with reason.
    My advice, finish college and then move on on what you really want.

    p.d: What happened to me? The path I followed, my life become an absolute mess. At first it was OK, but there was a moment I even hurt people I cared for. So I put a stop to it.

    Take Care.

  5. As one busy deschooling myself I’m envious of your balls. Yes, balls, because ultimately what I’d wish I had schooled myself in these bleak times is in the fortressing of that rarest of attributes: courage.

    It used to be the university was the sanctuary of the voyaging soul. Today, well, we know what it’s like.

    Damn you.

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