I hated high school so much that I dropped out not once, but twice, and the second time was permanent. This doesn’t mean I’m a screw-up, or that I sacrificed my career by not attending class for most of my senior year. In fact, I graduated college last year and now work in a field that I love. All things considered, dropping out of high school was actually the most responsible choice I could have made for myself as a teenager.
I was bullied a lot in school because my classmates thought I was weird. On especially bad days, I would sneak back to my house at lunchtime and complain to my mother that I felt sick, then crawl under my covers, read magazines, and hope that maybe the next day would be a little easier. It never was. I started daily screaming-and-crying fights with my parents about having to go to school and had panic attacks in the middle of class. The anxiety brought on by the social politics of high school caused me to struggle academically. By sophomore year, I was failing math, and certain concepts, like chemistry, were completely confusing to me. Soon, I was getting awful grades in even my favorite subjects, and I knew I had to make a change.
When I turned to my guidance counselor for help, he told me that there were ways to leave high school as I knew it, earn my diploma with a decent record, and continue on to college. With my parents’ approval, I chose to drop out of school and earn that semester’s credits through a correspondence learning program based in my city: Every few weeks, I stopped by an alternative education center, picked up a packet of tests and a new piece of literature to read, and dropped off my completed assignments to be graded.
I noticed an immediate difference after starting correspondence work. I woke up in the mornings and did my schoolwork while I ate breakfast. I didn’t feel moody anymore. That spring, I watched on Facebook as my old classmates geared up for prom and decided to go to a concert by myself instead. I was starting to see that in order to be happy, I had to go my own way.
After completing my correspondence course, my confidence was newly restored. I tried heading back to school to fulfill my final credits, but after a few weeks, I was begging my guidance counselor for another solution. This came in the form of a work-study program: I worked part-time at a home decor store, then filled out assignments related to my job. (I also did plenty of shopping for knick-knacks and coffee table books on my lunch breaks.) I loved it, and my four remaining months of coursework flew by. When I finally received the document that said I was a high school graduate, I wanted to cry tears of joy. For a long time afterward, I had a recurring dream that I was sitting in a classroom, and I would suddenly stand up and happily shout, “I don’t have to be here anymore!”
If you hate the structure of regular schooling and choose to drop out, it doesn’t mean you’re dumb or lazy. A lot of really intelligent people have trouble in high school, which usually values routines and standardized testing over creativity. It often seems like the high school curriculum was expressly designed to oppress the very skills that artistic weirdos are good at! If you’re looking for another way to learn, are plenty of different methods of earning your diploma without having to attend normal classes. Homeschooling, unschooling, and alternative schools, like those that follow the Montessori model, are all solid choices, depending on what you’re looking for. Distance education and my work-study program were awesome for me—I learned so much more when I got to do my assignments at my own pace, in an environment where I didn’t feel like a cornered animal, and it showed in my grades, which had vastly improved. Lots of people are lucky enough to know at a relatively young age what they want to do for a living, and if it’s not something that requires a college or even a high school degree and you’ve reached the legal school-leaving age for your country, there are real advantages to dropping out and focusing your attention on your obsession—that’s what dumb, lazy losers like Tumblr founder David Karp, Kristen Stewart, Cher, Daniel Radcliffe, Quentin Tarantino, and Ryan Gosling did, and look how they turned out.
I’m not advising you to go ahead and drop out of school this very moment—that decision all depends on your situation. If you’re thinking about peacing out on your alma mater for good, it’s very important to keep in mind that high school sucks for everyone sometimes, so if you’re tearing up your homework on that basis alone right now, it might be a good idea to reconsider. Disliking something is totally different from being unable to do it; I dropped out because my psychological disabilities made it nearly impossible for me to go to class, and that decision worked out because of the alternatives that were available to me. If I hadn’t had them, I wouldn’t have left until I’d earned my diploma the traditional way.
When I did get into college, my classes were actually interesting and filled with like-minded people, and reaching that goal was especially rewarding because of the difficulties I had to go through to get there. But, like high school, college isn’t for everyone! There are plenty of ways to be happy and successful in this world, and if you plan for what you want to do thoroughly and work really hard, you’ll probably be fine no matter what happens. I will say that, statistically, if you choose to finish high school, you’ll have a ton of advantages, including a broader range of job options. And if you do leave, you can always go back later if you change your mind—although I would imagine high school is probably even less fun the second time around.
Whatever you decide, know that dropping out isn’t something to be ashamed of, nor does it mean you’re giving up on intellectual and/or professional fulfillment. I’m happy with my life even though my path has looked a little bit different from most people’s. And if yours does too, that’s perfectly OK—though it can sometimes be a struggle to find your way, the awesome weirdo future that awaits you is totally worth it in the end. ♦