Sunday, November 18th, 2018

The College Experience Deconstructed: So you wanna drop out?

Posted on October 30, 2018 in Perspectives
By Julie Pike

By Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer

If you haven’t thought of dropping out by this point in the semester, congratulations. You are doing something right.

For the rest of us, the struggle is real. We say the words, but what is this feeling of wanting to drop out?

It may be a bad day, or the hopelessness of life as your chemistry grade keeps dropping like the precipitant in that lab you never understood. Or, you feel lost. It’s your first semester in school, outside from home, with no expectations of the life you should live. Away from the expectations force-fed to you for years by school, parents and peers clamoring for the rat race of Hollywood fantasies, the point of going to college seems to lose a lot of its purpose.

College feels overwhelming. It often feels like you are alone, completely on your own. No matter what people say about having your RA, friends and teachers, inside it’s just you and your emotions.

For perhaps the first time in your whole life you have choice and the ability to question those choices. Why am I here at college? What is this feeling (be it disillusionment, fear, or apathy) that I so struggle to pin down? Hands thrown up in the air, you look towards a quick end game.

Here are some reasons you might encounter that “I’m just done” feeling.

  •        Expectations. Who is the voice in your head? Typically, it can be the memory of your parents, telling you day after day that you must go to college to be anything. You feel a clutch of shame. You want their approval. So here we are.
  •        Lack of control. The American education system institutionally disempowers and strips control from teenagers until graduation. Eight weeks later, we ship off to this foreign world of college. Most of us have never had enough chance to fail and learn in a safe environment, or to even make any of their own decisions, and have to now do it all on our own. Facing tasks outside reasonable comprehension, we fear the fall from grace. Making the decision to drop out comes as a necessary stabilization, from a need for autonomy.
  •        Inner conflict. People know what they want, deep in their subconscious but often feel those wants are unacceptable or dangerous. Facing this disconnect in a college setting college with clear expectations (i.e, go to class and do homework), we experience ‘counterwill’ – what psychiatrist and best-selling author Gabor Mate calls, “an automatic resistance put up by a human being with an incompletely developed sense of self, a reflexive and unthinking opposition to the will of the other. It is a natural but immature resistance arising from the fear of being controlled.”

For those of us with even a hint of authority issues (thanks, Dad), this mismatch and unspoken yoke triggers the counterwill response. Apathy, a state of low energy and motivation (or, on the other hand, active resistance) is triggered to protect us. If college is the face of the threat, dropping out is the logical conclusion.

So, given all that, what do you do if you feel like dropping out? I’ve got a prescription for your well-being.

First, identify what is bothering you. Is it grades, loneliness, confusion or something else?

Then, dig deeper. What does that mean? What is really going on? For example, grades don’t mean you are inherently stupid. They are a symptom. Is it because you have little time to focus because of a toxic relationship? Do you carry an internalized need for perfection from past conditional relationships with loved ones?

Finally, ponder what you really want, and how to get it.

I am not probably supposed to say this, but dropping out may in fact be what you need. Three years ago, right around this time, I was in my first semester at the University of New Hampshire. Facing inner turmoil and disillusionment, I dropped out. Five months of traveling and a year of working later, I pulled up to unpack behind Upton-Hastings, fresh start round two. It was the best choice I could have made and would not have gotten here now had I stayed in school.

Whatever course of action you do take, please – don’t make any rash decisions, and spend that time inside yourself to identify what is really truly going on. Despite the advice from so many well-meaning friends, only you know what you need at the of the day. And take it from me, if you leave school, you can come back. I promise.

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