Why I did it and what’s next.
I started my higher education journey as an adult in my late twenties, and at the community college level. Many factors contributed to this but to make a long story much shorter: I didn’t have a particularly positive experience with the American school system in grade school through high school. This was compounded by the lack of familial support in any meaningful way and drama created by classmates. For a full decade, I had been struggling with trauma in my personal life and working to foster more independence. All of this aided in deepening my mistrust in the education system, or at the very least, the idea of “school”.
The system felt one-size-fits-all, and I didn’t fit. Ironically, I’ve never been diagnosed with any learning disabilities. However, the curriculum sucked. The environment was distracting and uncomfortable. The majority of the teachers, counselors, and administration I encountered appeared incapable of compassion, patience, or understanding for the trials of adolescence. That only made matters worse. For years after graduation, I wrestled with achieving a sense of purpose. I wanted some level of clarity around my contribution as a human being or just about myself as an individual. Frankly, the problem was that I was in a public school system, when I probably would have thrived in a Montessori or Waldorf setting.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that the clarity I desperately yearned for began to take shape. Mostly due to more positive influences and finally being able to develop a sense of Self beyond the old stories of childhood traumas. Or what authority figures in my life dictated. I’ll admit, going back to school took a leap of faith on my part. Would it work out for me? Would it be another experience like high school, or potentially worse?
Switching gears like this came with a bit of a steep learning curve. Sure, I had been continuing to learn about my personal interests and self-development in the interim. However, I became rusty in academic skills like active studying habits, essay writing, academic research, and presenting. I had to rapidly re-learn those skills, in addition to professional correspondence, collaboration, and taking full responsibility for my financial aid and financial literacy. Towards the end of my community college adventure, I mastered all of this plus hybrid course delivery and the ability to thrive in classes taught completely online.
That last part was a personal choice to challenge myself to be more responsible for my education, academic achievements, productivity, and motivation. Frankly, I’m glad I did because it made the final semester at CCRI in the Spring of 2020 less overwhelming than it could have been otherwise.
The question now is: “Did it all turn out to be a positive, paradigm-shifting affair?”
Um, no. Not exactly.
It did succeed in changing my mindset to a certain degree. Going to community college helped me mature further intellectually, become more accountable, accept more responsibility for my own experience, challenged my world view, and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I developed more of a growth mindset in contrast to the decidedly fixed, and negative frame of reference I acquired in high school. With that being said, it was not without its frustrations.
Similar to the environment of high school, the advisors were haphazard at best. The staff didn’t have proper channels of communication and no one ever knew for sure what was going on at any given moment. The professors and instructors were a bewildering jumble of amazing, supportive educators in love with their fields… and a horrifying sh*tshow that left me wondering how they were ever hired for the position in the first place. I don’t say that lightly. Every semester involved an encounter with at least one rotten apple. I suppose that’s bound to happen eventually no matter the institution.
It took some time and effort to shift my perspective to focusing more on the overall goal of achieving the Associate’s degree. Instead of giving too much mental or emotional energy to the pitfalls and thorns along the way. Despite the hiccups, annoyances, and an injury that derailed my progress by a whole year – I still managed to graduate in the midst of a global pandemic. I accomplished what I had initially set out to do: acquire my Associate’s degree. I did so with a B+ average and 98% of my general education requirements towards a Bachelor’s degree if I chose to go that route.
I was able to prove my capabilities and capacity for growth. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that the traditional academic route isn’t for me.
Don’t get me wrong: I love to learn. I am all about growth and evolution.
But that doesn’t have to mean sitting in a classroom in a university, jumping through hoops for most professors and accumulating an atrocious debt (of which tuition is about half the overall expense!) that will follow me through the next decade of life. Not appealing.. especially when a 4-year degree DOES NOT guarantee anyone a full time career that aligns with the last 4 years of study and hard work. My first month reminded me why I wasn’t particularly fond of these institutions in the business of selling degree: the majority don’t foster true education, just false promises and a mountain of debt.
I’m not interested in playing that game. So, I withdrew.
There are multiple reasons as to why. Chief among them was the fact that 2020 was a nightmare for me, and I’m still processing much of what happened. I also work to treat PCOS, and battle anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Adding university to the mix was like adding gasoline to a smoldering forest fire. I’m not willing to do that to myself. My mental, emotional, and physical health are so much more precious to me than a fancy piece of paper.
Okay, Atalanta. What next? Just give up?
I’m playing a different game, in a whole other arena. I have quite a plan. Probably a rather ambitious one, but I’ve slowly stretched myself to begin aspiring higher and developing a more… entrepreneurial approach to my life, my education, and my vocation. The ultimate vision I have for myself hasn’t changed, only the path I walk to achieve it has shifted.
That was the path I originally wanted to walk: becoming an autodidact.
I doubted myself, and if I had the capacity to do it. Now, I’m more determined than ever. Relentlessly, I will continue my studies and skills mastery, finding ways to build and curate a portfolio that showcases the knowledge, skill, ability, and experience I gain along the way over at the Erudite Chronicles.