My oldest son recently dropped out of school mid-semester of his second year at a fancy, expensive, prestigious design school.
This is worse than last time.
Last time when he dropped out mid-semester, the tuition at his state university was $9000 and we got about half of it back. This time the tuition is $25,000 and we’re not getting any back.
And we were paying tuition on a five-month payment plan, so we’re still paying thousands of dollars a month for the classes he will never complete. Ouch. That stings a bit.
And then there’s the loss of the magic…
I got my current job, which was a huge leap for me in terms of responsibility and salary, on the same day that my son got into design school which seemed like a huge leap for him in the direction of his own success. It seemed as if — after months of working three jobs, doing some soul searching and getting some life coaching, he’d figured it out. He’d found his way. And despite many failures at earning and saving over the years, I’d found my way too — to just the right amount of income to support his dream.
It felt magical, that day, when I signed my offer letter and he got his.
What a gift.
After years of teenage-parent separation, when at times I couldn’t seem to find a connection with him at all, it felt as if we’d both started on similar adventures at the same time. I did remarkably well at my new gig – surprising myself at how easily I was managing complex situations. And then he went from probation to dean’s list in one semester. More confirmation. I was supporting him and he’d found his path.
And, actually, I think he did.
Only it’s not graduating from a fancy design school with a degree that will open doors. At least not for now.
After several conversations and texts with his dad and me, they made the final decision together while I was at a retreat for work. We talked only briefly the day of the decision—my oldest son and I—because I needed to get to my younger son’s 17th birthday dinner. But in that brief conversation I could hear it.
I could hear him trusting himself.
I could hear the courage.
I could hear the risk.
I could hear the confidence he had in his own knowing that this big investment we’d made…this very costly investment – it wasn’t in that fancy degree. It was in his journey to what he’s meant to do and be.
And he’s ready to stake his claim that we’re more than getting our money’s worth on this one.
To those who don’t look closely enough, his choice to “drop out” of college twice will seem like a massive failure – for him and for us. Most of his high school classmates will graduate with degrees in the Spring. We won’t be among the proud parents making hotel reservations to attend celebratory ceremonies.
To those who don’t look closely enough, the fact that we even allowed him to drop out of college two times will look like typical 21st-century middle/upper-class “soft” parenting. The never-say-no-always-praise-effort-regardless-of-results-a-trophy-for-everything-parenting that leads to whiney, entitled, young adults who don’t know how to do anything challenging.
Our decision – this decision that the three of us are making together. It doesn’t look “right.” It doesn’t make sense.
But then again. . .
Neither did it make sense when my husband left a job at a university with a fabulous tuition benefit right our son started college to move to a city that is so expensive that after 20 years of home ownership, we had no idea where or how we could find a place to live—because there was this job that somehow felt like his next step.
Neither did it make sense when I left a tenure-track faculty position, when so few PhDs ever get one in the first place, because somehow I just couldn’t make myself care about tenure like all my colleagues did.
Neither did it make sense when a few months later, now living in the new expensive city, I left my first six-figure job after only three months because the climate of the workplace wasn’t something I could believe in or support.
Neither did it make sense to pay for house cleaning bi-weekly when I wasn’t earning income – as a means of honoring the work I was doing to build a small business—and to challenge some internalized sexism too.
Neither did it make sense when my husband told his new employer, just two years into the new role in the new city, that he thought they needed to mutually agree to part ways.
And yet it does. It all does. It all makes sense. Because this is how Life really works. Life works through us. Through our desires, our longings, our gut sense that somehow “this is the way, walk in it.”
Are you listening to that quiet voice in you? Are you feeling a nudge towards something that doesn’t make sense? (I’d love to hear more about it. You can sign up to talk with me here - together we can strategize a next step for you!)
My husband and I didn’t really start listening until we were approaching our 50th birthdays.
That’s why I’m so glad that our son, our 21-year-old son, is learning how to pay attention. He’s learning to notice the signs in his body, mind, emotions, and spirit. In his conversations. In the serendipitous opportunities that show up – or don’t.
He’s listening now.
In a culture that says, “no pain, no gain,” that glorifies ignoring your body, mind, and heart to push harder and longer. In a culture in which not eating meals, not sleeping, and being constantly “busy” are viewed as badges of honor. In a culture that tells young men especially that they must always, always, grit their teeth and keep going. In the midst of “the city that never sleeps” my son—MY SON—he’s stopping. He’s stopping to listen to his own voice. And I AM SO PROUD. (Can you tell?)
If my 21-year-old son can listen to his own voice, I'm willing to bet you can too.
Those big bucks we paid for tuition at that fancy design school from which he’ll probably never graduate? They’re tiny dollars. We’re getting what we paid for and much more.
Who knows? Maybe you need to cut some losses and head in a new direction. Maybe it doesn't make sense.
I'm willing to bet you'll know what to do. And you might just get more than you ever expected.
Here’s to thriving!