Saturday 24 January 2015

Why I've Decided to Drop Out of Uni

At the start of this academic year, my final year of Uni, I decided to start a little project. 

After three years of being pretty much the worst academic nightmare known to this University, to try and keep myself motivated til the end, I decided to keep a photographic timeline of a final year student, by taking one selfie (of undoubted despair) during the midst of my assignments, and one selfie (of undoubted relief) after finally completing and submitting each one.

In my head, I thought perhaps I could collate these images into a whimsical but profound insight into what it's actually like to endure the final stages of a degree, and perhaps I could make it into some kind of empowering, motivating article at a later date.

Little did I know, however, that it would have the complete opposite effect on me. 

Because half way through only my second assignment of term, when I found myself howling in a helpless heap on my bedroom floor clutching my prescription for strong anti-depressants in one hand and a 5000-word, due in for the next day, assignment brief in the other, I had to ask myself some serious fucking questions as to why I was voluntarily paying £9,000 a year to subject myself to this. 

Four months and a whole chronology of trials, tribulations and tears later, at the start of my final semester in my final year of Uni, I have decided to drop out. 

I can hear it already. 

That exact same chorus of 'WHAT?!'s,  'No, you can't do that!s' and 'Don't be so ridiculous!'s I always get whenever I elect to tell someone this is the decision I have come to. 

Let's forget for a moment, that through near four years of aggro, I've failed this, picked up that, re-done that and done extra that so my academic transcript is absolute shitstate mess. Let's forget I'm doing a creative degree with no real graduate benefits at the most averagely pointless of all universities in the country with zero notable alumni. Let's forget that the only way I would *actually* be liberated from this timber-clad prison in May is to complete the five standard modules, plus one re-take from last year, plus my Deferrals from last semester, making a grand total of 9 modules in 5 months - over a year's worth of class in one go despite the fact I failed those previous classes due to a serious mental health condition stemming from stress and overwhelm.  

Because despite them all being true, there's one set of people in particular who would regard this as nothing but pitiful excuses I'd conjure up to detract from the fact I am a failure. 

My parents. 

And so today, I sat down with a blank notebook and poured my heart out for hours constructing a letter to them, explaining why I have decided to, and indefinitely will, be dropping out of university.


M o t h e r    &    F a t h e r 
F r o m   t h e   w o m a n   w h o   g r e w   f r o m   t h e   l i t t l e   g i r l   y o u   m a d e

Forgive me for seeming somewhat unqualified for these observations, but although I might not be a parent yet, I am, and always will be, a child. 

You're not meant to turn around and laugh when your child sits you down and tells you they want to be an astronaut. You put a fishbowl over your head, zoom around the garden with them and spend hours in the weekend sunshine with streaks of paint through your hair, building a cardboard rocket ship - Even if by this time next week they've totally forgotten that idea and now have their heart's set on becoming a zookeeper. 

Because that's what kids are - dreamers. And that's what parenting is. 

Don't get me wrong, I know you have been good to me, you have done so much for me, and I know you love, care and worry about me. Believe me, I urge you, when I say how grateful I am for all you have done. That's why you want me to get good grades, get a secure job and be financially safe.  

But what you don't seem to understand is that's not 'happiness' to me. 

Of course I don't want to be impoverished, working several demeaning and unfulfilling jobs just to get by. But the problem is, you see that as being the only alternative to what you want me to do. And that's just not the goddamned case. 

You have always given more weight to your fears that I will screw up and fail, than to your faith and belief that I can do it, that I would find a way to make it work.

You're unable to look past the two hands of fate which hold your 'best laid plans' for me in one hand and your 'worst case scenario' in the other. And not only is your lack of faith in me hurtful, it renders you completely blind to the fact that your 'best laid plans' are my 'worst case scenario.'

You have never held faith in me when I've said I wanted to do something, to be something, that's why in the end I took matters into my own hands and started to make life happen for myself. And do you even understand the frustration which radiates from my bones when I actually achieve something for myself and you turn back to me and say 'I'm so proud, always knew you could do it!'

You don't just love your child when they do something right. You don't feel proud of your kid only when they actually prove themselves. You're meant to be with them the whole time, be the first person to back them and say I know you can do this. I believe in you.

Your crippling need for 'sensible'ness is absolutely suffocating to the point that I could never ever dream of living up to your standards. It's just not what I am made of, and the irony is you should know that because you made me. I will never be your sensible because that world to me is such an extraordinarily agonising level of safety, complacency and immunity that you never live. You never experience or grow - goddamn it how can you ever learn anything if you don't take the risks and make the mistakes to learn from? I will always choose a life of mistakes over a life of consistency and THAT is where we differ. 

There is one term in particular in which you've begun to use a lot lately which I have grown to regard with a passionate loathing. 

'Proper job.' 

The accusatory way you bandy around that poison-lace phrase with callous disregard to the spear of hatred and resentment it strikes through me, only pushes me further and further away from that ever being my reality. And even further from you.

Those two words alone hold so much weight, sodden with years of saturated disappointment, countless memories of discouragement and dripping in resentment at the choices I have made with my life and the fact I am the way that I am. 

Jesus I am 22 years old, if this was just a phase or something you could chase out of me, I think I would have grown out of it by now. And that's the thing I think I've come to realise. Children never really grow out of stuff. They just let a part of themselves die, or be quashed by others. But this fire inside of me will not be extinguished, and is not something that can be remedied with a monthly salary, the chance of a promotion after the first quarter or a fucking pension plan.

But god forbid you should have to inform your friends, neighbours and relatives that your daughter is now a *shudder* drop out. I'd even argue you want me to finish Uni more just so you can tell everyone else that I have, and gloat about having two graduate offspring. What I think and feel is irrelevant. 

Well I'm sorry. It's time you came to understand that I am never going to be that Daughter for you. 


 None of this can hurt me anymore. This is my declaration. I am claiming ownership of my own life now. 

I've turned my mind over endlessly trying to determine whether it is courage or cowardice to back out now, this far in and this 'close' to the end. 

But regardless of academic or mental circumstances, each morning I wake up in the mind that has adopted this situation as reality - like drawing on a tattoo in marker pen every day before committing to the needle - something becomes clearer and clearer to me.

This is the most monumental decision of my entire life - but it's also a test.

Because of course, the easy, safe, secure, sensible, simple option is to stay. You might think it is the opposite, but it's not. 

Because I wouldn't be staying because I want to. 

I'd be staying because my fear is greater than my conviction in myself. I'd be staying because I'm too afraid to face the big, bad world head on. I'd be staying because that's what everyone else is telling me I have to do and that it'd be the biggest mistake of my life to leave, despite the fact I do not believe them one bit. I'd be staying because I believe others' predictions, premonitions and opinions about what's best for me and my life, are more important than my own. I'd be staying because I believe that ever-growing part of me which is crying out so desperately to be heard, is not worth listening to. Staying would be proving that you were right all along. That I'm not good enough, talented enough, determined enough. That I don't deserve the right to do what I want to do with my life.  

Staying would be submitting to fear and letting it own me. 

And to that, I say Fuck You. 

You might not believe in me, and even if no-one else on this damn planet does, I fucking do. 

I will NOT fall into a life of shallow mediocrity and purposelessness because I've just 'ended up that way' from 'doing what everyone else is doing' or from just 'doing what you're supposed to do'.

Leaving now is admitting I'm goddamn terrified, but my determination is stronger than my fear. Leaving now is risking any form of life security, but stating that what I believe in is more important than that. Leaving now is saying passion is more important than passing. Leaving now is saying that being alive and fucking living is more important than just 'getting by'. Leaving now is clambering onto the rooftops and screaming out to the big bad world 'I am ready for whatever you want to throw at me. I will take your most fearsome evils and your darkest regrets, I will take it all, because anything is better than choosing to remain in the darkness for fearing the intensity of the sun. I would rather have that sun burn me up for trying than to grow old, bitter, and pale in the shadows.'

Leaving now, is acknowledging that fear and doing it anyway.

 And to me, that's called bravery. 

And you know, even if this all remains meaningless to you and you're still thinking 'yes it's all well and good having some nice little metaphors, but what about the ~ real life implications ~' Then I'm done here. There's no amount of words I can conjure to convince you otherwise and I wouldn't even want to try.

'Cause you ain't the only stubborn ones. And just as I most probably won't be able to convince you, you'll never ever be able to dissuade me. 

But I can promise you, I can put a goddamned hand on my heart and promise you that I will create the extraordinary. Mark my words. And this is not a promise to try and ease your mind or a peace offering to try and win you over. This is my defining statement, a promise made of fire and brimstone. My final declaration that I refuse not to be everything I want to be. 

I will be successful.

And yeah, seems almost needless to say now that I guess our perceptions of 'successful' are pretty different. Because I couldn't really give a fuck about being rich, getting a great mortgage rate on a sprawling 5-bed in Surrey, or smirking at other people who wish they could afford a car as flash as mine. That's just not what I'm about, and if you think that is, then boy oh boy you really don't know me at all.

To me, the ultimate success is to look around yourself and your life, everything you create and do and are, all the people, places and faces you are surrounded by and to be filled with a soaring sense of joyous bliss so eternal, it borders on the divine.

That's it. Success to me is simply happiness.

So let it be known from this moment onward, that I refuse to chose any path of unhappiness. Never again will I willingly kill a part of myself because others tell me it'll allow me to live better. Because that's sure as hell not a life I'd want to lead anyway. 

I will henceforth be known as Katie Oldham, University dropout and proud. 

And I cannot wait for the day you see my name and remember these words as my testament to living.

And as for the courage or cowardice question?

I think I know my answer. 

Mother, Father, I love you, dear god do I love you,

 But my mind is made. 

 I'm not asking for your permission, your forgiveness, your backing, your money, your blessing, for you to understand me, hell I'm not even asking for you to believe in me anymore. All I'm just asking, is for you to lower your guards, exhale deeply, fold your hands, close your eyes and just nod. 

Because if you love me, if you truly do love me like I love you, you'll grant me this final freedom from your castigation. You'll let me go forth and be the person I so ardently believe and know I was always meant to be. 

And you'll let me go.

Forever your child, and your proud daughter if you'll let me be,

Katie. x


And so there it is. The final curtain on this era in my life. And I tell you what, I could not feel more free, more positive or more optimistic about the future.

And one day in the distant future, when I'm writing what will (obviously)  become my best-selling autobiography, I'll dedicate a whole bloody chapter to this time in my life, and I shall regard it as the moment my life changed forever. The moment I came face to face with the one test that would determine my fate for the rest of my days,

The day I said fuck you to fear, and grabbed life by the goddamn horns.