“It wasn’t quite a choice, it was a realization. I was 28 and I had a job as a market researcher. One day I told my psychiatrist that what I really wanted to do was quit my job and just write poetry. And the psychiatrist said, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘What would the American Psychoanalytic Association say?’ And he said, ‘There’s no party line.’”
– Allen Ginsberg
Should you drop out of school to become a writer?
I get dozens of emails from kids asking me if they should drop out of school. They have an idea for a novel, want to go backpacking around Asia, or “just can’t take it.” While I’d love to say that these are great ideas, people need to consider several factors before they drop out. Leaving academia was a huge decision for me. In the months that followed I was constantly stressed out and spent nearly every moment of my life on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Towards the end of July I’d even hide in my car to eat lunch so that people at my job wouldn’t be able to ask me if I was excited to go back to school. Dropping out isn’t something to be taken lightly and I’d advise anyone considering it to consult multiple sources. With that said, I have constructed a brief guide for anyone who wants to call it quits.
Do you already have a set of skills?
The first time that I ever got paid to write something was in grade school. Harris Bank had a contest where kids could submit essays on why they liked to read. I came in first. Since then I’ve been getting paid for writing. I’ve worked for school newspapers, my parents, and local businesses to write content.
When you drop out of school you’re taking a major risk and hoping that you already know enough to succeed without a degree. I’ve known plenty of people who dropped out without a skill set and things turned out horribly for them. While these people were usually lazy anyway, they still hurt their futures. Before quitting make sure that you have some skills or a plan of action. Walking off campus with $50 in your pocket and no idea of what you want to do isn’t a very smart move.
Do you just want to travel?
A lot of the emails that I get are by guys who want to drop out of school so that they can backpack around the world. If you’re in school already and want to do some traveling, just take a semester abroad. I have a couple of friends who are majoring in big money degrees and strategically planned so that they could go to Asia, Europe, and South America. All of them ended up having a blast, while still staying in school and working towards valuable degrees.
If you only want to drop out so that you can bum around, you probably aren’t making the wisest choice. Having fun is important, but it is hard to leverage fun into a marketable product. While there are some guys who are capable of doing it, most people lack the discipline to build a business while wandering around.
Are you trying to avoid responsibility?
I woke up at 6:45 this morning. In college I never got up that early. Once you are out of school things get exponentially harder. Several of the people who have emailed me have basically said that they don’t like work and don’t want to ever have to get a real job. While there’s nothing wrong with that, freelancing is a hundred times more work than sitting behind a desk. While employed I did the bare minimum. It didn’t matter because I still got paid the same as if I’d worked hard. Working for myself, I always have to find new clients, meet deadlines, and manage all my own administrative tasks. It’s like being a salesman, factory worker, accountant, and secretary all in one.
Anyone who thinks that making a blog or writing articles online is easy should take some of their plentiful free time and try freelancing on the side. Being a successful writer has a lot more to it than just hammering out content. You have to know a little about everything in order to survive.
Are you going into a lucrative field?
Dropping out of medical school, or quitting an engineering program to work on oDesk is stupid. If you went into debt for a high paying job there’s no sense in quitting for something that pays less. You can always work on your own business on weekends. Downgrading from petroleum engineer with two companies fighting to hire you to random guy on a freelancing site is not a smart decision.
I have an uncle who has done pretty well for himself. When I was 18 we were having lunch on his yacht and I asked him about his whole business story. What made him successful was the fact that he would work his normal 9 to 5 job, and then run his own business in the evenings. The job he had taught him about how to run a business and how to market to people, which were skills that he then used in his own ventures. he treated his day job like an internship. I was like being paid to learn.
I’m sure that someone will argue with me, but if you have a high paying job lined out and are already almost done with school you might as well take the work. You can always build a business on the side. Writing a book or freelancing isn’t something that has to take up every waking minute.
Who should drop out?
I was majoring in English and had zero debt. Had I continued with my degree I’d have had to take out student loans. Going into debt to become a teacher, or work at Starbucks isn’t worth it. Figuring that I had nothing to lose I decided to take a year off and see if I could make it on my own. I already knew what I wanted to be, I was willing to struggle for it, and I had a very basic plan as to how I was going to get there.
If you are considering dropping out, don’t do it for a stupid reason. Don’t give up because you think school is hard, or you’d rather backpack around for six months instead of studying math. Have an actual tangible and valuable goal to reach. I’d advise against something as vague as “writing a book,” you can do that while still in school, and instead focusing on something more specific and valuable. As cruel as it might sound, becoming a world traveler or social media star are not real professions. Having a marketable skill that can actually do something is essential.
While people always like to talk about how Bill Gates and Ted Turner were college drop-outs, they tend to forget that both men didn’t quit to bum around. Bill Gates was already a programming master who quit because he saw an opportunity. He didn’t drop out to get drunk in his mom’s basement.
Before quitting make sure that you actually have a plan to fall back on. If you can’t start a blog or write a book while in school, you aren’t going to be able to once you leave. Dropping something to avoid responsibility is never a good idea. there are a million reasons to give up on an activity, but laziness is never one of them.