Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Out Of The Box - A Few Thoughts On Dropping Out

Somehow, someway, my Fbook feed has become a magnet for people looking to sell t-shirts to drummers. No idea how it happened. No idea why. But, that's the situation, and I as I've been trying to take things in stride, I've taken to posting pictures of some of the funnier shirt designs to my Instagram page. Here's the latest one to make the cut:

I accompanied it with this caption: <from one dropout to all the rest.>

What I didn't expect (but probably should have) was someone about my thoughts as to whether or not they should drop out of college. I gave two replies: first, I said, "Not if you don't mean it," and secondly, "School's not for everyone, but neither is the other thing."

I'd like to take the opportune moment to expand on these thoughts. Get ready for some bullet points.

But first, for those of you that don't know, I spent three days at college before deciding that it wasn't for me. I had auditioned at the Berklee School of Music and been accepted, but I didn't receive any kind of scholarship offer, which is exactly what I needed to even begin to entertain the idea of going there. So, not having any other real idea of what else I wanted to do when it came to attending college, I decided to simply join some of my friends at a state school here in Colorado. Like I said, it took all of about 72 hours for me to realize I was in the wrong place.

I'll leave out a lot of the gory details, but, suffice it to say, I have rarely felt such strong spiritual guidance as I did the day I left school. I am not a person prone to really intense spiritual or mystical experiences (and I don't spend much of my time seeking them out), so when I found myself right smack dab in the middle of one, you'd better believe I paid attention.

I have pursued a life in music ever since and have learned quite a few things along the way (there's a book on the way about many of them). I have also had plenty of time to reflect on my own decision to dropout as well as observe & interact with others around me who took a similar course. I've also spent plenty of time with people who stayed in school in order to earn their degrees. There's nothing particularly special about any of this, and plenty of people would probably disagree with me on some of the conclusions I've reached. So be it. But, since it's my blog, here's what I think about a life in music and whether or not people should stay in school:

- Education is not the key to anything. All education is is a step in a particular direction. Now, getting educated is not wrong or bad or in any way negative. But it is also not an end in and of itself. And it does not guarantee you anything. The lie that gets sold to far too many teenagers these days is that once you have a degree, you're absolutely guaranteed a life of splendid & gainful employment and the world being handed to you on a silver platter. It's simply not the case. Professional education (and by "professional" I mean the kind that you pay for) is absolutely essential for some vocations, kind of give-or-take for a few others, and completely unnecessary for others. Don't make the mistake of thinking that education is a necessity for a good life.

- I had support. One of the things that made my decision bearable & realistic for me was the amazing support of my parents. You'd have to ask them about what exactly their thoughts were at the time, but they allowed me to quit without even a full week of investment in the college process. I have absolutely no idea what my life or pursuit of music would have looked like if they had tried to force me to complete a semester, a year, or an entire degree program. When contemplating this kind of move, it's important to realize what kinds of things - relationships, finances, living situations, etc. - might be affected by your choice. It won't look the same for everyone because not all of those circumstances ever look the same for everyone. You might have to ask yourself things like, "Is this move really worth straining or even losing a relationship over?" and "How in the world am I going to make ends meet financially?" Realize that the flow of culture is decidedly in the direction of a college education, so to drop out means swimming upstream. It's awfully nice to have support if you decide to do so.

- Neither staying in school nor dropping out should be an impetus for pride. It's easy to wave the flag of an earned degree or an alma mater in people's faces as some kind of sign of superiority. It's just as easy to wear a nonconformist decision to buck the system as some kind of badge of honor. If you can relate to either one of these attitudes, you're seeing things wrong. Neither having an education nor a decision to travel a different road magically makes you a better person. In the end, there is simply no reason to carry that kind of chip on your shoulder. If people want to look down on you for dropping out, let them. You have plenty of successful company right alongside you. Conversely, don't take shots at them for "needing" to go to college or being some kind of conformist. Typical as the educational road might be, the simple truth is that the world needs the kinds of skills that are only taught at universities. Be humble about your decision either way.

- Hard work, diligence, and treating people well are important for success, with or without an education. Whether somebody decides to stay in school or dropout, the same kinds of qualities are necessary to build a career, establish quality relationships, and make yourself valuable in whatever vocational arena you find yourself a part of. Having a degree doesn't mean you get to coast the rest of your life. Taking the risk of dropping out doesn't entitle you to some kind of mystical secret to success simply because you bravely chose to do things differently. As unromantic as it sounds, working hard and treating people with respect and doing it day-in and day-out are just the kinds of things that make for successful people, regardless of your job or where (or if) you went to school.

- There are no equations. In the end, this is the big enchilada. We the people are insecure, nervous about the future, and deep down sense that we control precious little of these things we call our lives. So, in a vain attempt to maybe gain a little bit more of that control, we run to statistics and charts & graphs about averages to try and establish for ourselves some kind of security. The problem is that none of it really works. Life has a way of dishing up fastballs when we're expected the curves and we're forced to remember that we don't really control all that we'd like to control. There are very few easy answers in life simply because there are no equations. There's no decoder ring for most of the decisions we're forced to make. There's no one, single right way to do anything. There's no formula. There's no mold. There are no equations. We all have to walk our own roads.

One of my drum teachers growing up went to college for music education. He got out of school and promptly joined the Air Force, spending the next couple decades of his life flying planes and not using one iota of his degree. It was not until he retired from the military that he started teaching music.

The lead singer of one of the bands I have the honor of being in has her songs played on television shows on ABC and MTV this year, and we're currently working on a really, really great EP project. Things are looking up. She started the band while married with her first child and working as a hair dresser. She's taken a vastly different and unconventional path - even for a musician.

Stories like these are everywhere, and I share them to help illustrate the veracity of my last point: there are no equations in life. There is no "right way" to do it. You just have to do it, knowing that you will make mistakes & learn from them, have great opportunities ripped away as well as given to you, and have your circumstances altered in all kinds of crazy ways that you never saw coming. A university education does not shield you from any of this. The unexpected happens and all the things we tend to rely on for security have a funny way of failing us at opportune times. There are no sure things.

So, whether or not you're thinking about dropping out of school, take these kind of things into account. For life to be really worth living, risk is part of the deal. Chance is part of the deal. Faith is most definitely part of the deal. Whether or not those things apply to the realm of your education (or lack thereof), that's for you to decide before God.

If you go to school, mean it. If you drop out, mean it. Whichever direction you decide to go, go with all your heart. Live like you mean it and help others do the same.

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