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Drop out of university and tune in to yourselves

RACHEL IDZERDA/The Globe and Mail

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Hey students, drop out of university now! You can thank me later.

I am a university dropout, or at least I was for 10 years. Quitting was the best thing I ever did.

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I'm 29 now, and after a lot of living (some successful, some not) I have returned to university as a mature student. And what I am seeing around me are a whole lot of students who need to drop out just like I did.

This might sound radical, even blasphemous, since parents everywhere are encouraging their teenagers to stay in school. But hear me out.

When I attended university for the first time, I was doing it because that was just what you did. I was accepted to Concordia University in communications.

I did great academically, but my mind and heart were on a different planet. I sulked through the hallways, talked through lectures and did assignments like a programmed robot. I cared more about what club I would be going to on Friday night than what was in my $100 textbook.

I did well, maintaining a 3.5 GPA, but emotionally I just didn't care. I couldn't – not because I was a bad teen, but because I just didn't know any better. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't take university seriously, and I knew that I was wasting my time and my parents' money.

So I spat out the institutional Kool-Aid and dropped out after the first semester. My parents were shocked but, to their credit, they let me be.

I floated around for a few months, worked at a bank for a year, then attended the National Theatre School of Canada in hopes of becoming an actor. After three years of rolling around on the floor and finding my inner child, I moved to Toronto to become a star.

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Cue the real education: life.

I have had successes: a season at the Shaw Festival, commercials for Swiss Chalet, some walk-on TV gigs.

I've done a whole lot of waitressing and had a lot of doors slammed in my face.

I've had my heart seriously broken once and a half.

I've rented four apartments in Toronto, paid bills, budgeted, partied, broken down, travelled and tried all sorts of diets just to figure out in the end that a well-balanced meal and exercise program are the way to go.

I've endured the unspeakable pain of losing a parent and emotionally supporting another.

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In short, I've learned to like and live with myself, for better or for worse.

Then all of a sudden, last fall, I knew I was ready to go back to the halls of greater learning and get that degree. I am now a journalism student at Ryerson University and, unlike 10 years ago, I am actually present.

Things could not be more different than the first time around. I now know who I am and what I'm good at.

I listen in class; I appreciate what the professors and teaching assistants have to offer.

I know that time is valuable and education is what you make of it. I balance life, school and work and still manage to get assignments done ahead of time.

Most importantly, I understand that I will have to work very hard to pay back my student loans.

I know that my degree alone will not guarantee me success or even a job.

My choice to drop out and return 10 years later is not free of fear. I sometimes feel old and out of touch; I have to work hard to relate to my younger peers.

I lose sleep wondering when I will be able to start having kids. That is if, by some miracle, I manage to get a job in journalism.

Fortunately, I know how to carry three plates at once if all else fails.

But even with the downsides, this is right for me.

I have learned grit, and I vow to beat out all these computer-genius 17-year-old kids for the best internships using my own personal super power – life experience!


To the three guys in my Wednesday lecture who play computer games and watch hockey highlights on their laptops during lectures: Drop out! Come back when you care. You've got time.

To the girl next to me in writing class who is always chatting with her friends on Facebook: Drop out! Stop wasting your parents' money. Come back when you have decided that this is where you want to be and that the teacher is worth listening to.

To the student who is getting an undeclared general arts degree just because his parents said he has to be in school: Drop out! You will go back, but it will be different the next time around because it will be on your own terms.

To the super-talented guy who never returns to class after his smoke break: Drop out! Go apply for a small-business loan, open up a coffee shop, start a great online blog that generates ad revenue, and get more tattoos.

University is not the only way. Some of the most successful and happy people I know are artists, small-business owners and app creators.

Instead of dropping out, it should be called dropping in.

So I double dare you: drop in! Drop in to who you are and what is right for you.

Zarrin Darnell-Martin lives in Toronto.

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