To My Kids: Here’s Why I Couldn’t Care Less if You Go to College

by Cathy Brown Jan 18, 2016

Little loves of mine,

Let’s get something straight: I couldn’t care less if you go to college. In fact, there’s actually a part of me that hopes you do anything but that right after high school. Personally I’d much prefer if you grabbed your backpack and hitchhiked some boat to Siberia, started a business making natural soaps, went to volunteer in Haiti, whatever. I say this to you as a former ‘grade grabber,’ as your Aunt Mandy used to call me. You may find it hard to imagine now, but back in the day I used to be an obnoxious overachiever who would be deeply disappointed in herself if she received anything less than an A+ and a gold star. I went to college, I got that paper, got those fancy sashes for being at the top of the class, and I’m telling you firsthand that it doesn’t mean jack shit about the actual education I received, how much potential I have or my worth to society.

You are three of the brightest, big-hearted, spirited, sparkly children I know. You are also three of the biggest pains in the asses to have to raise with your feistiness, your desire to question anything and everything (including, of course, me fifty times a day), and your fierce independence and drive making it clear you really don’t need me much- and know that I wouldn’t change any of that for the world.

I hope to the moon and back that when you are older you make decisions to conscientiously guard these characteristics. The thought of you signing up, just because ‘it’s what you’re supposed to do,’ in the next few years to voluntarily pay tens of thousands of dollars to be expected to fit into a system where your education is within the confines of a classroom makes me cringe to my core. Where a piece of paper and a party at the end is supposed to make you feel like you have somehow arrived or are going somewhere ‘worthwhile.’ You are bigger than that. Please recognize that your opportunities to educate yourself richly are absolutely boundless.

I went to college to make my mom and dad happy, to make them feel like they did a good job of raising an upstanding kid. Please do not ever decide to go to college because you think it would make me happy or proud. I’m already happy. I’m already proud. If you want do do something like be a traditional medical doctor or an elementary school teacher, yeah, you’re going to have to go. And if you want to go just for the college experience, go. Try it. See how it works for you. It doesn’t need to work for you. And if you go, go only when you are ready and enthusiastic, whether that is when you are 18, 25 or 53.

My only hope for your basic education is this:

I hope that you do ‘seemingly-irrational-but-driven-by-passion’ things, in droves!, like get on a plane to Peru go try to find that guy you met for 15 minutes on the bike trail who you can’t get out of your head or your heart. I hope that you get your heart broken big time at least once so you can finally learn how big your heart is – and also how resilient it is.

I hope that you realize that there are a zillion ways to support yourself financially and that you don’t give a shit what I or anyone else thinks about your career choices. If raising goats or being an accountant or selling coconuts on the beach in Indonesia or being a real estate mogul makes you feel happy to wake up every day to go to work, rock on. I hope that you have the self-respect and the balls to quit the very second you start to feel even the least bit like you are dying inside energetically.

I hope that you learn to not just embrace, but to celebrate and value whimsy and spontaneity. That you do plenty of things in your life for the sole sake of ‘why the hell not?’ That’s a totally valid reason. Dive in headfirst. Do it up big. Pack the car and go on that road trip to Colorado. That day. Pack a sleeping bag, a box of Clif bars, a change of clothes, grab whatever money you have for gas and incidentals and just do it already. See what happens. You’ll either have a great time or a great story. Maybe both. Learn to not kill great ideas by overthinking them. Seriously, you can always turn around the car and figure out how to get back. Let’s not overdramatize the situation here.

I hope that you feel lost and really, really scared and unsure at times so you can come to the beautiful realization that you totally have the courage to overcome it.

I hope you are never so intimidated by your idols that you don’t whatever it takes to meet them and learn from them. They are people, too, and they have just as much that they could learn from you as you from them. Reach out. Email them, walk up and say hello at the party, Twitter message them, connect through LinkedIn, hell, invite them for coffee or a drink and be willing to get on a plane to go make it happen. Just hold your head high and be your wonderful self. You might get blown off (their loss), or you might just end up with a new lifelong friend who used to be someone you only daydreamed about hanging out with and learning from.

I hope that you nurture a love of books — that you read not because you have to, but because you want to. (Ava, I do hope that you move on from the vampire teeny-bopper romance novels at some point. Just being honest here.)

I hope that you learn to welcome hard times with the unrelenting confidence and courage of a warrior. That you open your eyes to all of the lessons that lie within tough experiences that are there for you to learn. That you genuinely say ‘bring it on’, knowing you are bound to come out the other side stronger and wiser.

I hope you learn the pleasure of how much happiness you can experience by making other people happy. Don’t hesitate to give flowers to the grumpy, strange old woman sitting on the park bench who looks like she hasn’t received flowers in way too long.

I hope that you meet plenty of people who you at first glance assume you don’t have anything in common with and I hope that you look for common ground when you warmly invite them over for dinner.

I hope that you make a lot of money and then you lose it. And then you figure out how to make it again, but this time knowing full well that while money makes some things easier, it’s really not quite as cool and all-powerful as you once thought it was.

If you can really and truly nail this list, even part of this list, in my eyes you are better off than 95% of the people who end up in tons of college debt for the chance at a ‘better’ future, ‘better’ income, ‘better’ job, more perceived stability, convincing themselves that they are somehow smarter than all the others who didn’t go to college. If you are pushing yourself, if you are consistently throwing yourself outside of your comfort zone and relishing every experience, good or bad, as a learning experience, if you continue to question everyone (including yourself), if you try to act with kindness and consciousness in all that you do, and if you let yourself be guided by that little feeling inside that let’s you know that your on fire and feeling happy to be alive, you’re good. And when you’re good, I’m good.

Don’t just strive to be book smart. Don’t get caught up in certificates or what society tells you is the ‘right’ thing to do. Be evolving. Be fiery. Be fascinating. Be a ridiculously big thinker. Be absurd at times. Be passionate. And for God’s sake, don’t get to the end of your life without stories to tell your grandkids that will make them not even believe you for how far-fetched they seem. Know that there’s great value, great lessons, in simply living an interesting, entirely true-to-yourself life, no matter what path that takes you down.

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