Today was supposed to be my graduation day

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Today was supposed to be my graduation day…

Last March 31st, 2015 I withdrew from the University of Gonzaga. I still remember the feeling. Freedom! Well, sort of…I needed to stay in Spokane until the semester close because I told my parents I was going to finish.

Despite my parents’ wishes, I quit school halfway through a semester with no refund on my tuition. 

I also received 6 fat W’s on my official transcript.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs

Upon dropping out, I can’t say I had 100% confidence things would work out for me like they have.

Mind you, I’m not writing this essay from the omniscient, “this is the right way to live,” sort of stance.

I didn’t know.

At that point, dropping out was the quickest escape available to me.

I struggled to connect with people (totally self-inflicted). So, leaving all my current ill-fitting social constructs fit the bill for what I determined my story.

“I am already different and nobody understands me,” I told myself. “Why not push that further and go completely against the standard for my current peer group? It just makes sense.”

I wasn’t as healthy and psychologically robust as people may have thought.

So I took myself to a desert island. And I kept obliterating any raft I had half-built to take me back to civilization.

My decision to quit school isn’t “right” because I’ve saved $40,000+ on tuition. Nor is it “right” because I’ve fast-tracked into the business world, where I now manage the day-to-day for a $2M+ company.

Those things are nice as I connect the dots backwards, but I wasn’t sitting there with a pros and cons list as I made my decision to withdraw from school. I knew I’d save $40,000+ in tuition, but I didn’t know I’d make the money I make now, and I didn’t foresee and plan for the exact challenges I’ve seen since.

The cost / benefit analysis is all bullshit.

Useful? Sure. A means to decide, however? No.

The cost / benefit made me feel less scared. I felt the benefits could be higher. Yet, it wasn’t the driving force behind what pushed me to take a leap. Nor is a cost / benefit analysis going to drive me to make any monumental decision in my life. It’s not logic that pushes you to do something dramatic; it’s passion, it’s emotion, it’s scathing discomfort.

I leaped because I felt so uncomfortable with my current life path. I felt I hadn’t found my tribe. Estranged and isolated, I couldn’t walk the same line anymore.

But I’m so grateful for the decision I made. Not because of the net worth swing, but because I needed the journey.

Since dropping out, I’ve…

*Lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina

*Attended a conference of 250 entrepreneurs in Bangkok, Thailand

*Bunked in Seattle, Washington in the same room as my brother

*Visited Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, México, where I took tango, salsa and bachata lessons.

*Visited various U.S. Cities (Houston, Austin, Portland, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas)

*Become the Operations Manager of a company surpassing $2M in annual revenue with nearly 20 people working underneath me

*Dove into deep emotional work (thanks to an amazing coach)

*Seen the saddest, most anxiety-ridden days of my life

*Worked through some of my hardest personal challenges

*Learned how to run a growing company at 21 years old

*Learned to cater to my emotional center and not be afraid to explore and experience it

And because of all that, I know now that I’m experiencing life from a much more authentic, richer place.

Since I dropped out of school, I have been taking my journey that I needed to take.

The Path to a Successful, Fulfilling Life in 3 Steps! Guaranteed!  

I recall soon after I dropped out, I had this strong sense that what I was doing was the right thing to do. Not only for myself, but my decision should be a model for others.

Step #1: Dropout of school

Step #2: Start getting “real-life” experience ASAP

Step #3: Be successful and fulfilled

However, today, I couldn’t imagine telling these friends of mine who are graduating that they did it wrong.

They’ve made beautiful friendships. They’ve created rich experiences. Sure, some of them have spent a lot of money to do so, but I’d guess they couldn’t attach a dollar value to what they are leaving school with.

I’ve realized that it wasn’t about the exact steps that I took to get where I am today. I hope you all catch some modesty when I say I do feel fulfilled where I am today. I have zero regrets for the decisions I made.

So in final reflection, I have come to terms with the fact that what I’ve done was not about jumping ship on a flawed and outdated system, or hacking life through catching a fast-track, but it was about the journey that I needed to take.

If I was in a different place—if I had the present ability to connect with a community then, like I feel now—I may have stayed and graduated with my class.

To all my friends and acquaintances out there telling people going to college is the right or wrong decision, I’m telling you…you don’t know.

And, to the class of 2016, I say to you: Take the journey you feel called to take. No more, no less.

Don’t concern yourself with gatekeepers, with spectators, or the wise men and women who will tell you what you are doing is right or wrong. They don’t know. Only you do.

I know an intense feeling in my gut was beckoning me to chase the place where I am today. Surely riddled with anxiety, the need for validation, and a longing for connection, I still feel I acted in alignment with what was calling me.

And the reward that comes with that, is indescribable.

It’s not about the individual stones that you step on. It’s about paying attention to whether each step feels true to what you feel is the journey that will take you where you want to go.

If your heart is calling you someplace, chase it. Chase it and tell all the spectators the call you are hearing until they finally listen.

Or don’t, it’s not for them to hear—it’s for you.

Excited not to “welcome” you all on this journey, but to say I’m glad to have already had you all here.

Cheers, Class of 2016.

About the author

Cory Ames

Cory is the Co-Founder of Open Book SEO where he and his team help businesses capture more free traffic from Google. Cory lives in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant and beautiful girlfriend and their sometimes cute sometimes monster of a puppy.

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