Real World Learning Beats the Campus Blues

By the time I was a senior in high school, college seemed more like a dead end than an opportunity, because my grades leaned towards the junior college arena. For some reason, that really frightened me. Las Positas, the local junior college, didn't receive the nickname "Lost Potential" for nothing.Ever since I was 16, my dream has been to be a professional writer and actor. Before crossing the stage to receive my diploma, I thought to myself, "There have been lots of great writers who never finished college...I can't think of any right now, but there are quite a few!" It always seemed to me that apprenticing your way to a career was more valuable than sitting in a boring classroom.College is a place where you can discover yourself, and find out what you'd like to do. I had already chosen my path and figured jumping right in would be better than waiting four years to do it. All a degree shows is that you've accomplished something that took you a long time. However, what good is a piece of paper if you have no experience in the field you desire? How valuable is a business degree if you've never worked in sales or marketing?Right after graduation, I pushed myself with acting. I got my head shots done and made every open audition in the Bay Area. It was harder to get motivated, since there was no instructor to make me do it. Self-discipline is a difficult trait to master, but once you achieve it, any second of relaxation feels like lethargy. Every day I read the casting boards, traveling as far as Santa Rosa just to try out for a part. There were many times of heartbreak, but the roles I did land sent me to cloud nine. Six months after I began pushing myself through casting doors, I was working steadily in movies and offbeat plays. Everything was always low budget or a small feature film role, but I was finally starting out as a professional, and had enough work on my resume to get my actor's union card. Nothing else was more satisfying.When the acting began to slow down, a hunger to write grew inside me. I couldn't just write something-I needed to write to someone. Fate led me to YO!, and I started writing pieces for them. People were asking me to speak my voice, or come up with ideas for the next issue. It was much more gratifying having an editor ask you to write an article than having a teacher demand a term paper. There is something about being paid for your work that feels more rewarding than receiving a letter grade for meeting a curriculum requirement.A year after experiencing the world of work, I enrolled in a couple classes and gave college a shot. It was boring! Everyone in school seemed to feel like they had to be there. My classmates didn't have half the passion of the freelancers I'd met the previous year. Though they say it is college, the instructors at "Lost Potential" patronized me and acted as if I were a little baby. School was also incredibly slow. What's the point of paying 30 dollars a class just to read books that I had already read in my spare time? After a year of incredible professional accomplishment, being in school felt like a waste of time.College is meant for a lot people. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher, higher learning is the obvious route. On the other hand, working on the small scale has provided me with more knowledge and understanding of my craft than I could have gotten in a classroom. School never taught me how to get up enough courage to interview a homeless person, but I was able to meet that challenge as a freelance writer. And nobody taught me to look up casting directors and how to audition. I figured that out because I really wanted to act. Self education is the best reward you could give yourself.My anti-college attitude has gone from a boil to a simmer in the last two years. It is possible for me to freelance and take a couple classes on the side, and I plan on going back to college this fall. Lately, I've been having this fantasy of retiring to some rural town, and becoming a teacher. It would be nice to teach high school, and inspire others to fulfill their dreams. Since you need a degree and teaching credentials, a couple of classes a semester will get me closer to my dream. Hopefully, I won't bore myself out this time.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.