by Alex Koren, Thiel Fellow
I built a piece of software my first 2 years of college.
I got flown to SF and even showcased my work on stage. The response was overwhelmingly positive, especially to a chorus of “You’re only 19?!” I wanted to do more.
I asked to complete my masters instead of my undergrad
But was denied. It became apparent that degrees were no longer certifications of knowledge. They are really receipts with benefits (the value of which is arguable).
It was time to leave.
I saw my life diverge from academia to a very expensive room in Baltimore where I was working on my own projects. I applied for the Thiel Fellowship, knowing, Fellowship or not, I had to get out.
I had to start learning.
There is so much more to life and success than an A in Intro to Computing and Poetry 101. I had to start actually making use of my opportunity and begin cultivating real world skills.
For the first time in my 19 years, there was no agenda.
You need to learn to set real priorities and rules for yourself to live by. I started my first week working 6am to midnight. It wasn't sustainable. I learned to give myself leeway.
I had to be aware of burning out as well.
I once spent 2 weeks straight writing software for about 18-20 hours a day, not keeping an eye on nutrition, exercise, or sleep. I ended up sick for a month. They were just 2 weeks of stupidity.
I wouldn’t say that dropping out was inherently hard.
Once you’ve dropped out, that’s when life begins. We all know that if you want big things, they don’t come easy. That’s when my journey got difficult, but I reveled in it.
Should you drop out? It comes down to autodidactism & drive
If school is hindering your learning speed and from reaching goals that you've set for yourself outside of academia, then drop out. If you've got the passion, supporting yourself will follow.
If the risk is not appealing to you, stay in college
The only thing I ask is that you don’t let it make you complacent. In school there are defined goals and if you reach them, you succeed. Push yourself to reach your own definition of success.
What is higher than an A+ in school? Nothing.
Those limits don’t exist outside of academia, so make sure to set less tangible, but more meaningful goals than just grades. Schools create a set of standards and conformity. Break them.
If you dropped out: Chin up. Wear it as a badge of honor
But don’t let it define you. It’s a part of your story, not who you are. The ability to say that your passion for your work took you out of the norm is an amazing thing. Use it.
If I’d stayed in school, I’d be unhappy with my progress.
Those who know me, know that I’m incredibly hard on myself. If I wasn’t reaching the level of potential I thought was appropriate, I’d be kicking myself day in and day out.
Every day in school I asked, "Why am I here?"
So I actually answered that question. I wasn’t there for any other reason than because that’s what was expected of me. So I left and couldn’t be happier with my decision.