One thing I’ve really struggled with over the past year or so is the fact that I’m twenty years old and have no idea what I’m doing with my life. I used to think I had it all figured out, you know? I was going to graduate high school, get student loans and go to college for culinary arts, graduate before the age of twenty-four, then open my own coffee shop/ bakery. So far I have completed… none of that.
Well, kind of.
I got my GED about a month into my junior year of high school, not because I was giving up on school or because I was stupid, but because I was struggling a lot with depression and anxiety, and it was destroying my academic performance. Everything was going down hill and there was absolutely no way I was going to graduate on time unless I started putting my back into it right this minute. The therapist I was seeing at the time convinced me that getting my GED would be the best plan of action for me, and that most colleges and employers weren’t so uptight about people having “just a GED” and not a high school diploma. It sounded like a great idea, and honestly, for me at the time, it was the best thing I could have done. I know for a fact that I would have continued to struggle in school and probably would have ended up getting my GED somewhere down the road anyway.
After I got my GED I gave myself a year to just kind of fuck around, I didn’t do much at all in that year, but the next year I started University. I was so proud of myself. Seventeen and heading off to University. I could be done with all of my schooling by the time I’m 21. But then reality set it and I realized that school was school, and I was treating University the same way I treated high school. I almost completed a year, but near the end of my second semester I got a job, stopped going to class, and went to England. Which I don’t regret one bit, I loved that trip so much, and being out of the country made me realize how much I dislike the whole American way of thinking and living. You can’t help but have a load of self-discovery hit you in the chest when you live on your own in a different country for a month.
When I returned state-side, I got a job and went to work paying off the 5,500 dollars I now owed in student loans. This didn’t bother me — I felt like it was just they way life goes. You borrow a shit-load of money to (in my case not) go to school, then you pay it back over the rest of your life. I didn’t really think about going back to school, I really wanted to pay back the loans I already had out before I returned, instead of just piling on the debt.
I lived like that happily until I went to Ireland this last autumn. While I was in Ireland and Scotland I met a crew of amazing people, all my age or a few years older. But the more I talked to them the more worthless and depressed about my life I started to feel. We’d be sitting around talking and eventually the question would come up: “So what do you do at home?”
The majority of the answers ranged from “I’ve got a prestigious job” to “I’m working on an impressive degree that will get me a prestigious career” and sometimes bled into “I have both an impressive degree and a prestigious career”.
My answer made me want to cry.
“I’m not going to school, I quit my job just before coming on holiday, and when I get back I’m packing up all my shit and moving to Washington state.”
I felt like it translated to “I’m twenty years old and doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with my life.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I love that I’ve grown up without the restraints of ‘I can’t’ that so many people seem to have. I would happily live through my twenties and into my thirties working, saving, and traveling. I don’t care if I live in a small apartment, I don’t care if I’m renting for the rest of my life. I don’t care if I don’t have a lot of stuff; I’d rather not have a lot. Things drag me down. Things make it hard to move around. I love traveling, I love meeting people. I love being able to tell people that I’m twenty and I’ve sent myself to England, Scotland, Wales (twice) and Ireland. I am proud of the fact that I know without a doubt that I can go wherever I want in the world. I love having the freedom of mind to be able to leave everything on a whim and move 900 miles to somewhere that doesn’t guarantee anything.
Name: Mellory Noelle
Residence: Planet Earth.
Addresses are for people with no imagination; the world is my home, nothing can stop me, nothing can sink me, nothing can bring me down from loving who I am, where I’ve come from, and where I’m headed.
And yet talking to all of these people, people in their twenties like me, that seemed to have all of their shit figured out… It planted this horrible seed of “What the hell am I doing?” into my heart.
Most days the fact that I don’t have a high school diploma doesn’t bother me one bit. In fact, I’m kind of proud of the fact that at sixteen I not only passed, but did incredibly well on (I scored above the 80th percentile in all areas, my lowest score being a 680. You need a 480 to pass in any section), a test that essentially said I’d learned everything I was expected to learn in high school, and I missed over half of my sophomore year. I kind of felt like it was a kind of a big ‘fuck you’ to societal norms and our flawed school system. Usually it doesn’t bother me that I dropped out of University after not even a full year. After all, I am only twenty. These are my party years, I’m young and have time and energy, shouldn’t I be using that to do what I want and figure out who I am?
I tried to fight this seed of uneasiness, but after moving up here it really hit me.
“What the hell am I doing?”
Who would want to hire me?
Who would want to date me?
I felt like I’d wasted my schooling; I wished I could go back and try that again — graduate high school early, get my associates degree.
Name: Mellory Noelle, high school drop out, college drop out.
From the time we start school we’re told that we need to go to college. That’s just what you do. You grow up, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, and grow old. We’re groomed to believe that we should be spending our young, vibrant years in classrooms, accruing debt, and in offices, building our retirement, and then, once we’ve schooled, borrowed, and worked our way through the years, if we’re lucky in our old age, we can travel and have fun.
I’ve always thought of myself as different, as someone who could think for myself instead of accepting what I was told was ‘the way’. But after being in Washington, alone and friendless, I began to wonder.
Would my life be better if I had a college degree? Would I be happier if I’d stuck to “the plan”? If I’d just agreed to what I was told my life should be?
It took me a bit, but now I can happily say this: Bull. Shit.
Sure, I’ll never make the most money, I may never be able to tell people about my impressive degree and prestigious career.
But I won’t be caged by hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
I won’t be strapped into a job that I hate, working to live and living to work. I’ll never wish I’d taken the time to live while I had the chance. I’ll be creating laugh lines instead of worry-wrinkles, I’ll be embracing my vibrant youth while I’m young and mobile. I will be able to say when I’m old that I grabbed life by the balls, and I hung on for all it was worth it, and goddamn, it was a good ride. I’ll have stories to tell my children and my grandchildren about all of the places I went, all of the people I met, and all of the things I did. I’ll have a collection of photographs and souvenirs documenting me living the life I love and loving the life I’ve lived.
And I will never, ever, forget how much I love this life I’ve made.
Name: Mellory Noelle
Residence: Planet Earth
The world is my home, nothing can stop me, nothing can sink me, nothing can bring me down from loving who I am, where I’ve come from, and where I’m headed.