Where I come from, dropping out of college is the same thing as volunteering for homelessness.

Like many of you, I had it drilled into my skull from a very early age that a university degree was the only hope a person had of succeeding in the world. Without it, the best you could look forward to was ditch-digging, dissolution, and despair. I believed this when I applied to a half-dozen colleges. I believed it when I got into every college I applied to. I believed it all summer before I went off to college. And you can bet your sweet life that I believed it when I dropped out of college for the first time. I may have even believed it when I dropped out of college for the second time.

Truth to tell, some small part of me may still believe it. But the rest of me understands that it's a hoary myth, a lie we tell young people because we need to believe there is a formula for succeeding in life. There isn't--because success is not a high-paying job, nor a house, nor a family, nor a car, nor a diploma, nor fame, nor wealth. Success is the rare gift of living the way you want to live. That doesn't mean living without sacrifice or compromise; it means living without so much sacrifice and compromise that you become incapable of joy. You know, like your parents.

College is not for everyone, as you will soon learn. Many of you are probably already considering quitting. Usually that's because you're not used to being challenged. Sometimes, though, it's because the specific challenges of academic life feel less worthy of your time and energy than other things.

I know you didn't ask, but my advice is: Go ahead and quit. If you miss it, you'll go back. If you don't miss it, you'll be sparing yourself anywhere from one month to 10 years of miserable self-loathing, poisonous cynicism, and misguided finger-pointing. Your parents will be angry--or the classic "not so much angry as disappointed." Those of you still being supported by mom and dad may even get cut off.

But listen. Being cut off from parental support is the best thing that can ever happen to you. The thought of it is terrifying enough to keep you in line for the moment, but as these next few months become these next few years, you may begin to feel yourself growing resentful of their attempts to control you. Just remember one thing: You will sound ridiculous complaining about that until you learn how to pay your own way. Money is the number one tool employed by parents in the service of not letting you go (guilt is a neck-and-neck second). Once it stops being a factor, their power to control you becomes only as strong as your desire to be controlled.

My life prior to dropping out of school was sheltered enough that I was actually surprised to discover that there were people my age (18)--and older, and younger--supporting themselves by working at shitty minimum-wage jobs and living close to the bone. A bigger surprise was that there were many more of them than there were people like me. An even bigger surprise: They were happy. They were rightfully proud of their independence and self-determination. Seattle was then and is now a place where it's possible to be young and poor with a modicum of dignity and a big helping of community. Being poor sucks, but it's often better than living for your parents. It's also an experience everyone should have, at least for a while.

College is not for everyone. Neither is dropping out. Many people thrive in academic situations and have happy, healthy, loving relationships with their folks. And then you have the rest of us, for whom self-reliance and real-world durability are more valuable than any Stendhal seminar will ever be. You can always read Stendhal. Dropping out can be the key to earning confidence, gaining respect from your parents, and ultimately, building a life of your own. That doesn't mean you won't regret it. It just means you don't have to.

10 Things You Will Learn When You Drop Out of College:

1) How to pay rent and bills.

2) What happens when you don't do one or both of those things.

3) How much food costs.

4) What a financial burden on your parents you actually were.

5) How easy it is to take care of yourself.

6) How easy it is to let things slide so much that you can't take care of yourself.

7) How satisfying it is to rescue yourself from situation #6.

8) Never to put the phone or utility bills of a group house in your name.

9) There's virtually nothing you can learn in college that you can't learn on your own.

10) The inverse of #9 is simply not true.