For Entrepreneurs, Personal

How dropping out of my dream college changed my life for the better

 

It’s 2006. I’m three weeks into my freshman year of college at my dream school, a Midwest ivy league sorta place: Leafy & charming, complete with cows and cute chapels. 

I should’ve been on cloud nine, but instead found myself on the verge of tears daily. Maybe it’s the adjustment period? New school, new town, new friends: It’s gotta be a transitional funk…right?

But as leaves kept falling, so did my spirit.

Sure, I made friends. Did my homework. Went to football games. Got pizza with my dorm mates. Joined swing dance club. I even made the cut for one of the prestigious orchestra groups. All signs pointed to “Bailey is thriving!” but inside, I was drowning. 

After a long weekend home for Thanksgiving, I returned to campus, bursting with clarity. I realized, for the first time, that I was not in the right place. It wasn’t about the academics or the people or the gorgeous opportunities, I simply wasn’t meant to be there, and I knew it. 

I felt this in every fiber of my being, but chose to ignore it before then.

Fast forward a few days… 

I applied for a transfer to a school in Duluth. Called my parents to share my feelings + my plan (and because they’re the best, they supported me with very few questions). Met the Dean for an exit interview, during which I shared, “I’m depressed here. And it’s situational. And every instinct within me knows this is the right thing to do.” 

And when the Dean suggested I stick it out for a full year before deciding, it only reinforced what I already knew: “I need to leave, and I need to leave now. Peace out.”

As it turned out, my instincts

were spot-on.

Almost instantly, my situational depression lifted. I felt lighter, more hopeful, energized. 

A few pivotal things happened after transferring to a new school (that I’m 99% certain would not have happened had I stayed):

  • On a whim, I signed up for a darkroom class, and learned the basics of photography. Within a year, I shot my first paid gig. Two years later, I would shoot my first wedding, and before graduating, I would establish my photography business, now in its 12th year.
  • Originally an English major (who wasn’t sure what the heck I wanted to do), I decided to create my own degree, which was an option at my new school. After falling in love with photography, I landed on Photography Management, a self-designed program fusing photography with business courses. 
  • In my sophomore year, on the first day of creative writing class, I sat next to a gal wearing a Camp Nebagamon softball tee. Since I practically grew up on Lake Nebagamon & knew of the camp, I asked her about it. The past summer, she’d worked there as a nurse, and raved about what an incredible place it was. That night, I googled Camp, discovered they were hiring a camp photographer & darkroom instructor, interviewed a week later, and got the job two days after that. I worked at that camp for four summers, and not only made hundreds of lifelong friends, but also met my husband (a boy from England) on the very first day of Staff Orientation.

 

These events would not have unfolded had I stayed in a place that was totally out of alignment for me. 

Even today, it gives me goosebumps to think of how something that felt like a “failure” was actually one of my biggest wake-up calls.

Have you had a pivotal moment that changed everything? Or maybe you feel stuck somewhere out of obligation? Your instincts could be telling you “Hey! The universe needs you over here…come on over!”

Life’s too short & too precious to waste time chasing dreams that aren’t in alignment for you. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to pivot.

And my biggest advice?

Listen to that inner voice!

It knows what’s up.

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