Recently I’ve been a guest to my girlfriend’s podcast (Russian only, sorry). We talked for 55 minutes about my story of switching 7 schools in 2 different countries and eventually me dropping out. As I reflected, I thought it would be important to share what I’ve actually learned dropping out.
Here it is. But first, I’ll give you a little context on why I am writing about this.
All my childhood I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Ever since I devoured my first English non-fiction (I was 10) about Steve Jobs — I knew that building businesses was my ‘thing’. So in 2016 I applied to some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. (Stanford, Berkeley, Wharton, Babson) and had to pick one.
I got accepted into two and chose Babson because of its ratings and reviews. Three months later I bought a ticket from Moscow to Boston.
My dad paid for everything. He was very proud of me.
Until he wasn’t.
Seven months in, I dropped out. When dad learned about my decision, he wrote me an email saying that ‘I am on my own now’ and that it’s time to, you know, grow the fuck up. So I did whatever any other 18-year old does. I pretended I’ve got it all figured out.
I went back to my home city and did…nothing. For more than a year.
Well, technically, I was doing something. I was working at my dad’s business, learning social media management, and actually getting tangible results. But I had no plan. No goals. Nothing. I was just driving through the motions, stuck in a ‘9–5 life’ and drinking way too much vodka than you should at 18 years old.
Let’s be even more graphic.
Nine months after I dropped out of college, I found myself deeply overweight, anxious, in credit card debt of more than $10k and with a destructive relationship that ended with me almost having a kid before I was eligible to drink in the US.
Thankfully, everything turned out to be just fine (I wouldn’t be writing this sitting in a Sicilian cafe if it weren’t). That same year I met the girl of my life (thank you, Starbucks!) and created a business that allows me to slowly repay my debt. I am also healthy now, learning everyday and teaching others through my content and writing.
I pulled through. A lot of it is thanks to my genes — anyone who knows me will tell you: I am a very disciplined, organized guy. A classical A-type.
And I am telling you this not to scare you from dropping out. I mean, I know, college is obsolete, and it puts people into debt you can’t even declare bankruptcy against. And it’s just a huge waste of time. I get it.
If you are still in college and thinking about quitting, I want to warn you from not having a clear alternative of what you are going to do instead.
That’s what’s important. You need a plan.
We all read stories of young 20-something entrepreneurs who built their companies by dropping out. I actually thought I would be one of those entrepreneurs (as many other young ego-driven folks).
But let’s be realistic. What’s the probability of you becoming the next Steve Jobs?
Even more: what’s the probability of you actually building a business that works (and makes money) at 20?
I’ve tried building something ever since I was 16. And right now, at 21, after I’ve tried 15 or 20 different business ideas, I am finally onto something commercially viable. My business is not a hot-tech startup I’ve always dreamed of (yet!), but it’s making enough money to finance my current lifestyle. And, to be honest, I believe there is more luck to it than skill or experience, both of which you can’t possibly have so early in life.
Dropping out with no plan is like jumping in the seawater without knowing how to swim. There are chances that you’ll survive, but… they are not really in your favor.
And why the fuck would you do that, anyway?
Now, the real question is what should your plan be? How do you create your own system of self-education that can replace, or can even be better than college?
From my experience of being a dropout for 2.5 years, it was this:
- Apprenticeships and mentorship
- Consuming and creating high-quality content
- Doing things and building real-life skills
Let’s break it down.
Apprenticeships and mentorship
I love this quote from GaryVee: “Be as close to the sun as you can possibly be”. If you’ve watched some of his content (which you probably did, because who doesn’t know Gary nowadays), he has this idea of working for people you admire for free. It’s a simple, yet genius idea.
Step one: Pick what you like.
Step two: Find someone in your town who’s best at it.
Step three; Go work for them for free.
You’ll get experience, connections, meaningful relationships with the right people and, what’s most important — you’ll learn. That’s more valuable than any money you can make at 18–20.
Ryan Holiday did this for Robert Greene. And look where it took him. In fact, Ryan actually made this his alternative for college. As soon as he secured his apprenticeship for Greene, he dropped out. But not before.
I tried doing this a couple of times, but failed and found my own way. In early 2018 I created a YouTube show (it’s also in Russian, sorry again!). I came up with 10 questions about life, business, and education, picked 10 famous people whom I could call my ‘role models’ and interviewed them.
I can’t tell you how much I learned from these people. And I’ve actually created high-quality content for guys just like me — who are looking for their way into the world.
Learn from people who know more than you do. You’ll save yourself time and build meaningful relationships. It’s the most valuable investment you can make early on.
Consuming and creating high-quality content
This is something which I am personally focusing a lot on. It’s also pretty self-explanatory.
You have to read, think and write. That’s it.
Consuming high-quality content is a huge part of this. Personally, I read good blogs. My favorite ones are:
- Farnam Street by Shane Parrish
- Mr. Money Mustache (great blog on money!)
- Ryan Holiday
- Naval Ravikant
- Tim Ferriss (and all of his books)
Also, read books. Reading long-form content is important. It’s the opportunity to be with one idea for a long period of time. By coming back to it often (as you do when you read a book), you’re able to own it and see it from different perspectives.
However, there are books where the main idea can be understood in the first chapter. Don’t read those books. They are shit.
Find 10–50 high-quality, fundamental books filled with wisdom which you can re-read. Some personal examples of these:
At the same time, think deeply. So many people think that they know how to think. But going with the first thought you have in your head is not thinking — it’s reacting. Thinking is about going deep. I suggest reading a great book on the subject by Cal Newport — ‘Deep Work’. It seems that focusing and actually thinking becomes a luxury skill in today’s distracted world. Make yourself a favor: build that skill.
The last part of this block is creating content. This really depends on your character, so know yourself. You can do a podcast, start a YouTube show, or write a blog. Pick one that suits you. You don’t even need money to do this. Personally, I’ve tried it all and realized that I love writing and talking (podcasts) more than anything else. Hence, this blog. And soon, (I hope) I’ll create a podcast.
No matter what you chose — creating content (especially writing) will allow you to structure your thoughts better and actually think better. I recently wrote a post on Medium about it, here. The most important thing about creating content is to consistent and create it on a regular basis.
Doing things and building real-life skills
If you’ve decided to drop out, you’ve got to learn how to sustain yourself. This means making your own cash.
I recently read a quote by Kevin Kelly in Tribe of Mentors.
It went like this:
Don’t try to find your passion. Instead master some skill, interest or knowledge that others find valuable. It almost doesn’t matter what it is at the start. You don’t have to love it, you just have to be the best at it. Once you master it, you’ll be rewarded with new opportunities that will allow you to move away from tasks you dislike and toward those that you enjoy. If you continue to optimize your mastery, you’ll eventually arrive at your passion.
And because the world is changing so fast, building skills and learning quickly is essential to surviving.
Leading others is a skill. Speaking in public is a skill. Creating Facebook Ads is a skill. So is writing. And taking photos.
“It almost doesn’t matter what it is at the start” — and by becoming good at it, you’ll fall in love with it, make it your ‘passion’ and can actually make money.
“If you continue to optimize your mastery, you’ll eventually arrive at your passion”.
When I dropped out, I started working at a 9–5 job. It sucked, but it allowed me to learn the basics of Social Media Marketing (SMM) and content marketing. Then I wrote an article for a niche media and was (luckily) invited to speak about Instagram marketing at a conference. That’s when I realized that the skill that I’ve built could be useful to more than one company and decided to quit to start my own agency.
That agency failed (due to lack of leadership skills on my part), but I’ve created another one. And then another one. And today, I am leading a video production company in Russia and working with brands like Starbucks Russia.
Pick something. Become good at it. Build a portfolio by doing some work for free. Then set up an UpWork account and start charging money.
Just remember that it all takes time. Be patient. I know it’s hard, and I know that that dude or gal on Instagram has got it all figured out and you think that you don’t. Still, be patient. It will take one, two, maybe three years before you’ll be able to sit back and relax.
Play the long game.
That’s kind of it, in a nutshell. How was it? Personally, I am using a mix of all of three strategies: I am constantly looking for mentors, creating and consuming good content (I hope!), and building an organization. It’s way too early for me to say that I’ve achieved something. But I am learning on the go and I wanted to share my current thoughts with you. Just remember to think for yourself and look before you jump.
Hope this clarifies things for you and helps, if you (or your friend) are dropping out.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below. Good luck!