Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I dropped out of university.

It happened without my noticing. I just took a term out to earn some money and get some experience in that which we laughingly call "the real world," which turned into a year, which turned into a decade and more. I just lost interest in my studies, or rather the experience of earning money and the chance to work with computers was much more interesting than hanging around in college. Another promising young-ish scholar lost to Mammon.

Does it matter? Yes and no. It has no bearing at all on what I do, it's irrelevant to my computer work; but not having a degree definitely restricts what I could do. I cannot start an architectural practice, nor can I become a full partner in someone else's office, because I cannot get professional insurance without professional qualifications.

It certainly matters in so far as it affects my feelings about myself, which are complex and contradictory (and not just in this context, but that's another story). At the time I didn't give a damn, because I thought that I could always go back and finish the course; but a quarter-century later it is clear that I will not go back. There is a large amount of wounded pride involved, that I didn't have what it takes. I am ashamed of having quit after putting my parents to such an expense of money and hope. One of the reasons why not walking away from G is so important, is that I did walk away from college.

On the other hand, I would say in all modesty that my level of educatedness is the equal of any of my fellow students. If that wounded pride is what now drives me to learn languages and to try to understand Nietsche and Lao Tse, then I'd say that having it has been a good thing. Even at the time I was surprised and saddened by the Engstirnigkeit of my fellows, most of whom knew nothing but architecture and didn't perceive any lack in themselves for it. I own more books than all other architects of my acquaintance added together, and the curiosity and Weltoffenheit that lead me to want to read them is something that I'm very proud of.

Do I regret dropping out? Yes, definitely. The true purpose of an undergraduate degree is to demonstrate what the Germans call Sitzfleisch: the ability to sit still for a very long time, the implication being that you don't give in to boredom or discouragement but will continue until the job is done. This is something that employers like to see; but more importantly it is something that is very much worth seeing in yourself.

There, now you know. Let's see whether I have the courage to leave this up.

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Blogger Jean said...

The only cause for regret I can see here is if, as you say, it really stops you walking away ever again from anything else. That's a trap. Not good if what you do with the present is based on your feelings about what you did in the past. At the very least, you need to be super-conscious and probing when this might be your motivation.

I nearly got chucked out of my degree course because I took a year off to do something specific, and then did something else. They did let me go back and finish in the end. A complete waste of time really, except that it does mean I don't suffer from the feelings you describe, and which I recognise in other friends. Why are most of us so desperate for any excuse to feel inadequate.

December 12, 2006 at 1:25:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Savtadotty said...

I have an absolutely different take on this, perhaps because so many women I know dropped out or never started their degrees. Go back and do it now! Where there's a will, there's a way, and it's an obstacle you could overcome directly. Note: it will be hard, but it might be easier than the alternative.

And I think you put up this post just so I could say this! Thank you.

December 12, 2006 at 1:50:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous antonia said...

hi udge,
I can understand that so well, the university really is shit, and if I wouldnt be so close to finishing it and knew these somewhat formal consequences that you mentioned that it restricts what one could do I would quit today. There is more capitalism and hierarchy in the university than anywhere else and what's worse, I work for the bunch because I need the stupid money. What I want to say actually to confirm you that such a degree only formally does matter when you want to start an archtecture business or so, but like you say you have more books like most of the architects you know, I have also more than some of my teachers, in these respects a degree absolutely says nothign - or very little, especially in these days and this is not only to measure in the possession of books. The formal things like not starting the architecture office for instance can be more a problem and of course that psychological problem, that soiety thinks it is good when you finish your stuff and also that one thinks one has missed an opportunity or so, or one feels inconsequent....it is very sad that such things can have these consequences for, really, a degree doesnt mean so much...

December 12, 2006 at 4:12:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous May said...

Twenty years ago you chose what seemed right at the time. Later you realized that that piece of paper (because that's what we're talking about - not more knowledge, not a better person) could have served to start your own business. Now you have a choice: go back to school or continue on the current path.
If I were you, I would chose the second option: to invest time and money just to get an undergraduate certificate (the knowledge, you provided it yourself) seems to me a waste. Shouldn't you be happy with your present work, there are more efficient ways to improve it.

As regards universities, I think that a three-word generalized judgement on the category does not even deserve a reply.

December 12, 2006 at 8:36:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger brooksba said...

You are brave to put this up and I understand the feelings you're describing. I dropped out of college the first time, taking a semester off here, lowering class load there, and pretty soon I wasn't in the school anymore. The memory of that has forced me to see other things through and I'm now in the process of going back - getting through it this time. You can too if you want. I admire your dedication to your job and friends and you can do anything you wannt - you are smart enough for it! (Smarter than most going through college.)

December 12, 2006 at 8:58:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Thank you all for the various encouragements.

Why are most of us so desperate for any excuse to feel inadequate.

It's a good question. Fear of happiness, perhaps?

December 13, 2006 at 10:26:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Rigmor said...

am I the only one who MISS university? I mean, I actually enjoyed it (well, I enjoyed my MSc, my BA not so much). I liked the discussions, the endless coffeeshop visits with chatter an the application of theory to hypothetical situations...

December 13, 2006 at 10:01:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Rigmor: oh, yeah, I do miss that. Definitely. FWIW the blogging community has something of that character (and function) for me; other than the difficulty of sharing cookies, of course.

It was the utter artificiality of the project work that lost me. e.g. the day I heard a fellow student say that he was working on a settlement for 2500 left-handed chess-playing violin makers, and nobody laughed.

I found that working on real buildings with real budgets was thrilling and endlessly fascinating. To be given a site too small and too little money, and still produce something that you'd not be ashamed to put your name to, now that is a challenge!

December 13, 2006 at 10:33:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous May said...

While I enjoyed the first part of my university studies, the Ph.D years were really hard and I felt a lot of pressure on me. I thought of giving up many times but I am glad that I didn't: that certificate opened to me many doors and ensured (so far) an interesting, well-paid, responsibility-free, relaxing type of work.

December 14, 2006 at 12:28:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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