It is the ten year anniversary of my first time living somewhere other than Oklahoma. Holy shit. I was 15. My sister, Krystal, was 27. She was living and working at the Evergreen Lodge in California, near Yosemite National Park. My sensational big sister worked it out with her boss and our parents so that I could come stay with her and work at the lodge bussing tables for about five weeks of my summer vacation. Whoa.
I was still in the prime of my jaded teenage years. Shy. Awkward. Confused about the meaning of life. Etc. Classic. Not much for showing my emotions in general, I internally contained my excitement as the departure date drew closer and I felt something drive me that was new and, in a way, hopeful.
I worked my ass off, trying to make up for my lack of experience every chance I got as I was the youngest employee there by at least five years. Everyone wanted to lend some sort of advice or words of inspiration to Krystal’s kid sister who was at least adventurous enough to come live in a trailer in the woods of California all the way from the Oklahoma plains.
And I played the role of a wide eyed sponge stoked to be molded into something similar to what these people were.
I was inspired repeatedly.
By the strong, confident woman who waited tables and taught salsa classes. She was always full of energy and could make me feel comfortable while also challenging my shy personality with her own. The number of independent woman I encountered, including my own sister, was sort of detrimental for my development.
There was the crew of young Russians who barely spoke any English but had ventured to the U.S. for something new and exciting. They were also the ones who shared with me my first pot brownie…however between the broken English and my inexperience with edibles, the translation was lost and I had no idea what I was in for. So for a minute, I felt like I understand what they were dealing with every day.
The people who were managing professionalism with their adventurous spirit was something I found particularly desirable. I love the life of living week to week and doing what it takes to get to the next festival or adventure. But to see someone living a youthful life in their forties and fifties while still keeping their ducks in a row helped in confirming my disbelief that the 9 to 5 job with a retirement fund wasn’t the only way to carry out adulthood responsibly.
My sister has served as a prime example for this lifestyle balance. Look at her resume and try to not be impressed while listening to her adventure and travel stories.
One day, a bunch of us went out bouldering. Everyone was talking to me about what I wanted to do when I was done with school. I said college. And one guy looked me in the eye and said, “Ahh, don’t go to college!” My sister hit him and probably scolded him more later but I was smart enough to take his words with a grain of salt as he explained himself. To this day, I still appreciate him saying that and standing by it.
In an unfiltered way, lacking any finesse at all, he was just trying to tell me to pave my own path. Don’t feel obligated to go to college. Or to do anything that anyone tells you for that matter.
But to clarify, I also appreciate my entire family, too, for their encouragement for me to go to college. And I did. I went. I did it. Four years. College degree is, uh…somewhere at my parents house I think. I’m still pissed about the hidden ‘Walking on the grass fees’ in the itemized lists of what our tuition paid for during those four years. But still, I did it.
I got lucky though. I had a good amount of scholarship, government money, and a family to help me pay rent and do whatever else it took to make working and going to school doable during those four years. So I was able to walk across that stage and hop on a plane a week later to live on the Big Island with my big sister once again, debt free and expensive piece of paper in hand (metaphorically, as I mentioned I don’t have a clue where it actually is.)
College worked for me. We’ll see if I ever use the degree. But I was able to meet some of my forever friends at the University of Oklahoma, study abroad in Chile for 6 months, be on the novice rowing team, fall in love a couple times, and even study under Sandra Steingraber for my capstone class. No complaints here.
But I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone.
Education does not solely come in the form of an institution.
An expensive piece of paper is not the only route to success.
Every individual’s journey is situational.
Every single one.
So do college if it suits you.
But most importantly, just do you.
You never know where that alone could take you.