Lessons on a Balanced College Life Learned by a Dropout

10/20/2010 12:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In times of great decision we look to those who possess the insight and the wisdom we desire. My time of great decision was the summer of 2009, and I was preparing for UC Santa Cruz in the fall, but was at a loss for how to occupy my time there. As I had become sober a year and a half prior to that time, I felt a certain amount of discomfort at the thought of constantly surrounding myself with drunken girls and those obnoxious fraternities with their faux-hawks and their Keystone Light. However, I did not consider the possibility of turning to my academics as a positive occupant of time. Instead, I decided to turn to one of the greatest sources of knowledge in this day and age: Jersey Shore. I turned to VH1 desperately, and my prayers were answered by Vinny. "GTL. Gym. Tanning. Laundry. That's how you make the guidos." Almost correct, Vinny. That's how you make the college version of me.

It began as a challenge, a sort of proving ground to my parents in my mind. Years prior, in my drug addiction, they had told me that my best shot at a college education was at a community college, and certainly not UC Santa Cruz, long since my university of choice. So when after years of turmoil, several high schools, and a handful of treatment centers, I finally received the acceptance letter, I was thoroughly ready to prove myself. But such intentions were lost upon my move-in date, when I promptly realized that I was more intrigued by the social aspects of college than the educational.

Surely, this is not a strange occurrence. When I surveyed friends who ranged from high school seniors, to college dropouts, to graduates - the majority were interested more in the higher paying careers and the social scene of college than the academic and intellectual opportunity of classes. However, the key difference between me and them was that I took my lack of interest in education as an excuse not to go to class and pursue more practical ways to spend my time, rather than seek a balance between work and play.

I set out upon my quest to find out what social college was all about, and as I found, it was not much different than the stereotypical lifestyle often mocked by satirical mediums such as Family Guy and The Onion. Although I didn't use the word "stoked" on an annoyingly consistent basis, play ultimate Frisbee in the quad, or neglect doing Laundry for weeks at a time, I did find myself consistently at the Gym or on the basketball court, or perhaps on a knoll Tanning, enjoying the scenery provided by the warm Californian autumn weather. I reasoned with myself that the only way to feel good was to look good, so I dedicated myself to the latter of that maxim.

Though I did not consider myself the typical Santa Cruz hippie who wore either a Rastafarian color scheme or homemade hemp sandals, I certainly enjoyed the relaxed life of one. I adjusted my body to sleep from 4 AM to 3 PM each day, so that I could maintain the hectic partying schedule that I so desired to partake in. And what better place than college, a venue in which they creatively use alliteration to turn each weekday into a reason to party? Be it Twisted Tuesday, Wasted Wednesday, or Thirsty Thursday, I could find a seemingly logical reason to blow off any educational obligations I had the next morning.

Strangely, even without drinking I had let the social discomfort go, and found my new addictions. My body ran solidly through the night on caffeine and nicotine, and normally by morning I felt basically as hung over as the rest of my peers. I was essentially leading a "dry" lifestyle, or rather a recovering addict/alcoholic who is still conducting the same lifestyle, only without the actual substances of alcohol or drugs. I had reached a standstill in my life, and the truly magical part about all of it was that I could study for the week before finals, feel like I was putting in a solid effort, and have no guilt whatsoever about my lack of productivity. So the beginning of the next quarter would come, and I could go forth guilt-free into another 10 weeks of leisure.

Through my extensive knowledge of Google, I found that it was Joni Mitchell that once said, "You don't know you've got till it's gone," and now that I had to leave college due to poor academic performance, I couldn't agree more. What is described above is an appealing lifestyle, and one practiced by many, but with balance. And it was because my lack of balance that my grades demanded that I take a leave of absence. I now find myself in a position that many Americans find themselves in today, working a low-paying job, trying to pay all the bills. That, combined with the social desires of a 19-year old male, is not an easy position to be in. I come home at the end of each night, after a long night out and an even longer day working, and reminisce on the easy-going times of college, telling myself I'll find my way back. Depressing as it may seem, perhaps I need to experience the shock of a low-level job and a shitty apartment to learn what a privilege college really is.

GTL, Vinny, that's how you make the college dropout version of me. It's how you make an unsustainable lifestyle and it's how you learn that despite the title of "reality television," television is not reality. My parents tell me this is time to learn work ethic, friends tell me it is time to search my soul for my passion in life, I tell myself this is time to learn how much the real world blows. Regardless, this "time off" from UC Santa Cruz, as I choose to phrase it to relatives, is valuable because I now have time to utilize my perfect hindsight to tweak my lifestyle and find a balance of the social and the educational when I (hopefully) return to Santa Cruz next year.