I didn’t graduate college.
I’m not sure why, in this age, that’s still such an astonishing thing to people, but it never fails to surprise them when I say so.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in my career awhile, and especially on paper, my experience is solid. Most people assume that to have done something for a long time, you must have had early and formal education on that thing. The funny part is that even if I’d completed my degree, it would have been in music, not marketing.
The reasons why I didn’t finish are personal and complex and, frankly, not relevant. Lots of people can’t finish their college education for a host of reasons. Finances, family issues, personal issues, health reasons, or simply because they didn’t mesh well with more traditional academic collegiate study.
And I know, lots of people cite the big tech bros who “started companies in their garages” without degrees as some sort of reassurance. But there are so many more colors in this crayon box than just that privileged one, and it’s hard when you walk a different, messier path but don’t look like the ones who made that path palatable to people.
It’s a weird upside down world right now, and a lot of people are at inflection points in their careers. Some by choice. Many not. Layoffs and furloughs and businesses folding and opportunities put on hold. Not a day goes by without a conversation or six in my messages or Slack community about people looking for help navigating these waters.
I hear a lot of folks struggling with imposter syndrome right now. They’re doubting their abilities because unfortunate circumstances feel like ringing indictments of their work. I’ve been there. It’s really not fun, and it can be paralyzing.
It’s a grey Friday as I’m writing this and I don’t have a “top ways to conquer” sort of post in me today because…well…this stuff is a little more raw than that. So instead, I just have this to say.
I’m a college dropout. I worked in nonprofit orgs, learning my way through fundraising and marketing in the trenches, making lots of mistakes, and by the grace of a lot of leaders who took chances on me. I made the leap to corporate, again because of someone who saw talent in me regardless of the paper I didn’t have, and learned marketing as a practitioner, not an academic. I started businesses that failed, exited with startups that were wildly successful, and everything in between.
I’ve had brilliant successes. I’ve had disastrous and debilitating failures. I think they’re all valuable. At times, the doubt has been crippling and the next steps utterly daunting.
There’s a lot of “I” in this post today, but that’s mostly because I want you to know – straight from the horse’s mouth – that the detours aren’t a deviation from the path. They are the path.
Maybe you’re reading this after another exhausting week of uncertainty. Maybe you’re reading this with relative security but everything around us is making you contemplative about where you go from here. Maybe you don’t think you have what it takes, or you don’t look like the picture on the box, or you’re dusting yourself off after a setback and wondering just how you put the pieces back together.
It’s actually okay not to know. Success is anything but linear. In fact, it’s never linear. You just start gathering up the broken bits and shuffling forward, one foot in front of the other. It’s okay if you tremble a bit. Or cry. Or rage. It’s all valid.
But the beautiful thing about taking the winding path is that sometimes it takes you somewhere unexpected.
Stay on it.