Why I Coached My Son to Drop Out of University and Maybe You Should, Too

What matters more happiness or success?

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A late night text of desperation from my son sent my phone vibrating. He sent several texts but the one I remember most was one that read, “I HATE THIS, I want to die!” A phone call later it became clear that the “this” was college. Just 6 weeks earlier my son had set off to attend his freshman year at one of the top art universities in California. I had high hopes that going to college to study something he loved would be a great thing since he didn’t love the curriculum in high school.

He has always had a passion for art and was a creative kid his entire life but on this call the desperation in his voice told me there was something wrong with the dreams of being an artist. He called to say he was hating university. He was beginning to hate the art he had loved so dearly. “They make me do art their way, and I am afraid that I will learn to resent it and then have to get a job I hate to pay back loans for an education I didn’t want, I want to love art.”

What do you do when you tell your kids you believe in them, support their dreams and want them to be happy when what might make them happy is the opposite of what you had helped them prepare to do, go to college?

How do you support your child to make a decision like this and still feel like you are doing the right thing? Shouldn’t you worry about how they will make a living, get a substantial income? What will people say if your son drops out of college?

He wasn’t happy and I could have made him push through, get over it and move on. You can’t be happy all the time. Sometimes you have to work, right? I had made him push through high school and do well, but I told him once he graduated, the rest was his choice. But now that it was his choice, I hesitated, and wondered, is happiness more important than success?

Yes, happiness is important. In fact, it’s so important that the United Nations publishes an annual report each year about the status of the world’s happiest countries called the World Happiness Report.

The Happiness Report considers Six Values when evaluating their rankings—income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. I could make the argument that getting a job would be more important to his future happiness, but there is much more to life than work. Work should be about contributing to the world so you can be more generous with your time and live in a thriving community and help make the world a better place.

In the book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, written by Bronnie Ware, a nurse, the number 1 regret of the dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” and number 5 was “I wish I let myself be happier.” I imagine that there was a point in life where the people who said this thought, I shouldn’t do this or that, but instead did what was expected of them.

Sure you need to support yourself, sure you need to contribute and make your way, but shouldn’t you be happy, too? Shouldn’t you do something because you are good at it and you love it?

Ask yourself, if I could do it again would I change something to be happier. If we all want our kids to be happy, why not help our children make the choice perhaps we should have made years ago? 

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