The Truth About My Time At Miami University And Why This Is My Last Post (For Now)

Athena ScalziHello, everyone, and welcome to what will be (spoiler) my last post for a while.

There have been several times I have wanted to talk about my time at Miami University on here, but I have such complicated feelings towards the whole thing that I always shy away from it. I don’t just avoid talking about it on here, though, I avoid conversating about it in person, too.

I dread when people inevitably ask me about it. I abhor any mention of my path to higher education. I detest any conversation about college. But as I said, it’s inevitable, right? I’m a college-aged kid, of course people are going to ask me if I’m in school. And if they know I’m in school, then of course they’re going to ask how it’s going. People ask because they’re curious, or because they care. No one ever asks with ill intent or malice, so why is it so upsetting when people bring it up to me? I can’t be mad at someone for mentioning a topic just because I happen to have a lot of negative emotions surrounding that topic, right? Right.

Long story short: I totally failed out of Miami.

Long story long: My freshman year at Miami, I started out with six classes. And for the first couple weeks, I went to every class, and did all the assignments. And then after those first few weeks, I thought to myself, what if I just didn’t? And so began my long, long period of never going to class and never doing any schoolwork. Semester after semester.

Why go to my 8am class when I could just sleep instead? Why go to my noon class when I could grab lunch with a friend instead? Why do an assignment on a Friday night when I could be having a movie night with my dorm pals instead? Why do any of it when I could just do something else, something infinitely more fun, instead?

Obviously, this mentality led to some problems. Put that on top of the mentality of “well if I just don’t look at my grades, they don’t exist”, and soon enough you’ll have an entire semester of straight Fs. It happens very quickly, and once it does, it is quite literally impossible to fix.

So, every semester, once I hit that point of no return, where I knew no amount of trying hard the remainder of the semester could fix what I’d done up to that point, I considered it a loss and told myself I’d try again next semester, but since this one was a total loss, I didn’t have to do anything for the rest of it since it would all be for nothing anyway.

After the first semester of straight Fs, Miami gave me an “academic warning”, which basically meant if my next semester was below a 2.0 GPA, I’d get put on “academic probation”. I also had to take an online course about why failing is bad, and how to avoid failing. It was honestly kind of humiliating.

Funny enough, I actually passed one class that semester with a B, but the rest were Fs, and Miami put me on “academic probation”, which is like “academic warning” but more serious. Basically, if I got less than a 2.0 the following semester, I’d get “academic suspension” and be kicked out for two semesters.

At this point, I had almost no credits to show for my freshman year. So I decided to take two summer classes. They were online, and I took one in June and one in July. I passed both, one with a 92% and one with a 102%. Things were looking up! So I started sophomore year off optimistic. I was in a new dorm that was directly in the center of campus, so all my classes were a one minute walk away, unlike my previous dorm which was on the outskirts of campus and gave me all the more reason not to go to class.

That semester, instead of an online course about not failing, I had to take an in-person class about not failing! That was just great. So nice to be surrounded by fellow failures. I don’t think it really did much for me because I ended up failing that semester too! And Miami was ready to kick me to the curb.

Obviously, not a great situation, so I had the genius idea to blame everything on my disability. Poor narcoleptic girl, falling asleep in every class, falling asleep every time she cracked open a textbook to do any studying, falling asleep every time she opened her laptop to write a paper. Truly tragic.

I have struggled with my narcolepsy for years, in many ways, but college made me realize how debilitating it truly is. I am still trying to figure out “did my disability actually disable me, or am I being overdramatic? Am I falsely blaming my disability when the true problem is me, and my disability is just an easy cover-up?” You know, I don’t really know. It’s a mix of a lot of things.

I genuinely did fall asleep in every class, which in turn made me not want to go because that shit is fucking embarrassing. But I also didn’t go because I didn’t feel like it. And I really couldn’t make it through a paragraph in a textbook without nodding off. But I also didn’t really open my textbooks very often to begin with. It was truly a co-morbidity.

So, yeah, I told Miami, “wait, don’t be mad at lil’ ol’ me, my brain is broken!” It took several doctors notes, and several forms, but I got Miami to erase my entire freshman year. All those Fs, just wiped away, and I was back on academic warning for the semester I had just goofed. However, I didn’t have to retake the courses about not failing, so that was cool.

Moving forward to spring semester of sophomore year, I was now registered with the disability services, so I could request accommodations from my professors. But what was there to request? There’s not really anything to be done about my problem. Like, yeah, if a professor happened to see me sleeping in class, they could wake me up or something, but what else is there to do? And how can I expect my professor to even notice me sleeping when there’s dozens of other kids in class?

In the end, nothing changed, and I failed again. This time around, there was much less “I would rather hang out with my friends than do homework!” and much more “I can’t bring myself to get out of bed until the sun has gone down, and I haven’t showered in three days”. So that was a lot of fun.

Once again, I got put on academic probation. I decided my best course of action was to take online courses over the summer again, since it went so well last time. I took three, all at the same time, and it did not go well. But I couldn’t risk failing them all, so I dropped all three of them. Total loss, yet again.

Finally, my junior year (though I wasn’t technically a junior in credits since I have like none)! I was still on academic warning, but I was determined that this year would be different. I was in therapy, I was in a nice dorm, I was feeling good! The first two or three weeks were great, and I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. But then assignments got harder, and I had to do more reading, more work, and my god I just simply did not feel like it. So I didn’t! Needless to say, I got straight Fs yet again.

Time for academic suspension, wheeee! Academic suspension, by the way, is where they don’t let you come back for two semesters. If you were to come back after that and fail again, you would get academic dismissal, which means you come back never. (However, you are allowed to petition for readmission after two full years has passed.)

I went with the classic, “you can’t fire me! I quit!” And I dropped the fuck out. I’m not good enough for Miami, ey? Well, maybe they’re not good enough for me! Yeah, take that!

So, I did not return to Miami for Spring Semester 2020. Fuck school, I thought, I’ll get a job! So I became a hostess at Applebee’s. Wheeee. After three weeks, I called it quits because that fucking sucked. I decided to try out a local restaurant/bakery instead! Also sucked. So I quit.

And then COVID happened! Boy oh boy did I pick a good time NOT to go to school. All my friends, along with literally every other student in the world, had to pack up and head home not even two months into the semester. And they spent the rest of their semester online. So, I didn’t miss out on much.

But I figured I’d return in the fall of 2020, once this whole pandemic thing had ended. Obviously, the pandemic thing was very much not over by that point, so I held off on going back, and started writing for the blog instead, because I was literally doing nothing else with my time.

Fast forward a year, and now I’m going to my first day of college in over a year and half. That’s right y’all, I’m enrolled at the local community college, and I’m working towards getting my General Associates In Arts. Assuming I don’t fucking fail again, I should have a degree after two semesters. So by Spring 2022 I should have my little piece of paper.

Why am I getting a general degree instead of focusing on a field? Well, it’s basically because all the classes I did pass over the years don’t really lean in any direction, they’re all pretty scattered, so I can’t really get a degree towards anything in particular.

When I was in high school, I took College Credit Plus courses, which meant that classes I was taking in high school counted as college courses, and gave me credits through Urbana University. Through this program, I got credits for things like anatomy, math, and English.

Then, I went to Edison (the community college I’m going to now) for my senior year of high school so I could graduate a semester early. While I was there, I passed Intro to Psychology, American Sign Language, Human Sexuality, and Composition II.

Going into Miami, I had 36 credit hours from high school alone. At Miami, I passed Children’s Literature (but it got erased), Classical Mythology, Creative Writing, German, Writing For Media, the Academic Probation Class, Ballroom Dancing, and Introduction to Poetry. That gave me 20 credit hours from Miami.

This semester at Edison, I’ll be taking Cell Biology, Race & Ethnicity, Intro to Communications, and Intro to Humanities.

With all that technical info out of the way, let’s talk about my feelings, because that’s always a blast.

I feel kind of excited, I think. The usual “back to school” rush of adrenaline. Got a new backpack so you know I’ll be looking spiffy. But mostly I’m anxious. My fear of failure is as prominent as ever, and I don’t know what I’ll do if I do fail, so I just have to continue on under the assumption that I won’t. Because I’m out of options if I do.

I’m not necessarily looking forward to any of my classes, especially cell biology. I mean, it’s certainly no Ballroom Dancing, but I genuinely feel like I’ll make it through this time. I know I’m capable of passing, I have 56 credit hours to prove it! I just have to pass consistently, and that’s honestly hard for me.

I know that I have to give it my all this semester, and that is why I’ve decided to take a break from writing on here. I have to put all my focus towards my classes. At least in the beginning, anyways. Once I’ve taken a month or two to settle into things, I’ll decide if I feel like I have enough time and/or brain capacity to come back to Whatever. (Though, I’m sure I can manage a monthly snack box review post every now and again!)

With all that being said, it’s been a great year writing on Whatever, and I hope to write for you all again very soon. For now, though, I’m going to go to class.


182 Comments on “The Truth About My Time At Miami University And Why This Is My Last Post (For Now)”

  1. Folks, please go light on the “advice” to Athena re: dealing with mental/physical health issues based on this post, as most of it is unlikely to be immediately applicable for her (and also, steps are underway, and your suggestions may conflict with those). The thought is appreciated, but, assume your concerns are already being addressed. Thanks.

  2. I hope you have gotten checked for sleep apnoea.. I probably had it for decades before I actually got a study done, it might have saved many episodes of falling asleep in class or while visiting people. 🙁

  3. Big hug. Life is a process. You’re brave to put all your successes and failures out there. Best of luck to you.

  4. I wish you the best of luck for your classes! Re: monthly snack box reviews, after having bemoaned that “probably these do not ship to Switzerland, right?” I actually checked and… they do! So I’m waiting for the next one with impatience and curiosity, and it’s all thanks to you, so… thank you, I suppose :D

  5. Many times young people are told to go to college right out of HS and I feel this is wrong for a couple of reasons. 1) At that age you don’t know what you want to do or are capable of doing. You might “want” to be a physicist but at this point in life the abstractness of the science doesn’t mesh with your intellectual development and 2) a young person may not realize how hard average hourly work is. Being an Applebee’s server/hostess is tough and not for everyone. Younger people should be given the opportunity to attempt these jobs in order to learn this.
    I dropped out of HS and finally went back to school at 29 and eventually ended up with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. It took several years of working HARD to prepare my brain/mind for more abstract concepts associated with this science.
    If you have the resources from your parents and they are willing to allow you the time to find yourself avail yourself of this extra time. Finishing school later in life is more normal now than folks realize although many don’t have the ability to do so. Good luck.

  6. Well, heck. Good on you for figuring it out and pushing through, and I hope it works out!

    In case personal anecdata helps: I took the Dean’s Vacation twice, and eventually managed to graduate with a BA in English. (“College: the best ten years of my life!”) And now I’m gainfully employed as a tech writer for a software company.

  7. Best of luck, Athena! Classes and college are not a measure of worth or value, but being willing to confront your fears and do hard things are both exceptional measures of bravery and determination.

  8. Good luck! I know that my own disability (various iterations of neurodivergency) I managed to keep at bay until college, and even struggled along for a few semesters until bombing out. I wasn’t yet diagnosed, but I’m not sure that would have helped then (early 90s). 10ish years ago (still undiagnosed) I managed to get an AAS in an an early online program. Now (finally diagnosed) I’m starting to poke at data science and statistics. I’m glad you’ve got support, and you’re brilliant. :) Good luck!

  9. Please know that you have many people rooting for you It was brave of you to open up about this. I wish you a lot of luck with school.

  10. Athena, thanks for sharing this. I know it’s scary to be this open, and I am impressed by your bravery.

    Good luck this semester, and I hope you’re back soon to tell us how it went.

  11. This is seriously brave and left me (newly) eager to cheer you on. I work at a college and see a lot of students who run into circumstances meaning that of course the deck is stacked against them. The higher-education model is old, European, and geared to a narrow range of so-called learning styles. Which is to say that it works sometimes, but that tends to take luck and/or privilege. Academic ableism is very much a thing, and anyone who has anything that even might be described as a disability is affected by it. If you have a condition that has no interest in obeying a clock, then as soon as something external depends on a clock, there’s a clash for you (and not for people without the condition) to deal with.

    Health matters aside, we come to motivation. This is much more elusive and personal, of course, but going to school full-time is intense and arguably kind of unnatural (I love education, but evolutionarily speaking, do our brains really want to be sitting around a lot and frantically finishing homework for 3-4 years?). I’m not a counselor, but students often tell me that they were apathetic before they discovered how much they loved [field], as the result of [pivotal conversation] or [signing up for a class by accident] or [chance encounter at 3 AM on Wikipedia]. It’s definitely the case that my primary source of momentum in undergrad was the fact that I’d fallen head over heels in love with my major, to the point of obsession. Everyone is different, but there was always a very obvious point to my studies and that meant there was never a time I asked myself why I was bothering. I wonder if the path so far simply hasn’t put you on a course to meet with the right epiphany or spark that will lead to a feedback loop of engagement instead of just a sense of aimlessness. I know a student getting a Ph.D. now who started over the way you’re doing – the timing was just really bad, and later it was better. I know another with a graduate degree who got two years in, was feeling unhappy and rudderless, decided to try a very different kind of school environment (as you’re doing), and found it paid off massively. It’s okay for something not to be the right match or the right timing – that’s seldom anyone’s fault! How can you know ahead of time?

    Anyway, I’m rambling, but if this is something that sounds plausible and/or worth exploring, Ken Robinson has a book and probably several TED talks about getting to the point of finding that stereotypical thing that jump-starts wild curiosity and needing to do more of whatever it is. But either way, the capitalistic working world doesn’t necessarily map onto passion anyway (that’s wildly overhyped when it comes to the task of getting money out of the system in order to stay alive), and most lives have room for so many different facets. You’re bright and compassionate and self-aware – there’s a lot going for you. A pleasure to have read your words, and all the best on the journey ahead.

  12. Dear Athena, I can really relate, although I too made it to PhD, eventually (at 67!), just to show the world that I really was kind of smart. But so tired all the time. I didn’t quite flunk out of college, from Washington State, a school that accepted everyone who applied and bid them a cheerful goodbye if they couldn’t cut it. I still feel undisciplined mentally, though I can concentrate on some things. Going broad in your class choices seems wise, while you’re figuring out what you’re good at. Seeking out personal assessments also seems wise, as you work on ways to do what you want to do, as well as ways to get yourself to do what you must. Best wishes.

  13. Dear Athena,

    I am 33 and this Fall I finally finish my Bachelors.

    At your current age, I too failed out of college miserably. From 2007-2012 I dropped in and out of my community college and wrecked my GPA. I also learned about “excessive hours”. Excessive hours is the total hours attempted for credit. After so many the school I attend gets to charge me a fee on top of every hour I attempt from there on out. I’m paying an extra $900 for three courses this fall because of it.

    I came back to school after my spouse graciously let me stop working to focus on my education. Right now, my GPA is sitting at a 3.2 after four semesters of straight A’s. Yea, it was a hard recovery. Seventy-nine credit hours between my community college and university to do the thing everyone else seemed to just simply do.

    This past summer, I found out I have Inattentive ADHD and while it explains so much about my life and experience with education, I know it wasn’t the entire factor to point at for my younger self’s failures. The undiagnosed dyscalculia I suffered through was also acknowledged—six attempts at college algebra and a remedial math class apparently hadn’t sparked anyone’s concern. Nor had the fact that I barely passed high school math classes caused any fuss. I had been so good at coping with my undiagnosed ADHD that it wasn’t until the world fell apart that my own neurodivergent issues completely disrupted my life and once again risked my tenderly recovered GPA.

    All of this to say (that’s me telling you I’m an English major), I ended up with two associates (An English lit studies and Liberal Art) and the understanding that it’s okay to not be ready to do something in the generally prescribed timeline. I am a far better student in my thirties than I ever was in my twenties. Priorities tend to hammer themselves out with age.

    I wish you the absolute best this fall semester and I hope your new found excitement carries you through the next 14-16 weeks. If you inevitably hit a slump, talk to your professors. It’ll be difficult and uncomfortable, likely it will make you feel embarrassed, but the feelings are the hard part. Getting the difficult ones out of the way can make all the difference in finishing a semester.

    The honesty your have with your self here in this post is so big. It’s how I know you’re going to get through it, even if it’s now or later.

  14. Hey Athena, I don’t know what exactly happened on your end, and honestly I have absolutely no advice to give, but… I did flame out spectacularly in my final year of uni, and it took me a hell of a long time to come to terms with it and be able to comfortably talk about it — and I mean… in the space of a decade or so? So I get where you’re coming from, and I feel like, it’s totally okay. These things are formative and teach us a lot about ourselves, and the journey to being able to come to terms with it is hard.

    Hope things work out for you in the future, whatever that may be!

  15. Hey Athena, I’m sorry to hear that you’re leaving “Whatever” for a bit as I’ve enjoyed reading your pieces. They’re entertaining and also very different from what I usually read, which is good for me :) You inspired my son & I to try a snack box subscription of our own! Thank you :)

    As for school, I really hope it goes well. It can be a challenge to find a path to independence that fits with who we are and who we want to be. I hope you find yours.

  16. Kid, I feel this deeply. My daughter Sophia is about your age and had challenges in college despite being whip smart, gorgeous and Italian. I also did despite being whipsmart, gorgeous and Dutch. I appreciate your honesty, courage, and perseverance. Your mom, dad, whole family and the world are so blessed to have you! Especially with ol’ Hobbit Feet as your dad (that’s actually what Scalzi means in Italian don’t believe your Dad because I saw GODFATHER like 150 times so I know Italian). Congratulations on starting school again and should o ever have the good fortune to meet you in person I hope you’ll grant me the honor of bestowing a bear hug on you for being such a brave soul. ROCK THE FUCK ON!!’

  17. I work with senior volunteers, ages 50+. When they apply for our program, we ask on the application about their work history. The vast majority have a weird, winding trajectory through their adult lives–flight attendant to lawyer; food writer to magazine owner to real estate agent; living all kinds of places they never anticipated, etc. You clearly have grit (look how many times you’ve started over) and writing ability–that’s a great start. And I suspect down the road, a lot of your peers will struggle when they hit the first major roadblock, and you’ll already have a lot of life experience in your pocket. Best wishes!

  18. Failure is not forever. I failed out of college the first time also, much as you did. There were too many social things to do. However, I went back when I was 26 after I had a family. It then took seven years to complete my degree! I was working a full-time job and being dad. But I did finally get my degree and I have been an Engineer for twenty years. My path was rough and crooked but I wouldn’t change a thing. Good Luck!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!

  19. I’m going back today to teach (at a different community college) one of the classes you’ll be taking.

    I really appreciated reading this because it reminded me of the human side of college, where a lot of stuff is going on for people, only some of which I know about.

    Hope you have a good semester!

  20. You are not alone with difficulty in your studies.

    It took me 5 years to get my AA degree (some of it was due to online learning, but mostly it was difficulty in motivation for schooling I saw as irrelevant to my field).

    I finally figured out it was not the classwork, but the communication and relationships I build in class that was my goal.

    Getting your General Ed credits in a Community College will allow you to focus on your advanced degree when you choose to pursue it, and those classes won’t have to taken again (for the most part; inevitably some will not transfer…).

    Good luck in your new adventure! You can do this!!!

  21. I appreciate your honesty. It takes a lot to be so honest with both yourself and the Internet.

    Sounds like Miami University just wasn’t working for you for a lot of reasons. Hopefully the community college will work out better, especially since it seemed to work better before.

    A lot of people have had issues with college. Hopefully you’ll figure out a way to make it work for you. Good luck!

  22. You will find your path. You have good supporting parents, use them and your support circle. College is not for everyone, the general “consensus” that everyone needs that degree is wrong.

    I don’t expect an answer but something for you to think of, you did very well in high school what worked there that you can use now?

  23. Thanks for sharing your story. I must admit that it brought back some unpleasant memories of my brief enrollment at Vanderbilt back in the day. I was a complete misfit socially and brutally underprepared for the academic challenge at the tender age of 17, and refused to admit my mistake until the good folks at Vandy asked me to leave and never return. I managed to bounce back from this embarrassment and redeem myself, and I’m sure you can do the same. Good luck to you.

  24. All the feels about this for you! I, too, failed out of my freshman and sophomore year of college (University of Texas), got put on academic probation, had to take “how not to be a doofus” classes.

    My reason for failing was a boy, which is another level of stupid, but there you have it

    I went back a few years later, having to pay for my own classes, and majoring in something I liked (history) rather than something I thought I should (business) and did much better. I managed to bring my GPA up and graduate with a 3.4.

    Sometimes you have to take some time to make the mistakes and figure out your way.

    Good luck to you this new, bright and shiny school year!!

  25. Who said, “We have a 100% failure rate at changing the past”?

    I wish you all the luck in the world, and am grateful for your writing. This post is a fine piece of work – as an internet stranger I have no right to be proud of you or not, but I am anyway.

  26. When I went to college, I flunked out in two semesters, flat. My family disowned me my second week of my freshman year, I was desperately desperately broke, and I had never lived on my own. I was incredibly miserable, I didn’t go to classes, I didn’t do the assignments, I didn’t take the tests or finals…so flunking wasn’t really a surprise. I talked about having a “nervous breakdown” but it was several more years before I was diagnosed with chronic depression, and then a host of other mental disorders. Some of the diagnoses I agree with, some I think were bonkers. I did psychotherapeutic drugs, and more than ten years of counseling.

    I’m 59, now. I have a good job, a happy home life, and a circle of good friends. But I still vividly remember the despair of just not being able to get it together to go to succeed at college. Even after I had a diagnosis, I spent a lot of time trying to sort out how much was my mental health issues, and how much was sheer laziness. (I think I was lazy, in that I chose not to do something that was incredibly, incredibly hard, but I also think that I genuinely didn’t understand how hard it was at the time because I didn’t understand that my brain was not working well.)

    When I went back to school (community college, 2 year program) to change careers, I was incredibly anxious. But I passed, with a 4.0, and got a job I love.

    Just another college failure, wishing you all the best.

  27. Athena, my heart goes out to you. I know you will find your path. If it takes a little longer, that’s okay. My brother in law was forced by his mom to major in geology. So not his thing. He flunked, dropped out, spent a few years working and eventually with the support of my sister, the two of them went back to college together and he majored in history. Then he went grad school and eventually got a wonderful job in his field.

    Another story: my son has severe ADHD. He went off to college and decided that was the time to go off his meds. He outright refused to use any of the accommodations he was entitled to and would not work with the Students With Disabilities staff or support groups. He lasted one year and the only thing holding him together was band. He loved band and listening to lectures, but not so much the reading books and writing papers part. College just wasnt for him. Now he has a good job as an apprentice in a lucrative trade and a bright future ahead of him. He was so ashamed of himself for a long time but recently I heard him tell the story to buck up a friend who is going through hard times and I was so glad he has let go of the shame.

    We all have different roads. Some have more twists and turns than others. I will be keeping you in my thoughts. You are a find writer and have a sharp and hilarious sense of humor. Thank you for you internship here at Whatever and I wish you all the best.

  28. Good luck.

    College is supposed to have a social component; striking the right balance is hard. Adulting is hard. I hope you find your way.

  29. Hi Athena,

    I have really enjoyed your writing on Whatever. All the best for the future, and would love to see you back here if/when that seems like a good thing.

  30. I’ve been there. High school was very easy for me and I didn’t see why it should be any different at Georgia Tech. After 3 pretty bad quarters, I was invited to leave.

    My problem wasn’t a disability. I had bad study habits and I liked weed. I had to beg the physics department chair to write a letter asking Tech to give me a second chance.

    And then I had to think about what I really wanted out of life. I wanted to be a scientist all my life. I was the only kid in kindergarten who didn’t want to be a doctor, a cop, a policeman or a football player.

    Focusing on that goal helped me make some radical adjustments to my approach to college and life in general. In the end, I got a PhD in theoretical physics, specializing in relativity, quantum gravity and quantum cosmology.

    I tell this story to my students sometimes. Whatever you’ve done, I’ve done. And my best advice is to figure out your goal and focus on that.

  31. Hi Athena,

    Your experience reminds me so much of my many years of online college ( still 1 class short of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree )

    Thank you for sharing

    I love the bravery, time, energy and love your have given us, your readers

    I wish you luck

    Your are a talented person

    At my age, I may never get a college degree, but I have found friends, and a life partner, that have enriched my life

    However this works out, there are people that love you

    And not every “love” has to be 100% of you ( do not tell him, but I love your dad’s work while I will never see him in person again. live events are not the part I love about your Dad. Even though all the other people who went still keep going back. )


    An Athena fan

  32. “I am still trying to figure out “did my disability actually disable me, or am I being overdramatic? Am I falsely blaming my disability when the true problem is me, and my disability is just an easy cover-up?” You know, I don’t really know. It’s a mix of a lot of things.”

    Hey, welcome to a VERY common (possibly even nigh universal), early phase of coming to terms with being disabled. Truthfully, no-one can make that call for you. Though they can sometimes supply information that is really useful to making your decision.

    From what I’ve seen, experienced and heard, it’s a lot like the questions a lot of LGBTQIA+ folks ask themselves.

    And just like those questions, if you spend a lot of time asking yourself “Am I x enough, or am I just some pretender?” then the answer is probably “Yes”, or you wouldn’t spend so much time angsting over it.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the nearly universal experience across these two similar groups is the constantly worrying if you truly belong in them?

    You’ll find your path, even if it doesn’t start where you thought it would, and doesn’t end up where you thought you’d be.

    And good luck.

  33. Don’t let anyone dictate your path and be proud of what you are doing. Best of luck to you that you find what works for you!

  34. I had my own issues with college but I did eventually get a degree and I did eventually pay off the credit cards. Things didn’t go the way I expected but I’m content with my life, consider myself successful, and should be able to retire some day. I think you’ll figure something out too.
    Good luck!

  35. Per John’s post, I’m not going to give advice, because that won’t be helpful. But I’d like to share that I had a similar situation.

    In my senior year spring semester, I just stopped going to school halfway through. I was overwhelmed, going through what I now realize was my first nervous breakdown, having my first real relationship since high school…

    It was not great. It was bad.

    I took a year off, got my head somewhat together, went back to school, picked up some more classes, but still didn’t finish my degree. In the end, I attended a year of community college (mostly to finish my foreign language requirement), and then finally got my piece of paper, which is framed somewhere around here.

    I was an academic achiever for a long time. 2nd in my high school class. National Merit Scholar. Big SAT scores. Honors student in high school and college. And then…pffft.

    Luckily, that was a long time ago. I make a very good living, and I love software development and mentoring my team, and my life is amazing.

    But I haven’t succeeded in everything I tried my hand at. That situation was one of the early failures of my life. I thought I was going to marry my high school girlfriend, finish at the top of my college class, go to grad school, make a million bucks, and be a big success.

    Instead, the high school girlfriend broke up with me, and we talked again ten years later, and…that was that. I got my degree and work in a completely different field, one that didn’t exist at the time I was in school. I later got married, and got divorced. I’ve gained and lost jobs. I’ve dealth with depression, anxiety, and adult ADHD. I’ve succeeded and I’ve failed.

    Today, I love my life. I’ve got an awesome job, a great girlfriend, a nice car, a lovely place, and fantastic mental health. And I love and appreciate it all.

    I don’t have a lesson, or advice, or any of that. Instead, I’ll just say you rock, I really love your posts, I hope you continue writing, and I hope you have a great semester.

  36. Reading this really took me back. My own college trajectory started out very much the same way. I started out failing in community colleges, which is probably considered even worse (especially for someone who is also of your father’s generation). I didn’t get my degree until my early 30’s, and I was crazy enough to go back and get a Master’s Degree at the tender age of 47 (the kids in my class looked at me like I was a unicorn). It’s okay to bloom late.

    I wanted to share a few things I figured out along the way.

    It’s the teacher, not the class. We tend to focus on the class subjects that interest us, but you will have a better experience focusing on the teachers. A good teacher can pull your interest into a subject you may not have considered. A bad teacher can crush your will to live even if the subject is one you like. Don’t be afraid to drop a class if you get a disaster teacher. There is typically no penalty for doing so in the first couple of weeks (and disaster teachers never seem to notice). Try the same subject with a new teacher next time it’s offered.
    Do the homework. This seems like such a no-brainer, but most of us get caught in the trap of “well, homework is a minor part of my grade. I can just skip this one.” If you skip one, the next one is harder, and the one after that and… Then it’s test time and you’re screwed. Do the little bits and the big bits become easier.
    Ask questions. Raising your hand in class is the introvert’s version of hell. However, it keeps you awake during class and forms a partnership with the teacher. Teachers have a crap ton of students every year and they can only truly focus on so many of them. They will focus on the ones that engage with them during class. Make the class a conversation and it’s harder to nod off (I had the same issue even without narcolepsy).

    You’ve done the hard part, which is choosing to go back and try again. Try to relax and have fun. You got this.

  37. Failing is hard. Getting up and trying again is even harder, because you know what it’s like to fail. Go you for doing it anyway!

    Took me 10 years to get a Bachelor’s degree

  38. Apologies for any overstepping.

    It’s a very brave and forthright column, and best of luck, you certainly have the ingredients to succeed and plenty of well wishers!

  39. Athena, I’ve meant to comment on so many of your posts this past year. Through them I feel that I know you much better than I actually do, and they made me want to get to know you IRL.

    Thank you for writing this one, for sharing what’s gone before in ways that shed light on the challenge you’re taking on this fall and beyond. Go, you!

    My dad used to say, “Learn from everything.” It’s clear you’ve already been doing that and I wish you both excellent times and comfort as you continue doing so. I look forward to whatever posts it works out for you to write in the future.

  40. I appreciate this post very much; thank you for sharing your story. My daughter also flunked out of college and is floundering right now and it’s so good to know that she’s not alone in that struggle. Best of luck to you in your future path!

  41. Absolutely best of luck!

    The story is familiar to me for personal reasons. I know people- mad related Tom people – could have been a people who had that kind experience. My observation about those successful smart people who didn’t pass on try 1 is, maybe not everyone is ready to be in college at first, it’s not about brains; gotta be the right place right time right course of study. And you have to have a reason to get out of bed. What’s it in service of? What are you using this for? I was still searching for the answer myself during undergrad, and even with a subject I continued in had that question. It’s the question of life. Why? What’s worth this?

    Best of luck discovering and inventing your answer. You’ve brightened the site. Go kick butt.

  42. This is a brave post to write. Not everyone would own up to their failures.

    Your writing hit me hard as a parent. My oldest son starts his college classes today. One of my fears is that he will realize he can spend his days watching anime and no one will stop him. He’s in a living learning community with students in a similar major, so hopefully there is some positive peer pressure to keep him focused.

  43. Thanks very much for sharing this, and best wishes to your new semester. I’m on the committee at my university that reviews applications for readmission and appeals from suspensions and dismissals. There are lots of people who come from community colleges, and once they finish there, the gates to higher ed are once open again if you ever want to go there. One of them wound up being one of the highest achieving students in my program.

    You’ve made a great contribution to this blog, and there are a lot of people rooting for you!

  44. That was a courageous post, Athena. I’m 72 and my life contains a litany of failure; I could never put that out publicly. The only advice I would give has been stated at least once above (didn’t read all the comments): Find what motivates you. It doesn’t guarantee success but certainly is very important to keep you on track. Hey, I’ve been there.

    The best of luck to you,

  45. Your story sounds very similar to mine. Took longer for diagnosis. Medication helped thru school & so did night shift work as a nurse. In the military I told no one. I made adjustments and came off my meds during Desert Storm. Only slept thru one air raid. In 2009 I was diagnosed with with sleep apnea & I became the poster child for CPAP compliance. After a fairly successful career in the USAF I retired in 2011 & now have retired again to build my forever home. There is hope. Good luck.

  46. Ages ago I started out with the goal of becoming an engineer, with a plan to get the education required. Turned out I hated most of the courses, dropped out and got a job. Then another and another.

    Years later I planned to try a career in computers. Went back to school, but the subjects were, meh. Turned out my favorite course was ancient mythology, which renewed my high-school interest in writing. Never made a career out of it but it’s one of the hobbies that kept me sane through my working years.

    Some writer dude recently reminded us that ‘the plan is not the goal’, and I finally figured that my goal was and is to stay interested in a wide range of things. Sometimes even my job was interesting, but when it wasn’t I had plenty of interests to fall back on.

    As a ‘career’, that’s not really lucrative, but I’m seldom bored and still engaged in the world. There are worse things.

  47. Gah – been there, done that. I sympathize so much.

    Best of luck with your next semester. I hope you’re able to find the routine and rhythm that will get you through to that little piece of paper.

  48. Good luck! I work with lots of students in your shoes- hell, I was that student! (Freshman, 1979, bachelor’s 2001) You can do this.

    Definitely use campus services, such as disability resources. They are there to help.

  49. Thanks so much for sharing your story. You aren’t alone, and sharing like this will help others who are going through the same thing.

    In regards to a fear of failure; my husband has never failed, and he finds it very hard to take risks or strike off in a new direction. I’ve had my butt handed to me a few times, so I know that I can fail, get up again, and find a way forward. Athena, you have done that. Plan A didn’t work, but you turned this pandemic year into something valuable for yourself and the readers of this blog. Now you have a new plan.

    I’m a college professor, and so many students go through this. Heck, so many professors went through major struggles. K-12 is linear, and many expect college and career to be the same way. But one important skill is figuring out when to persevere and when to make a course correction. The students who make course corrections are so often happy about their decision. Take good care.

  50. Trust me, you’re not the only one to have that problem of skipping class. After a dismal failure for a semester in pre-med (small town Texas schools don’t prepare you properly for chemistry), I switched to business and thereby encountered statistics. It got VERY easy to find excuses not skip the class, especially when you get behind and then it’s REALLY easy to skip. Let’s say I signed up for statistics for several semesters in a row and just didn’t bother to attend at all. Turn the clock to switching over to medieval history which is what I really wanted and I had the same problem with foreign language. By then I was working full time in addition to taking classes, and it was incredibly easy to get behind. Especially since I couldn’t stand being called on in class and not being able to answer.

    So don’t feel bad, what you’ve gone through is much more common than most people realize. I think community college is a great idea. It gets you back in the groove for classes, and you can work on basics and have time to decide what really interests you.

  51. Professional grade class skipper here.

    Yeah, I dropped out of not one, but two universities. I just wasn’t ready for making adult choices about education and classes (and I have no idea if I am yet at the age of 60). My co-morbidity is alcoholism (sober now for 30-odd years).

    So long story short, I never got a degree, but I was lucky enough career-wise to get into computer programming.

  52. Good luck and thank you for sharing your story. I knew so many people who ended up on academic probation and/or failing out in college. It happens and it can be a part of finding yourself at this time in life. Good luck! I hope you have the resources you need and don’t be embarrassed to ask if you find that you don’t. Everyone I know in academia wants students to succeed and are happy to help students when it’s needed.

  53. I would not presume to give you advice. College was difficult for me in other ways. I didn’t fit in. I graduated on time with honors, but it was a near thing due to politics. Sometimes you need to pick your professors as well as your courses. I couldn’t do that in my major, since the department was too small and new (second graduating class in the BSN program). Shucks and other comments. I just hope you are patient with yourself, and I wish you all the luck in the world. You deserve it.

    BTW, thanks for the Sakuraco reviews! Last night, after more noshing and tea-drinking, hubby and I extended our three month subscription for an additional six months. Drool! Dad’s looking forward to munching on the stuff with seafood (hubby splits them with him).

  54. Athena, what it is that you want to do? Assuming you have any idea yet — I have always thought that it is unrealistic to expect people to figure this out right away.

    Maybe college isn’t for you. Maybe college isn’t for you yet. Just a thought.

    I feel confident that once you know what you want to do, you will succeed !

  55. Your story is much more common than you know.

    One of my friends at the USAF Academy was a couple of years older than I was. We were talking about how we ended up in our uncollege one day when he told me his story.

    He was from Milwaukee, had done well in HS, and went off to the Univ of WI. Did great his first semester, ended up with a GPA of 3.9 or such. But over Christmas brea he did some thinking, and realized that all the classes covered what was in the syllabus the professors handed out the first day of class, all the lectures did was cover what was in the reading, and if that was the case why go to class really, just do the readings, and the only test that mattered was the final at the end of the course…So he didn’t go to class and didn’t do the readings. His thought was to cram hard the couple of weeks before finals so he had read everything and it would be fresh in his mind and he’d ace his classes again. What could possibly go wrong with the ingenious approach to college academics?

    My friend had a great semester-lots of parties, lots of fun, no need to interrupt his life for anything as boring as classes and studying. When he got his grades in the mail a couple of weeks after finals he found he had flunked out with a 0.0 GPA for the semester–he had failed every class.

    Along with the transcript and the note telling him not to bother coming back the next semester was a slip letting him know the school was notifying his local draft board of the change in his status and that he no longer had a student deferment (this was 1969, when draft boards were hunting for guys our age to, in Springsteen’s words, “put a rifle in our hands and send us off to a foreign land”. My friend’s immediate move was to carry himself down to his local USAF recruiter and enlist.

    While in his first assignment his leadership thought he was a pretty smart guy, asked him why he hadn’t gone to college, heard his story, and told him “Did you now there’s this thing called the USAF Preparatory School, where you get a year of intensive math and english classes and if you do well you get admitted to the USAF Academy?” He went ahead and applied, was accepted, and that’s how I meant him.

    I told my son my friend’s story when he went off to college so he could learn from someone else’s mistakes. Unfortunately, he had to learn on his own and repeated them almost word for word. He then decided that college wasn’t for him, and set out on a different life path–one I fully supported. College isn’t for everyone, and he found he’s one of those it isn’t for. He’s led a fine and successful life and done well.

    The moral is it isn’t how well you did the first time around, it’s what you learned from the first time and how you adjust your behavior. For some reason our society expects people to get everything right the first time they do it, when what really matters is what you learn from your mistakes and how you don’t repeat them.

  56. FWIW, I know a lot of people who ended up graduating college after several years away, doing a lot better once they were there because they wanted to be there rather than because they were “supposed” to be there.

    One piece of unasked for advice – if you find it hard going, you may want to consider starting with a light load your first semesters. Some people, especially those with disabilities, do best taking 3 or even just 2 courses per semester.

    Best wishes for a successful semester, where success isn’t measured by grades but by learning what approaches work best for you.

  57. Good grief, that’s a lot to have on your back!

    I wish you well, and will be looking for the occasional update from you, if that works for you. Here’s to a new adventure!

  58. Kudos to you for having the courage to talk about your issues. Glad to hear you’ve found your way at least partially to a way forward. I had difficulty staying focused on college when I first went and that was after four years in the Army! In the end I didn’t wind up finishing my AA until I was 33 or 34.

    More recently, my son had difficulties directly related to his disabilities that led to an unsuccessful freshman year. But he found what worked for him after a bit of a gap, and got his AA last spring. He starts as a junior at a different school next week.

    As you can see from the many comments here, you’re not alone in this experience. I hope our sharing the message that “We’ve been there too, and it will get better,” is helpful to you! Best wishes to you going forward.

  59. Opening up like this takes an incredible amount of guts, and honestly, simply looking at one’s own mistakes and choices without flinching is difficult and takes more courage than most people seem to have. I’m, as always, impressed by your forthrightness. I hope for all the best for you, and I do hope that you’ll eventually feel up to writing either on Whatever, or elsewhere, because I selfishly hope to be able to read more of your work.

    I wish “sending good vibes” really, truly worked, because I’m sending all that I have your way.

  60. Athena, you rock! And you got this. Whatever “this” ends up being. It’s okay. I’m honored that you shared your story with us.

    More self-centeredly, the general degree sounds intriguing and I’m pleased to know it exists. At 48 and a new empty nester, I’ve been having existential pangs. My history degree didn’t pan out (hated grad school); did some proj mgmt; now in accounting. Still not right. I’ve been thinking it’s time to spread my wings (again?); perhaps now is the time to browse my community college’s options.

  61. Brave post Athene. My own college years (and after) were pure chaos, and I didn’t even have a pandemic, wretched politics, etc., to contend with. But things eventually sorted themselves out.

    I wish you well. Whatever path you take, I’m sure your courage, mad writing skillz, and (I’m sure) many other fine personal qualities will stand you well.

  62. Brave of you to put ask if that our there.

    Just know that you are far from the first person to stumble along this path.

    Best of luck!

  63. Best of luck. Enjoyed your contributions here and hope you return! (When you’re good and ready of course.)

  64. It’s really hard when everyone considers you to be a sure thing academically, but you find that that you just don’t have it in you in some contexts. I know the feeling, and I definitely know the internal dialog about how much of this is me needing to buck up versus how much is beyond my control. FWIW, life can be ironic: the one high school class I failed (photography) is now a large percentage of what I do. Thanks for a a very brave essay, and for all your contributions, Athena!

  65. I failed out of college after my freshmen year, too. I went back home (to Hong Kong) and worked as a cashier at a supermarket. Hated it, but it gave me the determination to go back to university.

    So I went to a community college for a year, took summer classes at my original university, aced them, and got back in.

    But it was still an up and down journey. In the end, I did graduate, but with a dismal GPA.

  66. pjcamp – that’s very similar to MY experience at Georgia Tech (minus the weed) – first quarter there, I got an A, a B, a C, and a D – but chose the 5-hour classes to get the lower grades in, so it averaged out to be a 2.0. Which was my best foot forward? didn’t get better the rest of that year, and spent a quarter at home. Took until I discovered my hitherto unknown love of Civil Engineering, and Dean’s list for the last 2.5 years I was there to make up for those first 2 years. By which to say – looks like a lot of folks have been where you are, and the best is yet to come. Thanks for sharing, Athena.

  67. This was a great piece! Kinda awesome of you to share your college struggles. It’s so often glamorized and sheesh people put so much weight on it … but it’s just one small slice of your life and there are soo many paths forward. Speaking as someone who had similar start to college, had to go to 3 community colleges (oh and fail calculus 3 times) before I finally had enough credits to transfer to state school. And major in math ha how’s that for perverse?
    Honestly, it didn’t hurt my career at all. Maybe delayed it by a few years if that. It did make me a better parent and a better boss. More failure can mean more compassion, more learning.
    So my advice is take the XP.

    Thank you for all the wonderful posts here, have really enjoyed them!

  68. Thanks for allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share this. I suspect you’ll have someone read this and see themselves in the post and maybe feel less alone (and less like a total failure).

    It sounds like you’re doing all the “right” things (whatever those are supposed to be), so I’ll just say that I’m glad you’re giving yourself room to breathe by not choosing a major yet. American society is so goal-focused that we ask toddlers what they want to be when they grow up. Based on what I’ve seen here, you’re obviously a great writer and able to connect with your audience, so be that if you want to. Otherwise, it’s okay to just be. So few of us retire in the job/career we trained for that it’s more valuable to find stuff you like to learn and figure out how you tick. The rest, we just make up along the way.

    Best of luck to you heading back to campus, and remember to breathe!

  69. Have you considered getting a service animal? Epileptics and some others have dogs that alert them when a seizure is pending. I can sympathize with you a bit because as an IT major, I could not get two pages into an IBM manual without falling asleep.

  70. Good luck this semester! And I’m glad to hear you might still write some snack box reviews, those are a joy to read!

  71. Ooops, forgot to say, thank you for sharing, Athena, especially about something that is probably still raw and hurting.

    Anyways, I’ve been following your posts here and they were great!

  72. Thanks as always, Athena, for your openness and honesty.

    Your story is why I’ve grown a teensy bit more understanding toward so-called slackers in my classes.

    I expect that you will do very well this Fall and beyond.

    Happy learning!

  73. I’m going to steer clear of advice and aim for commiseration: Undergraduate studies were difficult for me and I didn’t hit my stride until I got some work experience and got into graduate school (for which I was accepted on probationary status).

    My other comment is for anybody that posted about being “too old” for college: Please don’t do that to yourself. If you want it, do it (I get that college isn’t right for everyone). The best student I ever had in Freshman English was 78 years old.

  74. Even those of us who are “good students” as defined by academic administrators often have issues later on. I finished my BS in four years, worked a few years, then went to grad school.

    Here is a very short summary of my grad school experience:

    Taking classes, doing what I was told, doing great.
    Floundering when it was time to start my own research, which is VERY different from taking classes (such floundering is common enough to have a standard abbreviation, ABD meaning “All But Dissertation”).
    Finally coming up with a workable direction for my dissertation.
    Moving to another State when my wife finished her dissertation first, and being distracted for a while.
    Finishing the thing and driving from Connecticut to North Carolina in a blizzard to defend my dissertation.

    Total elapsed time from starting grad school to completion: almost nine years.

    Life happens. Nobody gets everything perfect the first time.

  75. Long time reader, first time poster. (grin)

    I just wanted to say thank you for the courage to post this particular article. I think you’re hearing that many of us took a ‘non traditional” path, and that in some ways the hardest part is accepting that its ok to not get through college in 3.5 years after you graduate from High School.

    I personally took a semester off, then spent a year and a half at a ‘satellite’ State school, took another year off and worked nights and socialized, then slowly worked my way back. I ended up with a degree in Economics, which has nothing to do with my professional career directly. Further, nobody has ever asked me about the basic Algebra class I failed, because I wasn’t smart enough to pass it. A remedial class, taught by a much more effective professor was an entirely different experience. Nobody has ever asked about my GPA, my extra curricular participation, my social activities.

    I also think that the return on investment of a college degree is changing, as costs have skyrocketed it can become like a home mortgage, where it actually closes down some of your paths, rather than opening them.

    “Keep your Options Open’ was a favorite quote from an Aunt of mine, which turned out to be pretty good advice.

    Like many, I’ve enjoyed your posts here, your courage and your writing are commendable, and I wish you the very best on whichever road you’re headed down next. Good luck!

  76. I left college after my sophomore year for a variety of reasons, one of which was I had to pay rent. I thought I’d go back the next semester; it took me ten years to return. It takes as long as it takes, and the societal pressure to do it all in four years is harmful, especially for those who can’t do it that quickly.

    Good luck to you; you’ll be fine.

  77. If anecdotes are any comfort, I know plural people who failed out for “what if I just… didn’t?” reasons then came back after a year or two of not being in school, and graduated the next time around.

    It’s not just you. You’ll make it to a degree.

  78. Athena, like many of the people who have commented, I have been in a similar-looking place.

    When I was 18, I was admitted to a fairly prestigious honors program. And, I also reached a point where I hit a wall & just stopped.

    So, 4 years later, I was working at a couple of make-do jobs, no real long term prospects, unable to pay bills, etc.

    But, over time, I pulled things back together. There were setbacks. I got zero hits from one job search for a year. And then I got one hit. And that was what I needed.

    Now, 25 years later, I’m in a pretty great place. Found a new field in public service, built a family and a comfortable life. But I couldn’t have seen 2021 me from 1994.

    I’m sure that 2046 Athena will be in a pretty darn good place as well. It may be a little hard for 2021 Athena to see it, but it will happen.

  79. I dropped out of college with a GPA of 1.38 my sophomore year, and didn’t go back part time until I was in my mid 30s. I told people I was on the 25 year plan! My GPA at the end was MUCH better (3.72)!

    I did very well without a college degree for many years, I decided to go back to school because I kept plateauing in administrative jobs, it seemed like my lack of degree was holding me back. I learned some skills in college, and was able to get a job in my current career BEFORE I graduated.

    I say all this because you got this. Regardless of what happens.

    My career trajectory: College student, fast food restaurant, Professional Clown (yes, for real), Photocopy Center (it was the 90s), Retail, Call Center, Collections, Call Center, Executive Assistant/Administrative Assistant, Programmer/Analyst/DP in Market Research.

    Hope to see you back soon. And best of luck!

  80. I mostly just lurk here, but wanted to say: I had a similar college experience with chronic depression. Same struggle with “disability or excuse for moral failing?” You definitely aren’t the first (or even second) person who’s dealt with it. Sounds like you’ve got a good plan and excellent support. I wish you the best of luck with your second go-round!

  81. First off, good luck with school!

    Secondly, I will miss your posts here. I’ve enjoyed your writing here very much. I’ll especially miss your reviews.

    I hope everything goes well with you. Navigating life can be hard and navigating life with a disability even more so. It took me a long time to learn my limits and build in some guardrails and buffers where I needed than. And I still have to adjust as my life changes.

  82. Best wishes! I hope the community college works for you. It gave both my daughters time to get used to the whole college routine and get a feel for what they really wanted to do.

  83. Athena, thank you so much for your courage and honesty in today’s post, as well as for many of yours in the past.

    I, too, dropped (or, more honestly, flunked) out of college, some 50 years ago. As it happened, one reason was that I “followed my heart” toward something else that, although with many fits and starts (or stops), brought me to a trade–you might even call it a profession–that’s been very satisfying over the years since then. (The other heart-related issue that no doubt contributed to my failure was the disastrous collapse of my First Great Love at college.)

    For what it’s worth, I think a major contributor to my initial failure was lack of discipline: I’d gone to high school overseas (Switzerland), where very strict discipline was imposed on us, so I never had the chance to grow any of my own. Perhaps if I’d had more freedom before college, I’d have better been able to handle the sudden lack of discipline imposed from above.

    I tried to dodge the language requirements by challenging German and French, but even that backfired–while failing my other classes, I was also the only freshman TA for both languages.

    I wish you the best of luck, whether at community college or beyond, and I’m sure you have what it takes ultimately to succeed at whatever you put your mind (and heart!) to.

  84. Best wishes, Athena! Thanks for your openness about something that has to have been difficult to process and to discuss.

    Like many here, BTDT. After graduating with honors and a 4.2 from high school, I finished my freshman year at William and Mary with something like 9 total credits. I had discovered theatre, and fell into the pattern of “sure, I COULD go to class, or I could go work at the theatre and be appreciated and have fun!” So I skipped class. And pretty much ONLY went to my theatre classes.

    Took two years off, and worked an office job. Tried again at UVa Charlottesville, and magic happened. I still skipped some non-theatre classes now and then, but I was much more excited and motivated about learning, and I would up graduating with honors.

    I didn’t have your challenge of narcolepsy! And that has to make everything far harder. But you’re wicked smart – and you sound determined. I am confident that you’ll find your way.

    In the meantime, you’ll be missed here!

  85. It has been a pleasure reading your posts. I wish you well on your journey, whether that includes academics, something else, or Whatever!

  86. Athena: Please don’t be too hard on your self. My daughter also failed out of her first year at college. She came home, went to local community college and found a very different major that she really liked. She is now a PhD candidate in that new field. Your story so far, seems to be the same. Your successes or failures do not define who and want your are.

    May you have the good fortune to have the time to have both.

  87. I feel this post deeply. I had many of the same problems with college, though for different reasons. I would sign up for classes, start out strong, and then sort of fizzle at the end. I ended up dropping out multiple times through the years. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that I was finally able to fins a program that worked for me. I ended up taking accelerated course night classes. That ended up addressing a lot of my problems at once. I didn’t like getting up in the morning, so taking classes at nigh was ideal. I got bored with a class around half way through the quarter, so having a class only last for 6 weeks worked. I procrastinated my homework to extremes, so having something due every class meant I felt the crunch all the time. I am proud to say that it worked and I finally graduated at 40 with my degree. You can do this.

  88. Athena – Your post is honest and brave.

    I send you good thoughts and hope you have interesting experiences (academic and non-academic ones).

  89. Thank you so much for your honestly and sharing this portion of your life. As you become a writer, you will have some amazing experiences to mine from as you create a character that starts off under a mountain of pressure before they become the hero. Goodness, you are basically a female Luke Skywalker. E.g. Your desire to be like your father… But right now you wonder, how? ;-)

    You got this. Every day, another step forwards. The heroines journey is never easy. The stumbles make for a great epic. We are thinking and rooting for you!

  90. Oh, honey. That’s so hard–and you really are a brave, bright bear to be wading back in. Your new plan sounds smart. And FWIW, my older kid, who had some disability issues herself, got an AA from a local community college, then took herself off to the University of California and got her BA–that was a path that worked for her. I hope it does brilliantly for you.

  91. Hey Athena, a very brave post. College is not for everyone, and that’s not an elitist position. I know many people who didn’t do well in college, and some who didn’t graduate HS who are very intelligent, motivated, and successful. Everybody learns differently, although formalized education tends to focus on one or two methods of education. Colleges will also give you “tips” on how to succeed. Not all of these will work for you. You should approach those like “writing advice”; if it sounds good to you, try it. If it doesn’t work for you, chuck it and try something else. For me, while I love hanging with people, I absolutely cannot do a group study. It messes me up. But eventually I did find what I needed. After almost failing out of college my first time. I found what I loved doing (which I wasn’t good at to start, and which for various reasons was actually a “Good Thing”). I found a path I wanted to be on and became motivated. So I went from failing to being on Dean’s and President’s lists by the time I graduated the first time. The second time I went to college (when I was 46) I graduated Summa Cum Laude. So I want you to know that failing out doesn’t define you for life, and doesn’t even define you right now. Miami and the way they run their programs wasn’t a good fit for you. Not all schools are the same, and not all programs are the same. And it’s also very possible to be successful and (more importantly) happy without college. I wish you luck, strength, and fortitude for your journey where ever it may lead.

  92. [Deleted because as noted above, “advice” on mental/physical health issues are not the order of the day — JS]

  93. Congrats on going back to school, and good luck with the coming challenges!

    Your mileage may vary, but as someone with Idiopathic Hypersomnia I’ve found being in a support group on Facebook really helpful. If nothing else, it’s nice to be able to vent about something like this to people who really understand because they’re going through the same thing.

    My worst class was Statistics, because the professor started every class by turning out the lights to use the overhead projector, and there was no power in the ‘verse that could keep me awake with the lights out. I got a 27 on my final. You are not alone, and I believe in your ability to find ways to make this work for you!

  94. If nothing else, you did learn Ballroom Dancing. That’s something I’m actually a little envious of you for.

    Best of luck to you.

  95. Best of luck to you. College is not the only thing in life, so there are options for you if this still doesn’t work out. I’m just sad you had to go through so many years of failure to get here. Failure, though, as I have learned, builds a lot of “character.” Lol. What that really means is that it focuses us on the things we REALLY want to do. I feel confident you’ll figure that out.

  96. Oh, I definitely remember my own Floundering Years in my late teens/early 20s, feeling like a beached fish flopping around trying to find the water again, or any water, really, just to feel able to breathe again.

    Eventually ended up with a steady (45 years, so far!) relationship and a good career, but damn, it sure seemed unlikely (or outright impossible) during those early years.

    So, best wishes and good luck for your own search for the right path forward for yourself.

  97. Six classes at once, like you did during your first semester, is too many for a lot of students. You have to access your stamina and dedication to study, the difficulty level of the classes you are taking, and your personal degree of perfection to decide what is an appropriate course load.

    Often students feel pressured to take as many classes at a time as possible because of how higher education is priced. At most traditional colleges and universities you pay by the semester, no matter how many or how few classes you take. That means that the total cost of your degree depends on how quickly you complete it.

    At community college you probably won’t be facing that pressure. They usually charge by the class rather than a flat fee per semester. Take it at your own pace, not somebody else’s.

  98. Athena – best of luck! I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and am hoping you’ll return for some guest posts.

  99. Athena, I’ve been a college professor for many, many years, and I’ve seen many, many promising students lose their way. I’ve seen many of them find their way back, too–a wide variety of different “ways” back, ending at an even wider variety of destinations–by focusing on themselves and discovering their own strengths. I think the path you have chosen looks like a solid start, a good one to try wherever it may eventually lead; I wish you well on it.

    I have enjoyed your pieces here on Whatever, and I look forward to whatever (so to speak!) you may choose to write in the future.

  100. I had a similar experience with my freshman year. The standards where I was were a bit stricter and they threw me out definitively after two semesters.

    My route back to getting a degree was what you’ve got planned: be a commuter student until I had a GPA that would allow me to transfer back into the University, and keep not fucking up once I did that.

    May you encounter fair winds and smooth sailing.

  101. BTW, you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience. Have fun!

  102. I want to congratulate you on the bravery it took to write and share this post, and wish you luck as you head back to school.
    I’ve enjoyed your posts here, and will again if/when you return!

  103. At my college, Academic Services (AS) was where they helped you with stuff.

    One day I was walking in the hall with a worried classmate, I was trying to tell her she had nothing to lose by trying AS.

    The man ten walking ten feet ahead of us, another classmate, who was a real good student, stopped, turned around, and joined the conversation, speaking with heat.

    He told us that when he goes in to one of the AS training sessions there are lots of “A students” like him but not many of the students who could really use the training. This fact really disturbed the folks at AS.

    In the real world that happens too. The best salespersons will be the ones to take optional sales training.

    Another fact is that many students could not be helped by the counsellors as they would silently drop out without seeking help. My worried friend sought help, instead of saying “but I already know what I should do.” She graduated with us.

  104. I feel you, I screwed up similarly. My first semester actually went pretty well, even the second.
    Well, I did fail math during my second semester, but the third came along and I had to re-take math. I didn’t like the professor, I didn’t like math, so I skipped a few times. When I went again I fell even more behind because I had missed a few lectures. So I failed again after my third semester.
    My college was pretty strict about how often you could fail, and I needed an approval for a third chance. They granted it (doing some volunteering work at my college probably helped), but I managed to fail again so I knew they’d kick me out after semester four.
    Before they could do so I switched majors (from software engineering to electrical engineering) and my lazy ass made the exact same mistake again. Four semesters again I was out.
    My mental health plummeted even further. I screwed up my dream because I couldn’t be assed to attend, I made the exact same mistake with my second chance, and I already had issues before all of that.
    I ended up going to therapy and switching to vocational school (which is fairly common and fairly respected) which I did pass recently. Internationally it’s not worth more than my school degree, but within Germany it’s seen as higher than that, although still less than a Bachelor‘s degree.

    You have another chance. Try to take it seriously, for your own mental health!

  105. Invisible disabilities are an absolute bitch. (Mine is quite visible, and as I look back I can see when this has been an advantage — everybody believes in it, no justification necessary.)

    Extreme stubbornness, tempered by good sense, can become a superpower.

    I’ll miss your writing.

  106. Good luck Athena.

    It can be really hard to study some times. I had to slap myself in the face to get my eyes to focus when I was tired.

  107. Athena, I used to be a freshman, and I was a TA for a couple of years, and taught English 101. What I discovered is that almost everyone failed that first year in some manner. I flunked out of some classes that first year. As a TA, I quite a few students flunked out each quarter. As a freshman, most of the students had never been out on their own, making their own decisions, and being responsible for them. And like they say, wisdom comes from good decisions, an good decisions come from experience, and experience come from bad decisions. Students decided to sleep late rather than come to 8am classes. Students decided to party instead of studying. Students decided to enjoy “peak tanning hours” instead of coming to classes at noon.
    So I started telling my students that at least a third of them were going to fail in some way during their first year. Maybe they’d then use their new found wisdom to do better, maybe actually make it to classes or actually study or schedule classes later in the day. Maybe they have to get more experience before they made good decisions. Maybe they’d have to sit out of school for a bit. So they might fall off of this horse called college. That didn’t matter. What mattered is whether they got back on the horse. Or maybe on a gentler horse.

    I personally took 5 years to graduate. My husband flunked out, kept changing colleges, and took 11 years. My sister flunked out, got married, went back and took online courses because her husband was in the military and they were overseas, went slowly, and took 15 years. But we all got back on that horse. And kept getting back on that horse.

    So you’ve gotten back onto the horse. EXCELLENT! That shows wisdom and courage! You can do it! Just recognize that it might be at a different pace that “normal”, whatever that is. But you are doing it! We are cheering for ya, girl!

  108. Athena – your story is, alas, rather common. I personally experienced something similar when I first went off to college. I was a smart kid from a small town and I didn’t need to study very hard to ace my classes. Then I got dumped an a big university surrounded by kids who were every bit as smart as I was. It was a rude awakening.

    Frankly, the only thing that got me through college in four years was the Navy ROTC scholarship. If I hadn’t graduated, I would have had to go in as an enlisted person, and I really didn’t want to do that.

    So, keep working at it – it can be done!

  109. Thanks for being willing to share something you’ve historically wanted to avoid. I don’t know whether it’s helpful to you – I am very ambivalent about the idea that unloading our secrets is in our own interest – but I appreciate the opening up.

    Like so many other commenters above, I had a winding path through my university degree as well. I worked my way through – back in the 80s and 90s when it was still barely possible to do such a thing, financially – and while that played a part in the speed it also had plenty to do with my own mental health issues and plain old bad choices. But I did it and I am sure you can too, if you decide that’s the right choice for you.

    I complained once to my dad about dealing with university bureaucratic nonsense and he chuckled and told me that at least half the value of a degree is that it demonstrates your ability to deal with complicated bureaucracy and convince them to put their stamp on the sheepskin. He was half joking but I’ve seen the truth inside the joke over time – pursuing a degree is as much about learning our own skills and strategies for getting shit done in a big operation as it is any specific subject matter. It shows possible employers/investors/whatever that you can set out and achieve a goal and it forces us to learn how to do it.

    I ended up making a right turn and didn’t get the specific specialty I was initially going after but that was part of how I figured out how to get what I wanted and get it done. And sure enough, the stuff I learned along the way both in and out of class has been the most valuable stuff, not the degree. Good luck blazing your own path.

  110. I took a similar path in my academic career. Started with credits from AP classes in HS, went to a university and promptly decided to drink and goof off instead of going to classes. I ended up getting asked to leave.

    I also started the 9to5 and decided it sucked. So I enrolled in the local community college where I lived and proceeded to actually show up for class and ended up transferring to a different university from which I graduated with a degree.

    The major takeaway for me was that everyone has a different path and there’s no right answer. You’ll figure out your path and do what’s right for you. I wish you luck at CC and hope you get to take some enjoyable classes!

  111. Here to sympathize as I also failed out of college my freshman year. For me it took the next year to figure out what happened, how I could avoid it happening again, and think real hard about whether I really wanted to go back. It turned out that yes, I did want to go back, but I changed majors and that helped a bit. The other thing that helped was I recognized in myself why I had failed, and worked to set up new skills and habits to get me through my time at college. It worked! It was super hard, and I often felt like I was one step ahead of a raging shambles catching me, but it worked!

    In retrospect I really wish my parents had let me fail on my own something a bit less pricey, but I did learn what failure meant to me. I hope that your resolve is equal to the challenges you face this semester, and you go forth and learn what your next steps are.

  112. That was a personal, brave essay. You’ve clearly thought things through and have both a plan and family support.

    To add to the many examples of non-traditional college experiences above, I got my BS at the age of 41 and my MBA at 44 – everyone takes a different path.

    You’ve got a fairly unique challenge with your disability, but just from the writing you’ve done on the site, it’s clear that you are smart and talented – I like your odds of success.

  113. I think you should be commended for sharing what is clearly a difficult and painful subject for you.

    Failing is hard, Failing at college is also hard, I hope that your efforts this semester work for you and make you happy as well as succeeding.

    I have enjoyed immensely your time posting here and will do so again if you return

    Good Luck

  114. I was (and still am) bad at academics too. Between sleep apnea, ADD, and having a generally chaotic childhood, I didn’t do well in school, I dropped out of college, and it took me a long time to figure out my path in life, but I eventually did.

    You’ll get there. You’ll figure out a path forward for yourself.

  115. Thanks for the candor. These posts of yours always put me back in my early 20s self. A sad place for me.

    I did somewhat better than you at college (TheOSU), but dropped out after I realized those poor grades meant it wasn’t working. I went back with something to prove years later and made dean’s list without fail. But still wasted all that good money trying to make up for the bad money. Still no degree, no real ambition.

    I hadn’t learned the one lesson. College was not my path, even though I wanted to be a scientist, researcher or academic, but I hadn’t learned the true meaning of college.

    Anyway. College if you want, but life holds so many alternate paths. Stay off recreational drugs, they are really truly destructive, no matter what anyone tells you, and don’t break any laws, and you’ll be ahead of the game. Network with the connections you have. That’s what so many go to college to obtain, after all. The introduction, the recommendation, the club membership. The big secret handshake.

    If you want to change the world, be kind to everyone. That don’t take no degree.

  116. No advice, just virtual cheering for you. It sucked, it’s gonna suck for a bit longer, but you’re incredibly smart and clear-eyed and you’ll be okay.

  117. Athena, I send you solidarity, support and hugs (if you want those). Every single person in my family, including me, has taken a non-traditional approach to post-secondary education. And the slings and arrows from outraged traditionalists can be painful in their cruelty.

    My elder kid totally failed out of the community college she went to straight out of high school. She lasted less than a month there.

    My younger kid went dutifully off to university right out of high school. Between booze and bed-hopping, his grades tanked so badly he was kicked out multiple times.

    I started university straight out of high school as well. Very quickly discovered that I had no idea what I wanted to do, and no motivation to go to classes that didn’t interest me. I dropped out when I was 19.

    All three of us eventually earned a degree, and all three of us have satisfying professions that allow us to live comfortably. And I have a hunch that the same thing is very likely to happen to you as well.

    In my very inexpert and subjective opinion, I think that the more intelligence and aptitudes a person has, the more difficult it can be for them to identify a single direction or path to follow. In some cases, this is exacerbated by well-meaning teachers, who are so thrilled to have found a student who is good at the subject they teach that they immediately leap to the conclusion that the student MUST pursue that subject through their academic and professional careers. And when you have multiple teachers each telling you that you MUST pursue a career in wildly divergent fields (think cello performance and organic chemistry), it can be a real struggle to break through to figure out what YOU want. Especially if you tend to be the sort of person who tries to please others (not saying this is you, please note, just that it was a factor in our family).

    In any case, you have my very best wishes for future happiness, for successes that make you proud, for a lifetime of satisfying activities, and for rewarding relationships with others, regardless of the path you take to get there.

  118. I can identify with your experience in part (I don’t have narcolepsy, I was just making bad choices). Anyway, I flunked out of my first year in college after, um, not going to class consistently, and was politely requested not to come back. Exactly 20 years later, after I’d cleaned up my act, I graduated summa cum laude and with distinction in the major from a better university. Sometimes it’s just not the right time, and sometimes it is. You’ll be fine. Never give up.

  119. No advise here, just some encouragement, commiseration, and hope.
    When I was 20, I flunked out of Indiana University after attempting a physics degree. After ~5 years working in retail and then the computer industry, I went back to study music. Now I have a Doctorate (!) in Opera and Musical Theatre Conducting. Your story is still being written. :)

  120. I’ll just add to the heap of encouragement and appreciation you are getting in the comments, Athena. All the best to you, whatever happens with your schooling. And hey – a shoutout to all the folks sharing similar experiences. What a kind, caring community!

  121. Good luck with your studies this time around.

    I very nearly flunked out my sophomore year in college.

    My older sister withdrew before being kicked out, spent a year working in a bakery before going back. She’s a doctor now.

    Anyway, my point is, there are many paths. You’ll find yours.

    And you’re lucky you have understanding parents.

  122. Wishing you all the best. I’ve enjoyed your posts here but it makes loads of sense to focus on school for now.

  123. Good luck Athena! I know it’s hard in the moment, but try not to stress about school too much. Everyone has to take their own path and there is nothing inherently better about getting through school quickly. I say this as a NASA scientist who had to drop calculus my freshman year in college because I was so close to failing. Some of the smartest people I work with have similar stories.

  124. Athena, you have my sympathies. I’m fifty this year. I’ve been trying to get a degree (BA of some kind if I can manage it – currently doing a double major in Creative Writing and Literary & Cultural Studies) since the year I turned 18, and for one reason or another (mostly to do with, like you, having a neurodiversity which messes with my executive functioning) I’ve never actually managed to complete a course of study. Now, I’m not going to offer any of my solutions, because they’re very much aimed at my own neurodiversity (autism) rather than yours, and therefore won’t be of any use whatsoever, but what I will suggest is seeing whether the institution you’re studying with is willing to let you study part-time, rather than insisting on full-time study. One of the things about any situation where your executive function – your ability to plan, to schedule, to find motivation, to get started on things, to follow through with them, and to see your way through complex situations to the end – is not optimal (for whatever reason) is this: the less you have to try and juggle at once, the better you’re going to be able to handle it. So rather than studying say, four subjects a semester, if you stick with only two, you’re going to find the executive function load you’re facing is reduced, and you may be better able to handle things in and around the various requirements of your neurodiversity (being different takes energy too, and it takes energy in ways neurotypical “normal” people literally aren’t able to understand).

    Your brain is different. This doesn’t make you lazy, stupid, or whatever other negative terms you’ve been applying to yourself. It means your challenges and requirements are different to those of most other people, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may take a bit longer than most, but I’m sure you’ll make it in the long run.

  125. My wife (way the hell back in the mid-’80s) got the boot, academic probation, and when she went back somehow got it together (I say somehow because that wouldn’t have been me). Here we are decades later and she kicks ass in her field, is highly respected, and makes a good chunk of change more than me. So: I wish for you a better time round, and hope your change of focus works out for you.

  126. No advice (I suck at that anyway) just a hearty “I feel you”. I did much the same thing except I did it in my Junior year at college. Just woke up one November morning and decided I didn’t want to go to school. Signed up for classes in the Spring but just went to the first one for each and then did the same thing.

    Best of luck going forward. I eventually found my path, I’m sure you’ll find yours.

  127. Best of luck with everything and looking forward to when you’re able to post again. I’m sure it was tough sharing all that but you never know who out there might benefit from hearing that they’re not alone.

    Keep experimenting, follow your interests, and you never know where life might take you.

  128. Best of luck to you, Athena! A few thoughts …
    – is there a narcolepsy support group that you can attend? If so, the others may be able to offer constructive tips on managing the disability while in school.
    – continue therapy. I’m a believer. A good therapist can help with tactics to manage the anxiety and offer coping mechanisms.

    The above is what I’ve learned over the past two and a half years with my wife living with a progressive neurological disease just recently diagnosed as ALS. COVID? Never heard of it. Never really impacted us. (Yes. We’re both vaccinated but COVID has been the least of our issues.)

    Finally, why take a full class load right out of the gate? You’ve generally been successful with smaller class loads. Do it one class at a time. Maybe after a year, add a class. Build on success. It doesn’t have to be a sprint.

    Again, best of luck to you. You have a supporter here.

  129. College and University can be difficult in so many different ways. You are so courageous to give it another try and also to be so frank about your difficulties.
    More power to you and best of luck.

  130. Hi Athena,

    I don’t have much to add to what’s been said above , don’t be too hard on yourself.

    If I could tell myself one thing from college days it would be that life gets better, and it will all turn out OK. That’s not just my life I’m looking back at, it was true of the vast majority of people and we all struggled to different degrees.

    I don’t know if it is relevant here but my fear of failure often came down to a type of perfectionism. If I couldn’t get it exactly right first time I didn’t want to do it at all. Giving yourself permission to get an assignment wrong makes it much easier. you just have to hand something in, it doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winning essay.

    Come and tell us about something you have enjoyed doing, when you’re ready and you want to write it

  131. No advise, my dear, just love, compassion, understanding, positive thoughts… Hearts and Roses to you!

  132. Athena,

    We previously exchanged emails about OCCP. I used to be a prof at Miami, and have some experience with students who ran into issues there. I also have pretty deep experience with what you’re in the midst of, having gone through it myself. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in thoughts and perspective from someone who came out the other end pretty adequately successful.

  133. Given the wonderful snack box reviews I have the minimal excuse I need to use this one (not that I wouldn’t have used it anyway of course, but…)

    So long, and thanks for all the fish!

  134. Yes on the occasional snack box reviews!

    I’m on the other side of that desk: college biology prof my whole life. So of course I have words of wisdom (or something).

    1) You are very clearly smart enough. I’ve taught lots of students who don’t have that and it’s heartbreaking. They don’t want to be told to stop wasting their time. That is not your problem. You have what it takes in plain old brainpower.

    2) As far as I can tell from 10,000 miles away, the biggest problem is you’re bored with some of the classes you’ve had. My guess is the cell bio may fall into that group? If it does, and if you can, drop it and concentrate on the classes you have at least some interest in.

    3) Form or take part in a study group. Really. Do it. It’s the single most powerful motivator there is. The more you enjoy the people in that group(s), the better it will work.

    I, personally, dropped out twice, or maybe three times (hard to remember without flowcharting it), and two of those times set off to see the world. School just wasn’t doing it for me. Which says more about school than me or you!

  135. I don’t know if you found hearing from other folks with similar experiences helpful, but I sure did! Like so many others in this thread, I did well in high school, graduated early, and set off for college with grand ambitions. I made it through the first semester, but Something Happened (no trauma, no disaster, just me) and I stopped going to class. I managed to limp through 2 more semesters before I got kicked out. It took several years for me to pull myself together, then several more years of part time school and full time work before I finally graduated. It was only years later that I realized that I’d been battling depression the entire time. You have a good head on your shoulders and a supportive family. Be kind to yourself. Good luck!

  136. It guess it seeped into me, after 8 years of elementary, 4 years in high school, and into college, that ‘full time student’ was not my thing any more.

    I most enjoyed the years when I was taking one or two evening courses. Made my job easier to cope with, even if it didn’t wind up advancing any ‘career’ goals.

    Not sure why we still push full-time college on recent HS grads who might thrive on a different educational/vocational/work/life ‘path’.

  137. Oh. Well. As long as the snack box reviews keep coming.
    (That, by the way, was me totally failing at pretending to be human. How ’bout:)
    I don’t learn well from lectures, or anything heavy on auditory comprehension. I learn well from reading. You just need to find what learning method works for you. Or what subject is engrossing enough to keep you awake. Or what allows you to fall asleep and pick up where you left off.
    Plus, not everything requires a college degree, so it’s more about figuring out WHY you’re trying to learn something, rather than just slogging through a degree acquisition.
    Purrs, head bumps, and best wishes, as the commentariat says at Breaking Cat News.

  138. 1) Thank you for sharing your story. That cannot have been an easy thing to do, and your openness is appreciated.

    2) Best of luck going forward. I sincerely hope that you find a model of engaging with academia that is both rewarding for you and compatible with necessary evaluative functions (the former so it is valuable, and the latter so that you can continue that engagement on your terms).

    3) For the last several years I’ve been running one of the first-year seminars in the College of Engineering. It’s a 1 credit class where 30% of the grade is showing up and clicking an iClicker on weekly engagement questions (no penalty for wrong answers), 30% is doing online quizzes you can take as many times as you want until you get the right answers, and 40% are skills labs where you get full credit by going through all the guided steps. In short, it’s the sort of class where every grade for every assignment is expected to be 100% and most students get full credit for the course.

    Nonetheless, this class has the highest rate of F grades of anything I’ve ever taught. In every case, it’s because the student has just stopped participating entirely. Usually, the student also stops responding to emails. You can flag them in the student advising system, but, as an instructor, you never hear back as to whether they ended up ok. Having done a stint in the Engineering advising office, I’ve seen a sampling of things going off the rails, and it definitely follows the Anna Karenina principle with respect to the diversity of their adversities.

    So, TL;DR – I’m relieved to hear that, even if your University experience was terrible, you’re okay.

    There’s a strong selection bias in the friend groups I acquired during university, during grad school, as a professor at a research university, etc. to think of college as a wonderful experience that any capable person would benefit from attending. As a counterpoint, my wife hated her time in college. She loathed it. I continue to disagree with her about the expected value proposition for a random attendee, but the additional viewpoint helps keep me grounded, I hope.

    All of this is a very verbose way to say the following: Academia, like most institutions, optimizes for the most common cases of its clients and for its own continuation and convenience. I wish you the best of luck finding a path forward that optimizes, at least to some degree, for you.

  139. As a college teacher for several years, I always found grades to be kind of grotesque — a weird way of quantifying what should be a personal experience. Suppose a student comes and learns a great deal? Their reward should be the knowledge they gained and the sense of pleasure one gets from acquiring a certain bit of mastery, plus the ability to demonstrate that knowledge in a formal setting such as a job interview, where they might benefit. Suppose they learn nothing? Well, they learned nothing — why do they need an ‘F’ to follow them around?

    I know that the answer is that everyone needs a bit of shorthand to demonstrate whether they are a good student or a bad student; but the need for that shorthand shows the shallowness of the places where it comes into play (job interviews or graduate school applications). When you give out grades, you get a real sense of the arbitrariness at their heart, and often feel a kind of despair at the way that a difference of a point or two turns into the vast gulf between a B and an A, or a D and a C.

    We aren’t graded on other aspects of life, such as the efficacy or sincerity of our prayer in church; grades are a very strange formalization of the complex relationship between a teacher and a student, or between ourselves and our brain.

  140. Some thoughts:

    A lot of unusual stories above, nothing to feel dumb about. When I took a one year full time certificate program in writing (not for getting a job!) I found that half of us had left home as minors. I wish I had known that back when I was feeling dumb as a minor off in the big city.

    According to visionary Jane Jacobs, (in her last book Dark Ages Ahead) our society has organized so that a “piece of parchment” can be used as a “no cost to the company” screening device. I suspect what it screens for is, as Magpie said, “executive function.”

    According to business sage Peter Drucker, some learn by hearing, some learn by reading, and a few, like Sir Winston Churchill, learn by writing. Hence Churchill’s great struggles in school, although he went on to win a (Nobel?) prize in writing.

    I was in the middle of presenting a small group seminar to my classmates in university when someone burst out, “You’re an oral learner! My AD kids talk like you!” My boss had already noticed and told me. I hadn’t known.

    When I was a campus tour guide there was a remote corner where I would always stop my group and tell them that some of them would change their major before they graduated. Therefore they should pay attention to which classes they liked and which students they hung out with on evenings and weekends.

    When my classmates told a professor I was changing majors she said, “Where he belongs!” because she had seen me with other students, and one of them had mentioned me to her.

    Moderate socializing is, I believe, important in college because, I read once, half your learning comes from other students. The other half is texts and teachers. …I didn’t do dormitory life, but I did do a shared house which I found enlightening.

    “Dorm” is Latin for sleep, hence dormitory, dormant, and why the Mad Hatter’s friend was always so sleepy. (which came to me in the middle of a Latin final exam—when I went down the stairs to hand it in I just had gleefully to whisper this insight to my prof)

    Students who are active enough to have “meaning of life” conversations are often active in student life and clubs too, so I think that is where to find them. Others, poor saps, see college as a glorified high school: talking weather, pro sports and “Just the classroom facts, Ma’am.”

  141. Athena,

    All the best to you at CC and otherwise!
    I hope that talking about your experiences publicly has helped relieve some of the weight and emotional hell.

    I had a similar experience in my first year of college, and at other moments in my life, but dwelling on it isn’t sensible or helpful.

    It has been a delightful year of reading your work on Whatever! Thank you for all your stories!


    No matter where you go, there you are.

  142. One of my favorite underrated Disney movies is Meet the Robinsons, with its motto of “Keep Moving Forward!” I love how when the main character tries something and it doesn’t work, the entire family breaks out in cheers and says “From failure, you learn. From success, not so much.” I wish more kids took this to heart because so much of school isn’t geared towards giving time to make mistakes, so kids don’t learn how to fail. Instead they think one mistake means everything is ruined forever, or they’re bad at the thing and will never get any better so why bother trying.
    My husband dropped out of college three times despite being a stellar high school student, still doesn’t have a degree and no interest in getting one. He is currently the general manager for a craft brewery he helped co-found because he has the math brains to handle the finances and they let him do hands-on projects like build tables on the side. There really is no “right” way to go through life.

  143. Thank you, Athena! As someone who needed 21 years to complete a bachelors degree … I’m totally behind taking it at your own pace.

    (And, just to add: totally worth it. Eventually.)

  144. Thank you Athena for your candor, and for – yet again – prompting a fruitful discussion. I like the insights into academia’s actual (as opposed to notional) role in economic, social & cultural life. One of my high school teachers addressed us Year 12s as follows: “Some few of you will go on to higher learning and you’ll accomplish great things. The rest of you will leave school and do nothing other than join the Lunch Bucket Brigade (sic).”

    I won’t go into all the ways I now know this to be bullshit, but my teenaged self had anyway internalized much of the core attitude. Thus it was horrifying to start a uni degree program and realize I was completely unfitted for it, good grades notwithstanding.

    The comments here are revelatory, and oh my giddy aunt, did I ever tick a lot of those same boxes. Too young, no life experience, no organizational skills. Autism (of which I’d no inkling) and depression (ditto). Too willing to chase after… er… extracurricular activities of several kinds. Unused to reading deeply into a subject and making inferences, deductions & connections from the material.

    No COVID back then, but infectious mononucleosis & chronic fatigue were quietly devastating in their own way.

    After many more years than planned, I did finally complete a degree, which was (a) not the one I’d set out to get, and (b) utterly anticlimactic.

    By that time, I’d racked up some experience points and worked at the obligatory string of incongruous jobs. And decided it were better to direct my perseverations into hobbies rather than working life.

    On the whole it’s worked out all right. I have only the occasional nightmare where I’m falling badly behind in 3 out of 4 courses, and must decide whether to try to catch up, or face up to the profs concerned. :-D

  145. You are a very brave person. I could not have written about flunking out of school.
    You are fortunate to have made a good choice in choosing your parents.
    Big hugs!

  146. I loved this so much. I flunked out of my first year at uni, due to similar behaviour to yours (no narcolepsy in my case). It was my first time away from the family, 8:30 AM classes were ridiculous, the drop-by date was past and it was too late to get my marks back up, and so on. In retrospective I wish I’d taken the time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, instead of going straight to post-secondary education.

    I’m glad you’re taking a new tack this time. Good luck!

  147. I’ve enjoyed your comments. You come across as a bright woman, and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Best of luck!

  148. Athena, be you. That’s the best advice I or anyone can give.

    I went to an engineering school because I had great grades in HS and was interested in the field I picked. But not interested enough to do all the work. The details differed but the sequence was similar. The classes I was interested in I attended and did well. The others, not so much. I left after a year.

    Part of the issue was that I didn’t know how to study. I hadn’t had to in HS, it was all easy so I didn’t learn how to spend hours studying. I just whipped through the homework if I had to do it and just showed up if I didn’t have to turn it in. I had a couple of math teachers who knew I never did homework, I’d walk through the door and they’d tell me to do the hardest problem in the homework. Which gave me about 5 minutes to solve it. But math was easy. Or so I thought back then.

    I went to a community college after the engineering school. An attempt to reset and start over. That started well the first semester and fell apart the second. The classes I was interested in I did well and the others I quit showing up.

    I picked a different solution at that point. Another guy and I started a computer software company. I wrote business software for years. We shut down our company after almost a decade and I went to a very large company for a few years. Then to a small startup where I stayed for a decade. Then another small startup which was bought by a Fortune 500 company. Where I stayed for almost twenty years.

    I retired last year. I was a very senior engineer at the Fortune 500 company in charge of a team working on very high tech items. Things that cost millions to build and sold by millions of units.

    Not having a degree did make a difference at the last job, at least occasionally. That last promotion wasn’t going to happen due to that, even though it was almost 40 years earlier. But the image suddenly mattered again. But all the years in between it didn’t till that last promotion. But that would have just given me more money for the last few years; it wasn’t the difference between success and failure.

    As I said, do you. Find the subjects you are passionate about and study them. That will probably be your career. That may or may not be what you choose for a degree.

    Good luck.

  149. Pretty brave post! If I’d have gone to college when I was college aged I would have bombed out, and I wouldn’t have been dealing with a pandemic or narcolepsy either. I went at 26 instead and ended up with 3 degrees.

    Keep your head up, and good luck!

  150. “did my disability actually disable me, or am I being overdramatic? Am I falsely blaming my disability when the true problem is me, and my disability is just an easy cover-up?”

    This hits so hard for me and I think for everyone who lives with an “invisible” disability, meaning no missing limbs but rather imbalances in the body and/or mental health issues. It hurts so much when you can’t be like other people and you always ask yourself if you’ve done everything that you could do. It especially hurts if you were an overachiever and then you just grind to a sudden stop because your circumstances change and you can’t adapt or you just get older and your disability just gets bigger.
    So yeah, I’ve learned the hard way to be kind to myself and accept that success or failure looks differently for me than for other people. I hope you find your success, no matter how that might look like for you.

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