How the Founder of Dell Convinced His Parents It Was OK to Quit College

Not everyone should or needs to go to college.

Michael Dell shared the first ever financial statement from Dell on Twitter today and said that it’s “the one I used to convince my parents that it was OK for me to not go back to college.” Though we won’t all be the next Michael Dell, I think he makes an important point about convincing your parents that it’s okay for you to drop out of college.

The best way to convince them is not to argue with them over why you want to leave, but to show them that you can be successful without a degree. Understand that most parents don’t really care about the degree. They want to know that you’re safe and they’re biased against anything that might take you off the safe path. There’s very little you can do to fight that through arguing and that’s okay. Don’t fight against it, don’t argue, just drop out and show that you can satisfy that need without being in college.

One of my favorite quotes from The Fountainhead occurs when Peter Keating asks Howard Roark whether he should start working or take a scholarship to a prestigious art school:

If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work.

I learned through experience how true this is. My parents were categorically against my leaving college when I first told them of my plans during my freshman year. They told me to just “stick with it.” “Don’t be a quitter.” “Life is easier with a degree,” “we’ll be very embarrassed,” all the usual arguments you hear. And after a year and a half of arguing, debating, and complaining, nothing had changed. They wanted me to finish college even when they knew I hated it.

I eventually decided that their disapproval was less important than the boredom and creeping dread I felt attending lectures I didn’t care about taught by teachers who didn’t want to be there. I left college and prepared myself for whatever anger they threw my way. And they were mad. They were really mad. My brother had gone to college and done what was expected of him without questioning it. Why couldn’t I have done the same?

It’s your life, yours alone, and you have to live with the successes and failures.

But then a funny thing happened when I stopped caring what they thought and started focusing on myself and my goals. Their anger went from begrudging acceptance to approval to my biggest fan as soon as I started making money on my own terms. I was getting clients around the country and traveling. I moved to Austin and took a job at a startup, then realized my marketing business was growing and the opportunities lay with that, so I left. That turned into a full-time role running marketing at another startup and opportunities to speak internationally. My life was great.

And what was previously the worst decision of my life became the best decision I’d ever made. They now like to tell everybody about it. It went from, “My son is...a dropout” to “My son is a dropout!” in about 6 months. I showed them that the kind of life I wanted was possible by going out and living it successfully, and like Michael Dell, I think this was the only way to do it. And this has been the experience that most dropouts I know have had with their parents.

Students who want to drop out of college ask me all the time now what they should tell their parents. The best advice I can give them is not to tell them much of anything. You’re taking an unorthodox path and you can’t expect them to just take your word that it’s going to be okay. Trust yourself to drop out and make the kind of life you want a reality. It’s your life, yours alone, and you have to live with the successes and failures. I guarantee, if they’re parents worth maintaining a relationship with at all, they will come around to your side when you’ve built it.

Reprinted from the author's blog.

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