by Robert Maxwell
Of the many puzzled expressions I’ve caused in my life, the largest number happened right after I graduated from high school in 2008. That’s when I decided to do something that no one else in my graduating class did. Something radical and adventurous. Looking like many lazy layabouts before me, I decided to forego college and stay at home. How is this adventurous? A fair question. There’s nothing too thrilling about a young guy lying on his parents’ couch all day when he should be in college. Luckily, that’s not what I did with my time.
While many of my friends were getting accepted to prestigious schools to study things like fashion design and psychology, I was trying to decide what to do with my life and future. I knew I wanted to remain on in the country on Manitoulin Island long term and have lots of land. I also knew I needed a least a little money to build the life I dreamed of. I just wasn’t certain what to do to earn money way out here in the middle of nowhere. I’d always enjoyed photography, and was thinking about turning that into a career. The only problem was that none of the post-secondary programs I researched seemed to teach practical skills on running an effective photography business, which I was pretty sure was what I wanted to pursue.
As the end of my graduating year approached, I began to panic. Everyone seemed to have their plans laid out but me. I was even called into the guidance counselor’s office to draw my attention to the fact that I was not yet enrolled in any universities or colleges. As if I wasn’t painfully aware of it already. The more I looked into formal post-secondary options, the more disillusioned I became. Surely there was a more efficient way to gain financially valuable skills than paying thousands of dollars to sit in a lecture hall for four years. And even then, there was no guarantee I’d know anything that would lead to a decent income doing something I liked where I wanted to live. That’s when I had an idea that changed the course of my life, and possibly yours.
I realized there are educational tools available that are far more efficient and effective for teaching me the skills I need than any institution. The internet, for one. Photography isn’t like medicine or law. No one asks to see your degree before hiring you for a shoot. They just want to know that you do good work. Realizing the possibility of remote, self-education changes everything. When my high school graduation rolled around, the names of all the graduates were printed alphabetically next to the program of their choice. Each person had the name of the college they’d be attending printed beside their name. Except for me. Beside my name were the words “Independent Study”.
Over the last three years, I’ve developed enough skill to run my photography business from my Island home. I read books, enrolled in online courses, and most importantly, practiced. Before long, I became a regular contributor to several magazines. Then I started making videos. My business continues to grow as my knowledge increases, and I never have to learn anything that’s not immediately valuable.
So how does this tie into rural living? Quite nicely. For one thing, most colleges draw their students into the congestion of the city. Independent, internet-based study is completely mobile, so I’ve been able to teach myself from my very rural home, and had time to build a cabin for myself on the side. Being highly focussed and self-directed in my education has allowed me to flourish in the place I love, while planning and creating the simple country life I’ve dreamed of for years.
I’m not saying that college is always a waste. There are many career paths that require a degree, and that’s fine. But whatever path is chosen, whether it involves a post secondary institution or not, should harness a passion. And in the words of Mark Twain, “Don’t let school interfere with your education.”