From Dropping Out of College to Working for Google: How My Son Found Success
When my son dropped out of college to become a professional snowboarder, it was the most difficult time of my life — and an epiphany for him.
I am not an author or a specialist. I am the mother of a 25-year-old adult who has ADHD. We are a loving, close, and supportive blended family, with a wonderful extended family and good friends. My son was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade, and what followed was a bumpy ride through behavior charts, counseling, and educational and emotional supports. He fought each of these almost every step of the way. I learned from those who worked with him — teachers, counselors, and tutors — that my son was bright, creative, engaging, and a leader. They said he had a unique way of thinking.
A Grand Glimpse of His Potential
By seventh grade, the ride included a stint with medication, which my son did not like. In his sophomore year of high school, I got a clearer sense of my son’s potential. One night he was in his room doing his homework, or so I thought. He was quiet as a mouse, not typical with him and homework. I looked in on him, and he was surrounded by paper printouts of ski goggle prototypes that he was designing with a set of colored pencils and magic markers. He had entered a “Design-a-Goggle” contest sponsored by a national sports company. He won the contest, and his goggle concept was manufactured and distributed in North America. He had found something on his own that resonated with him — creating something, doing it on his own terms, in his own time. My eyes, mind, and heart were blown wide open.
Having been on and off medication throughout middle and high school, he took himself off permanently in the first year of college. In hindsight, our son wasn’t ready for college nor for a “gap year.” We received little guidance as to his options, so, at our suggestion, our son went to college.
His first year was what most people would consider a disaster. He nearly failed several classes and passed only those classes that interested him. He was partying, snowboarding, and going at life untethered. He felt the freedom that kids feel once they leave home for college. Many kids are not ready for that freedom, and those who have ADHD have an even wider chasm to leap to adulthood, decision-making, and planning.
The Turning Point
Yet his first year in college proved to be a turning point in my son’s journey. He told us he did not want to go back to college for sophomore year, that he needed something different — to take time off from school to see if he could make it as a professional snowboarder. He wanted to move to Colorado. He had no plan other than that. Looking back on that time now, I believe that he needed a break from his four parents and the world that had defined him.
My husband and I, and my son’s father and stepmother, conferred, and we agreed that we had to let him go. It was the most emotionally wrenching thing I had to do, but I realized that my son needed to do this, that I could not be the one to teach him everything he needed to learn. It was visceral for him, and it was now. He needed to live life on his own terms and be responsible for his choices. He had to “live it to learn it.”
With the love and support of his family, my son went to Colorado, where he had to support himself financially. The move was not without incident and I experienced new and, at times, alarming bumps in the road. I went out to visit him and saw how he was living. He took a job shoveling snow after other jobs did not work out, lived in an apartment with a roommate (not a pretty sight), and he was snowboarding. He was doing what he set out to do, what he needed to do for himself. It didn’t look like what I wanted for him, but it was what he wanted and that mattered most.
Centered and Grounded
What got me through it all was my new mantra: He has to “live it to learn it.” These words kept me from dissolving into tears every day, and they continue to keep me centered and grounded. My son eventually found his way to Oregon that summer for a snowboarding job that, in the end, did not materialize. He took a part-time job as a sales associate in an upscale kitchenware store and fell in love with sales. After work one day, while sitting on the floor of a bookstore talking on the phone to his uncle about opportunities in sales, my son had an epiphany: He knew what he wanted to do with his life! He explained to us his plan to come home, to go back to school, to pursue a degree in business, so that he could sell high-end technology to large corporations, and to one day get his MBA and become a business consultant.
That was five years ago. As a first step, he completed one year of community college to re-activate his brain. He transferred to a four-year college as a sophomore, and became completely invested in his academic future and career path. He spent his junior year abroad, at the equivalent of an Ivy League university, and exceeded all expectations. His goal for his senior year was to have a job before he graduated.
He graduated cum laude with departmental honors, made the Distinguished Honor’s List his last two years, started a “Toastmaster’s Club” on campus, was the senior consultant in the Business Consulting Club, and was inducted into the Phi Delta Kappa Honor Society for academic excellence in international studies. The day before he graduated, he was offered a job with Google and has been working there for two years!
My Son’s Got It
My son continues to adjust to living in the world outside the bubble of college and away from his family. It’s not always smooth, but he tackles whatever comes his way in his own way, and it becomes an opportunity for growth. I continue to use my mantra, have a regular meditation practice, and find time each day to do something for myself.
Life has a way of creating bumps in the road, but the difference now is that my son identifies and handles many of the bumps himself, creates his own plans of action, and advocates for himself. He knows he has the ability, confidence, and skills to do so. I trust in him, and know that this is his life.
I see the strength and joy my son has in living his life. He inspires me every day. He has a great sense of style, is an adventurous soul, and has a keen sense of humor. He is a leader, with an incredible mind. He is a compassionate, loving person. He is my greatest teacher.
This piece originally appeared on ptscoaching.com.