Hello, I'm 17 years old. I'm in a situation where I have dropped out of high school because I strongly feel I am better off without it. I am about to travel around the united states with a 27 year old man that i only met and talked with on the internet/phone for four years. In all of that time I learned to have complete trust in him because I see him as like a older brother now. It is still very possible to be lead a successful and happy life without schooling. Now further, I plan on pursue my writings in poetry and writings on my thoughts in general that i believe to have a spiritual/philosophical value. I believe in situations where the mind is constantly adapting to new environments (travel) it sets a great catalyst for creative thoughts. This is my dream and needs be fulfilled to have an existential based life realized. A lot of great philosophers have been home schooled and led rather independent life styles, which I am doing as well. I still haven't completely denied the possibility of going to a college/univ as i am leaving that door in my life open. My family thinks this life path I'm about to take is stupid and wrong and are worried that I am too young. Clearly though, as young as I am, I am ready to embark on a journey that will change my life for the better. I want to hear your honest opinion on this issue because my parents have a tendency to be persuaded by authority opinions and have in interest in philosophers in particular. I could have gave an a lot more detailed description of the situation here but it would be too much to fill in for one question.

Please don't take this the wrong way. Though I wouldn't use words like "stupid", I'm on your parents' side. A man who would take a 17-year-old whom he has never met and with whom he has no real-life acquaintance on the sort of journey you describe against the wishes of the people who know him well is a man whose judgment I would not trust. And the fact that you don't see the worry gives me reason to think you aren't yet ready to make a decision like this yourself.

You write "Clearly, though, young as I am, am ready to embark on a journey that will change my life." I ask: why is this clear? And to whom? Here's where we actually get to a philosophical point: the fact that you feel convinced and that it seems clear to you doesn't provide anyone - you nor anyone else - with a real reason to believe that it's true. There are too many unknowns here for gut instinct to be worth much.

Might everything turn out well? It might. Or it might not. Can you become a well-educated person without going to school? It's possible. But it's rare and it's not easy.

I'm encouraged to hear that you haven't closed the door on going to college. If you try that first you'll be better equipped for a great adventure. And you'll still be young.

Let me end on a personal note that's not a proof, but an illustration. My daughter, whom I love and respect, just graduated from college. She's a young woman with her head well and truly screwed on right. If she decided to do something like this, I'd still be nervous, but I'd trust her judgment. But I'm certain she would agree: when she was 17, she was nowhere near ready to make a decision like the one you're contemplating. There's almost always a big difference between the ages of 17 and 22. That's not just a parent's reaction. It's what brain scientists tell us about the development of people's decision-making abilities. Give yourself a few years. There's no need to hurry.

I am impressed that you were willing to ask the question in this forum - I don't know how many 17 year old readers we have here, but I suspect you are in a minority. This demonstrates your willingness to look for answers in unexpected places, so good for you! I am afraid, however, I agree with Prof. Stairs and want to urge caution before embarking on such a journey, which might sound to your ears so conventional and unenlightened it may be hard to hear.

While you are right that it is still possible to find a path less traveled and do well in life, it seems to be increasingly rare. There are many social/economic reasons for this and over which you have little control. While the human spirit of adventure and the lure of a life lived well and fully will never die, the historical moment in which you find yourself is remarkably different than it was for your predecessors. For example, my father did very well with only one year of post high-school education, and he earned far more than I will with my PhD. Please understand that I am not speaking of "earning-power" as a goal because we all need to find the life that suits us, and one need not have much material wealth to satisfy a worthy life.

So what leads us forward toward a worthwhile existence? That is hard to know of course, but as my colleague suggests, we can generalize a bit about development of good judgment as being, in part, a function of age. I am sure you have observed poor and good judgement in individuals of all ages - but as a rule we improve with age and learn from experiences of poor judgment. Now I recognize this creates something of a vicious circle, a bit like looking for your first job when the ads all say "experience needed." How in heaven's name do I get that experience if no one will hire me? This is a lot like the problem you face: everyone says you need more experience of life before you embark on an experience of life! But while similar, it is a flawed analogy. The flaw is that it depends a lot on the job or life experience you seek and how high the stakes are. Any wise employer will prefer to hire someone with "experience," but it depends on the job. If not a lot of training is required, it is possible that the employer meets a young person like yourself and says "what the heck, I'll give him a shot at it...worse case scenario, it won't work out, but I can take that risk." But if the job is really beyond your skill level, the employer would be not just a fool to hire an inexperienced worker, she would be irresponsible, setting the new employee up for failure and possible harm.

Perhaps this is part of why, as Prof. Stairs says, there is no need to hurry on this particular life-changing experience. The stakes are simply too high and there are so many unknowns to feel it would be wise to support such a venture at this time. It is a little like buying a $5 lottery ticket - even though the odds are hugely against you - because you might win! But then you get folks who (literally) bet their whole fortunes on the hopes of winning and lose it all. That is what is at stake here and why you are hearing another voice of caution from me. You are not playing with a five dollar bill - you are playing a high stakes game with far more to lose than you might win.

I hope you will take to heart that there is a lot more time ahead to support your dreams and surprises in store for you in life!

I wish you all the best.


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