I left college to chase after my dreams. That's it.
I always knew I would go onto college to pursue a higher education. I just thought I’d figure out what I wanted to study at some point later down the line. Then came junior year of high school when I really had to know what I wanted to do, so I could apply to schools. Deep down, I really wanted to be an actress, but scared myself out of it because it wasn’t “financially stable” enough. So I picked broadcast journalism. I thought it was a close enough choice—it could be fun.
I started classes at the University of Miami in August of 2015. My first two semesters were amazing. I really enjoyed my classes and loved my independence. Then, something happened over the summer after my freshman year. I grew up and learned even more about myself and what my values are. All of the sudden, “Dana Chittavong—Journalist” didn’t sound right to me. I couldn’t visualize myself working in television and being happy anymore. I had developed other interests and I was dying to explore them.
I still went back to school for the fall semester. I told myself I’d figure it out. However, something still didn’t feel right. I was so happy with my friends and my sorority, but I felt like I was holding myself back. I felt like I wasn’t growing anymore; like I was making myself smaller and forcing myself to be someone I’m not to fit in with the rest of the class. After many teary phone calls with my mom late into the night, I decided I needed to leave. I needed to do myself a favor and pursue whatever it is that sets my heart on fire.
It took me until Thanksgiving break to officially make this decision. It took me so long because I was afraid. I was afraid of judgement and failure. What would people think of me? I like to think I’m a smart girl, but was I about to make a dumb decision? What if whatever I was chasing after leaves me feeling just as empty?
I had to stop the little voices in my head because what scared me down to my bones was the thought of waking up one day 20 years down the line and feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. I don’t want to wake up one day and wonder “what if?” What if I had tried something different? What if I had chased after what I really loved? What would my life look like?
One day before the semester ended, I jumped out of bed, marched my way over to the campus student center, signed off on my leave of absence, and didn’t look back. I felt a giant weight lifted off my shoulders. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t feel stuck anymore. I got a little taste of freedom that day. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from societal pressures to graduate in four years, get a job, get married, have kids, send them to college so they can graduate in four, get jobs, get married, have kids, and send them to college…yada yada yada (not saying there’s something wrong with that lifestyle nor am I saying that I won’t want that for myself one day. I'm just saying that maybe I don’t want to do it exactly that way).
I'm grateful for my experience at UM because it has introduced me to people and has given me memories that I will carry in my heart forever. I don't have any regrets. In fact, I love UM, and I view every experience as a stepping stone towards my true purpose.
I’m beyond grateful for my supportive family, boyfriend, and friends. This was not an easy decision to make, but knowing that I have a team of people cheering me on in whatever I decide to do is something I can never take for granted. Are there going to be people that don’t completely understand my life choices? Absolutely. Is it any of their business? Absolutely not. This life that we are given is too short and too precious to be spent living up to someone else’s expectations.
So for now, I'll keep traveling, working, learning through experience, and exploring what I'm passionate about. I have a couple of "passion projects" that I'm working to get completed, and I'm researching different university programs that are more aligned with my values and who I am. I'm not saying goodbye to higher education forever. I'm just doing things on my terms.
Respond to every call that excites your spirit.