Life as a 30-Year-Old College Dropout

If there's one thing that we hope you'll take away as visitors to our site, it's that there's no one, clear path to success in life. All too often, our passions steer us away from the more traditional routes presented in the usual course of things. These days, everyone seems to look to higher education as an inevitability, a requirement, rather than a choice. What happens, exactly, to those who dare to break the mold? What drives some to recognize that their passions are better pursued outside of the mainstream? This week, we're excited to share the guest story of Erica Lavoie, as she explores the experiences that helped to her build a career not off of others' expectations, but her own.


          Thinking back to my years as a child and all the different times I said, “When I grow up, I want to be…”  That long list included: storm chaser, astronaut, criminologist, teacher, physical therapist, chef, attorney, all wonderful professions, and all ending in $100,000+ in student loan debt. However, for as long as I can remember, Hairdresser was also part of that list.

          As a child, I would frequent the hair salon with my Mom almost every time she went. I would also beg and plead to get my own haircut, in whichever style or fashion was trending at the time. I was born in May of 1986, so big hair and mullets were it. Being four years old and asking your stylist for a mullet wasn’t considered a ‘normal’ occurrence, but then again, what was so normal about the mullet phase anyway? (I guess we will say the same in 30 years about the ‘Man Bun’.) Nevertheless, I sat in my stylist’s chair (because I had requested the same stylist since I was 2) and demanded, “Spike it! Spike it big!” Seeing how I was the customer, and the customer is always right, that’s exactly what I got, and I rocked it. I’m not sure at this point if my parents were aware of what kind of lasting impression this memory would have, but I’m thankful that I have it, and of course that there are pictures for proof.

          I was raised in a compassionate and loving family environment with an abundance of support and encouragement. I was always a great student, making Honor Roll throughout Middle and High School. When I was 13, however, my family moved to a different town, and that meant I had to switch schools. Luckily enough, my parents were extremely understanding at how traumatic this would be for me to switch to a new school half way through my 8th grade year. So every school morning my dad would drive me to school, in a completely different town, and in the afternoon I would go home with my best friend to her house where I would get picked up when my parents finished work for the day. I realize now as an adult how much this was asking of my parents, and I’m so appreciative that they were so supportive, however I dreaded starting off my high school years at a new school where I knew absolutely NO ONE.

          At that point, I tried to convince my parents to let me try going to technical school, instead of the beautiful high school in the town we had just moved. After all, I had become more and more enthralled with the creativity and originality of the beauty world over the years. I always had on an outfit that had glitz and texture. Whether it was ruffles on my socks or fringe and beads hanging from a shirt. My hair was always a statement, and while my mother will attest to me certainly not being the easiest ‘client’ when it came to brushing and styling for school and events, her originality and patience let me express my style and self.

          Sadly, tech school wasn’t as common as it is today, and my parents had just moved us to Cheshire, Connecticut, a gorgeous suburb with a well renowned school system. Tech school was out of the question. So I began my 4-year journey through a new town, new school, meeting new friends and building new relationships.

          While the beginning was really difficult, and there were days where I prayed that we could move back to our old neighborhood, as the year went on, I began to gain back my originality and find a balance. One not-so-happy memory I have of this time was when I celebrated my birthday freshman year. When you had a birthday that fell on a school day, your friends would decorate your locker and put all kinds of notes and cards in it for you to enjoy for the day. Well, mine was never decorated that year, and for whatever reason that memory still resonates. I look back on that day now and think, with all the other blessings I had in my life, how could I have been so distraught over something as silly as a missing balloon? It was on this day that I realized that regardless of how many friends I have, or who decorates my locker, that going forward in life I have to remember who I am, where I came from and discover what my purpose is here on Earth.

          When we got our paperwork to pick our classes for our sophomore year, I made sure to get creative with them, and sign up for classes that I may not have been interested in originally in hopes that I would find more people that shared that same, adventurous drive. Not a typical thought process for a sophomore in high school, but I knew that I had to discover my spark so that I knew where my life was going.

          So I pulled through my public high school years, taking classes such as Astronomy, Forensics, Anatomy/Physiology (favorite), etc. More importantly, I became more aware of my peers’ behaviors in these classes. Who was excited to dissect a pig, and who couldn’t stay in the room? Who spent 5 minutes on the bus that morning prepping their presentations on Haley’s Comet, and who came in with a papier-mâché model? Who really wanted to solve the murder in forensics class, and who was in the room thinking it was going to be an easy A? I analyzed others’ interactions during class because I wanted to try to hone in on how my own behavior was being perceived.

            Just as I started to get a pretty good picture as to what the rest of my life would look like, my high school career started coming to its end. While I found the college application part tedious but relatively easy, the SAT’s were my worst nightmare. Luckily enough, my marking period grades were good enough for me to get accepted to Quinnipiac University, graduating Class of 2008. I was extremely proud of myself, and knew that I had a long road ahead. Prior to accepting my place at QU, I did ask my parents if I could enroll in Cosmetology school instead. However, this was 12 years ago and NO ONE said “no” to college and “yes” to being a hairdresser, so that dream went on the back burner (again).

          My first year at Quinnipiac was interesting to say the least. I did not live on campus, so as far as getting that ‘college kid experience’ goes, I only got a taste of it when I stayed on campus with friends for the weekend. However, I didn’t love going to school every day. I’m sure some of you are saying, “Who actually loved going to class?”, Well, I actually looked for forward to leaving school for the summer, when I would go back to working at the same attorney’s office that I’d been devoting my summers to since I was 15 years old. Now, I don’t know if that’s because 12$ an hour seemed better than sitting in a classroom for 6 hours gaining knowledge which could never be measured in dollar amounts, but what I did know was that I could not do this whole school thing for another 4-8 years, especially if my heart and mind weren’t on the same page.

          Once again, I started observing my peers’ actions and behaviors in class and thinking, “Why doesn’t my mind get excited about this?” or “How am I going to write 12 pages on the differences between their, there and they’re when I really don’t f***** care?” and more personally and importantly, “Why does this not engage and excite me?” I knew at that point that no matter how much money I spent on tuition, how many years I went, and how much money I made at my college career paying job, that I was not on the right path, and that I would not be truly happy. So after my freshman year of college, I sat my parents down and told them that I would not be returning to Quinnipiac; I was finally going to cosmetology school.

            Naturally, they were shocked. They asked questions like, “Well what are you going to do?” and “Why would you drop out of school to become a hairdresser?” and “How are you going to make money cutting hair for the rest of your life?”  While my parents were always extremely supportive of my choices growing up, I think this one had raised more cause for concern because they were the ones out in the real world dealing with society for the last 35 years, not me. They thought they knew best what was waiting for me out there, and certainly didn’t want to see me fail. Nevertheless, I spent the summer of 2005 working my ass off to make some good money (because I personally paid for all of my education after high school, not Mommy and Daddy) and in October I signed myself up for cosmetology school at Brio Academy of Cosmetology in Meriden, CT.

            Like I said, I was driven by the cosmetology field and hair itself. This was always my passion. More importantly, I finally felt that I was in the right place. I felt like at 20 years old I was blessed enough to have found what my purpose was. It was no longer important for me to feel as if I fit in with a crowd, or was liked by people, or popular because my locker was decorated for my birthday. I became my own person while I was in cosmetology school. Everything about me changed. My style and personality evolved and I came to understand that I needed to be part of a creative industry—An industry where there are no rules, where you’re free to express yourself through crazy colored hair and all black clothes. Where, on work days, accessorizing was a must, but on your days off you were 3 hops away from looking homeless. When I am in this world, I am a completely different version of myself. I became self-proclaimed hair goddess ;) where my main goal was making people feel more beautiful than they could have ever imagined.

          I began work in a salon atmosphere before I finished school, and while it took me almost 10 years to find a salon and company that I can call home, I wouldn’t be half of the stylist that I am today if it wasn’t for all my experiences along the way. For those of you reading this who feel your hairdresser is just a person holding scissors, you are sorely mistaken. We are one of the ONLY professions out there that can affect someone’s mood, self-esteem, and create a positive change in someone physically, mentally, and spiritually. While the psych portion of our curriculum in school was practically non-existent, I can assure you that our profession is no different from that of a social worker, teacher, therapist, psychiatrist, chemist, etc. We are doctors of hair. And while our education in the beginning cost less and I mean A LOT LESS than those professions listed above, or even those mentioned in the beginning of this story, our community is a proud and forever advancing one. There is a huge industry that most people are unaware of that is strictly based on the continuing education and progression of the beauty industry. So, while for the last 10 years I have strived to become the best hairdresser that I can for myself and for my clientele, 3 years ago I put myself on the path to also become a part of the continuing education business as well.

            Today, I am a full-time colorist and stylist, as well as educator for one of the most well renowned color companies in our profession, Goldwell. While I could have stayed happy and content spending my coming years behind the chair making people feel beautiful, why should I not take my passion and thirst for this industry and share it with others out there who were once like me? Who else  has felt lost and unsure of their futures and career path? It would be selfish of me to not to sprinkle my love and affection for hair and color and creativity. I am lucky enough to wake up every single damn day not dreading going to work. I look back over the past 10 years and I am so proud and gratified with where I am today and how many opportunities I have to look forward to in the years to come. While my focus is now on taking care of my extremely loyal clientele and spreading love and creativity through the love of education, I cannot wait to see how much more I will grow. Life is all about finding what you're good at and running with it. So today I run with scissors, a color brush, a comb and a blow dryer, hopefully there can be more in addition to what I’m already so grateful to have.

-Erica Lavoie

This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original work of the author.