Undergraduate Making Life-Altering Choices While Sober, Please Advise

I’m writing this more to regulate my emotional state than anything—when I started writing I felt like I was clinging to an overturned inflatable raft in storm-tossed seas of panic.

I

Does anyone else do this thing where one generates an Ugh Field about a friend or community that one likes, because one knows that they’ve wronged some other party by not responding to them with any punctuality, and now it’s been so long that there’s no justifiable reason to not have responded yet—not even being kidnapped by Somalian pirates--, which makes one even more prone to flinching away from responding, to the point where one’s mind—in its wanderings—merely touching on the idea of logging on to a website might lead to one being unproductive for hours as one frantically casts about for something else to do?

No? Just me?

Well, it isn’t like I ever claimed to be mentally competent. (Besides—perhaps—all of the times when I claimed exactly that.)

Anyway. That’s why I haven’t been around. But church is for the sinners, so I’m back.

II

In my first post on the forum, I wrote:

To better describe my background and skills; my username is more or less accurate—I have precious little background, and precious few skills. I didn’t always have internet or even clean water growing up, my family belonged to one of those churches where ignorance of the world is the only route to heaven, and my education could be charitably described as sporadic. There are holes in my knowledge of reality that one could drive a motorcade through, if one were so inclined—I’ve no idea how to do anything that anyone wants done, and I’ve only gotten that far thanks to charity and the American welfare state. I failed the tenth grade, which I found to be—in the lexicon of Edison—an opportunity wearing work clothes; I dropped out and took the GED, and thus didn’t have a high school GPA to be held against my ACT score when I applied for college and loans. I’ve somehow found myself a nineteen year old undergraduate attending a state university, funding secured thanks to the generous taxpayer, on track to living the good life.

At this point all the problems in my life that aren’t solved are at least being solved, provided I put in the time. I’ve no doubt in my ability to earn a four-year degree, draw an above-average American salary, live on ten thousand dollars of it a year, and then FIRE a decade after I graduate. I’m still shocked by this development—it seems unreal. I barely even had to lift a finger to make it happen—unaware at the time how important it was, I didn’t even study for the ACT.

Now that my life is so serendipitously under control, I want to do what I can to help people less fortunate. That means learning more about EA, and planning my career. I would be very grateful for advice on what skills I should learn, what books I should read, and what projects I should undertake. I’m still young, and I want to make the most of my time and neuroplasticity while I still have it.

Neither one nor zero are probabilities; it’s been a year since I wrote that and I’ve learned some measure of doubt in my ability to earn a four-year degree.

Since beginning college I have failed rather a few classes. Most of the classes existed to teach things which I already knew from prior learning—I failed those classes. Some of the classes existed to teach things which I didn’t know but could learn from reading the textbook—I failed those classes. Other classes existed to teach things which I did not know, which did not come naturally to me, without good textbooks or in subjects where merely reading the textbook isn’t enough—I passed those classes, naturally.

My inadequacies are manifold:

  • Waking up before two in the afternoon takes me many more spoons than it seems to take other people

  • I sometimes have depressive episodes and I had one last semester

  • I get lost in what I’m doing and it’s hard for me to change gears

  • I don’t know how to navigate institutions like schools or banks, and figuring them out takes time and motivation

  • At the beginning of this year I didn’t know any math which is taught after sixth grade; I’m still pretty ignorant and very slow

But by far the largest one is:

  • I have a very easy time getting into Ugh Fields and I can easily lose several days or weeks to one before I work my way through it

This summer I decided to take four classes in the hopes of repairing my GPA in time to get funding for the fall semester. Yesterday I had an A in each of them, but today I do not. Because I didn’t do my midterms in the ones which I’ve been taking, and I didn’t do the first week of assignments in the one which just started. Which thing prompted this post; I’m writing it as much to regulate my emotional state as for anything else.

I might still be able to get the GPA I need to get funded for the fall semester; I’m certainly going to try.

But even if I retain the option to throw good money after bad, I think it’d be wise for me to consider what I’d do if it turns out that I can’t succeed in college. The last thing I want is to spend eight years and get tens of thousands of dollars into debt, and leave without a degree anyway. There’s virtue in failing quickly and moving on.

But a concern I have is that my problems aren’t problems with school but are rather problems with me. It isn’t like I’ve ever held a job for more than a few months before I found it so intolerable I had to leave; granted every job I’ve worked has been unskilled manual labor, and I was usually working through some kind of physical injury, but still. It seems from the inside view that the reasons I can’t spend a year washing dishes for eight dollars an hour is orthogonal to the reasons I can’t pass the classes I spent that money buying, but still. If I can’t pull myself together enough to graduate school, what does that say about my ability to usefully perform other tasks?

And I don’t really know what I’d do without a college degree. It doesn’t seem from where I stand that there will be that many decades before artificial general intelligence, so it’s my analysis that the most good I could do in the world would be if I worked in policy—since I’m reasonably wise and reasonably eloquent, but not necessarily a numbers person. (Growth mindset! But it would be unwise for one to choose a career based on skills they don’t possess.) A job in policy would require many more years of schooling—for that to work, either something about myself or something about my circumstances will have to change.

I’m hoping for advice. I’m open to doing things like change college (if I can figure out funding—I’m relying on in-state tuition) or leave college (if I can figure out what to do afterward) or other life-altering choices, just as long as they seem like they’d help me become more competent or route around my incompetence. My current circumstances seem to me unstable; I need to change something.