To my sons (and young people everywhere who want to change the world):
There is no "right" way. Especially right now. I can see it in your eyes: a fire, really a spark right now, burning, waiting for some oxygen to really fuel it. You feel stifled, restrained by the system and structures around you (including your dad and me). I remember that feeling.
I just knew I would be a famous actress. Part of me still believes it (at my age!). Now, though, that passion I had is funneled into other pursuits. I want to change education so that people like you and me don't have to suffer through years of feeling like our fires are not being stoked. What if you had an education that found out what your dream was and did everything possible to support it? That is what every child deserves. The system, though, is not going to give it to you, so you need to find it yourself.
What I want to tell you is that there is no "right" way. The pressure right now is to get good grades, graduate from high school, go to a good college and get a good job—but that may not be your path. More people than you know follow a different path… and that is OK. Do I want you to get good grades? Sure. Do I want you to go to college? Yup. But if you don't, that can be OK too.
I say it can be OK because there is one condition: you need to be pursuing your passion. Most famous people who didn't graduate from college (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Halle Berry, Jennifer Anniston, Michael Dell, etc.) have one thing in common—they left to pursue their passion. Whole-heartedly. Doggedly. Without distraction. If you don't go to school so you can sit around and play Call of Duty all day, that's one thing. If you're out there kicking ass and taking names, that's another. (And one way receives our financial and moral support, and the other way doesn't. Just so you know.)
(Can I add a caveat to my caveat? Sometimes what may look like "playing" to others may not actually be "playing." When Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, he hung around and audited classes including calligraphy. At the time it appeared to have no practical application in his life—it just interested him. The "usefulness," however, became clear a few years later when he and Steve Wozniak created the Mac—the first computer with beautiful typography. In Steve Jobs' words: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.")
For some reason, we like to make young people think that there is only one path, one right way, but that is a lie.
Education, especially as it exists today, is mostly an exercise in learning how to follow the rules, to tolerate boredom, and, at best, to demonstrate that you can show up everyday and get something done. If you can do the latter part, though, if you can show up and get something done, even outside the structure of school, then you are already on your path to success.
So fear not.
Do your best in this system where you do not fit, and then make your own way. Keep your eye on the prize and know that with hard work and persistence, you will get there (please note that it is highly unlikely that it will be handed to you). If you go to college right out of school, if that's the right path for you, great. But college will always be there if there is something you need to know that you can't learn some other way (for instance, if you suddenly decide that "rock star" doesn't cut it and you'd rather be a surgeon or an attorney). (And please don't tell Grandma I said this.)
In the meantime, know that you are a talented, brilliant human being, regardless of what anyone else thinks or what everyone else is doing. It can be a tougher road when you're making your own way, but it is your road. Make the most of it.
(By the way, Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford University is one of my favorites. Watch it sometime. )