Degrees of success

If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the polarization of American politics through social media, it’s the uprising of those without tradition college degrees.

Well, personally, it’s not a “good” thing, as it’s generated regret inside of me.

I liken this to politics and social media because social media has generated more interest in politics than before Facebook went public. People just see an idea, latch onto it, share it, and others latch onto it and share.

One of those ideas is you don’t need a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a lavish university to be successful in this world. It seemed to start not long after President Obama was elected and labeled part of the “liberal elite.”

It took off from there and reached full climax during this last election. It is my opinion President Trump’s masterful media moguls and campaign managers capitalized on the crux of this battle between those with formal education and those without. It actually spiraled out of control on social media platforms with military, trade school and nothing-but-training folks taking the offensive against the hoity-toity formal degree holders, who they found belittling each time they cited articles or quoted subject matter “professionals.” Trump won the votes of the former as well as the masses that don’t bother with social media, while the latter assumed there was no way Trump would win because they promoted Library of Congress articles suggesting Trump was racist, sexist and terribly unqualified.

How it turned out is history.

IT ALL GOT ME thinking, though, about how the tables had turned against the belief one goes to elementary school, high school and college, earning more money in a lifetime the longer he or she stayed in college. That was what I was taught by society and my parents, as I can still remember my dad saying he was determined to have at least one kid with a college degree.

But my experiences with that degree have suggested I may have fared better without one. Here’s why:

  1. I pigeon-holed my job search … that is, I limited the jobs I believed I could do to those seeking my degree.
  2. Loan repayments aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, but it’s still money I don’t need to be spending every month.
  3. I had unrealistic expectations with my first jobs because I had this degree and everyone had told me degrees lead to big bucks
  4. Shamefully, it wasn’t until recently that I actually stopped thinking those without degrees knew less about the world. In reality, I knew moderate amounts about a greater number of things, but their knowledge of specific topics with which they’ve had extensive, direct experience was far greater.

COMBINE THIS WITH my career and life to derive my conclusion.

  • Roughly 50 percent of my high school comrades with degrees are doing what they studied in college; I am among those not using their degree.
  • I know men and women who’ve served in the military doing very well following their time enlisted.
  • My job today exposes me to technical colleges and trade schools; these students will be set up to live comfortably for the rest of their lives without repaying student loans.
  • Finally, my fiancee, Hollie, does not have a degree and has used hard work, dedication and past job experiences in retail and customer service to go from cook to salaried manager for a semi-formal chain restaurant; her potential with not only this company but any restaurant like it is virtually limitless.

Hollie’s situation is a prime example of what it takes to be successful with or without a degree. After our son was born, we were fortunate to be in a position where she did not have to work. After he was a year old, though, she was ready to rejoin the workforce in a capacity that was “just enough to keep her busy and bring in some extra cash.” Having worked in restaurants through college, I told her that if she did nothing more than have perfect attendance, she’d stand out from 90 percent of her co-workers. She not only showed up every day, but she did an incredible job at her role and others, receiving promotions appropriately and setting herself up to one day run the entire restaurant. She’s compensated well and the satisfaction brought on by her success has been a thing of beauty to me.

I am completely proud of her.

NOW I’M NOT ONE to second-guess myself when it comes to decisions that have carved my life’s path, but I do when it comes to my career. My time in the newspaper business exposed me to a realm of careers I believe I would have liked more than mine. I wanted to be in the Army as a kid but gave up on that when I discovered a medical conditioned disqualified me. I would have liked something to do with horticulture, landscaping or turf management. Maybe something to do with carpentry. I absolutely would have loved being a farmer.

Instead of learning a little about a lot of stuff, I would rather have learned a lot about just one thing.

That’s not to say my degree has gained me nothing. After all, it was my experience as a reporter that exposed me to these trades and piqued my interest in them … and I couldn’t have been a reporter without my degree. My job today is rewarding, as the compensation provides for my family and I thoroughly enjoy teaching others what I’ve learned about the craft. I have made a difference in others’ lives with this job – and I earned it through a connection I established as a newspaper reporter.

While this debate is one I’ll probably always have with myself, three things are perfectly clear:

  1. Gone is the notion one cannot be successful without a degree.
  2. Gone is the belief people with degrees are somehow better than those without.
  3. If you don’t work hard – with or without a degree – you’ve no right to expect success.

Instead of teaching students to go to college, we should be teaching our young persons to do jobs that make them happy … even if that job is a trade, craft or service. Teach them they will always get out what they put in.


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