It was supposed to be one of the most celebrated days of my life, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house. It was May of 2013, and it was the day of my college graduation. I knew this was an accomplishment, however, I couldn’t tell you of what. I was graduating with honors, a 3.3 GPA, and the whole world in front of me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I enrolled in school, I majored in Business Administration with a Minor in Mass communication, the type of curriculum for people like me who don’t know what they want to do, general enough to not disqualify you from any field. Something about this day of celebration still felt particularly empty to me, I had decided days earlier that I was not going to attend my graduation, I didn’t see the need. After all, this was merely a stepping stone on the path to whatever career I chose to pursue. I did not have to work particularly hard to get through school, again, the program I had chosen was just general enough not to disqualify me from an industry, but also so general that I really didn’t have to know anything to get through it. I rarely if ever had to do school work outside of class hours, studied for tests on occasion, and could generally be found anywhere other than the classroom when class was in session. It could have been the arrogant attitude of a then 22-year-old, but I did not see this as a monumental accomplishment, so I decided to stay home with my friends, we went to the gym, played video games, and lived as we had every day for the four years leading up to this day. We would need our rest, the job search began in earnest in the morning.
My job search was relatively quick, I knew that I had not graduated into a great economy and was simply grateful to have found a position after doing a couple of interviews. Without a particular and defined skill set, I found myself staring many customer service/sales jobs in the face, and that was ultimately what I settled on. It took me about 6 months to realize that this was not what I had dreamt of when I haphazardly selected my major a few years prior, at the time I still couldn’t tell you what that dream was, but it wasn’t this.
My job search, now morphing into sort of a career search took me to Southern California, where I began to look for a new job. I will spare you the details, but at this point I had moved out on my own, and had to find a position ASAP, that 6 month grace period before student loan payments are due had also evaporated rather quickly. I needed to find work, and fast. At this point I had a bit of a skill set, in an industry/occupation that I had little to no interest in, but I needed the money. I immediately began filling out applications for customer service and sales positions, and the calls immediately began coming. A few weeks later I was employed, doing exactly what I had been doing previously, just in a different industry and a different time zone.
Fast forward three years, I am with the same company, have managed a couple of promotions, and am by all accounts a success. I am able to pay my bills each month, have a healthy retirement account going, and get to wear the old shirt and tie to work. I work with incredible people and have even met some of my best friends as a result of work. All of these things should make me feel happy and accomplished in the same way that graduating from school was supposed to, and yet I feel equally as empty. I am still trying to figure out how I can achieve the lifestyle I want, and while I earn a respectable salary, much higher than the average for my age group I am trying to figure out what my next move is.
There is a bible verse that reads “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” In an attempt to upgrade my lifestyle I begin to look at going back to school so that I can get a better
job in the industry that I still dread. My skill set has not changed, in fact, it has become more entrenched over the years. I still pay each month and have a substantial balance on the student loans from my bachelor’s degree. I am not sure that I need to tell the whole story to get to the point that this is remarkably foolish if the goal is, in fact, to figure out something else.
Remember that first job I had told you about? I decided it was time to leave when I attended our company holiday party. I looked around me at my bosses, at my bosses’ bosses, and realized that none of them had a professional life that I was interested in. It was now 4 years later, and I was going to pursue an MBA, what amounts to an “Advanced General Degree” to further develop the skills that I was already not using from my undergraduate degree. I went through several admissions processes, wrote numerous “statement of purpose” papers, and on and on and on….Finally, I put down a thousand dollar, non-refundable deposit at the institution I had chosen, I was ready to commit. Until, one morning on one of my days off I was sitting by the pool, trying to figure out “How can I get more time like this in my life.” I realized that the answer was not accumulating more debt so that I could get a better job doing the same thing I was already doing. You see, what nobody tells you about student loan debt is that once you accumulate a substantial amount, you are trapped, because you have to make a huge payment each month. My bosses worked harder than I did, longer hours too, and the income-to-stress reward became substantially less as you moved up the so called latter. I decided to eat the thousand dollar deposit cost, and get back to figuring out what would bring me satisfaction in life before making the next move.
I want to make something abundantly clear. I understand that there are certain professions that require advanced and thorough education. There is no chance that I would visit a doctor who had never gone to school, or that I would seek legal council with someone who had done “a lot of research on the internet.” I know many people who found their calling early in life, and had to get the degree in order to pursue that calling. In many cases, that is the only way to pursue a specific career, and with those careers they generally pay better over time because the skill set is not possessed by everyone.
The point that I want to get across to you is this; if you don’t know what your calling is just yet you are better off waiting. Pursue an associates degree from a community college, you’ll save a lot of money, and if you decide you do want to pursue something specific you will not have as much general education work ahead of you. I first realized that I might have made a mistake at the first day of one of my jobs when I was being trained by a 19-year-old with no secondary education how to do my new job. One of the rewarding moments that comes with pursuing a general degree, general being another word for nothing.
The General Trap
I remember making a call home to my mom after a particularly frustrating week, another 60 hour work week had concluded, and I still had little to nothing to show for it. Somewhere in the middle of my rant, I told my mom “Middle Class is a Disease”. I kind of liked the way that it sounded, and to be honest with you, I knew it to be true, but I felt bad and apologized for ranting and proceeded to calm down.
Immediately, in an attempt to console me, my mother validated my very statement. She said, “I know you are frustrated, but you’ll be going back to school soon, and that will help you get a better job….” It was then that I realized that it was a way of thinking, one that I had been conditioned for since I first stepped foot in a classroom. Starting on my very first day of school, and continuing at my current job, what I had become was very good at following advancing stages of directions, with intensifying consequences if I did not follow said directions. My mom thought that I was about to go back to school, to learn how to possibly give these advanced directions to people like me…I had not told her about withdrawing from the MBA Program just yet. The beautiful thing about my mother is that even when she doesn’t intend to, she is often able to open my eyes to situations and make me see things more clearly. Without even knowing it, she had done just that and possibly saved my professional life as a result.
Go Do Something Interesting
I am happy to tell you that this story does not turn into a “quit your job in 60 days if you buy my program”. I’m not here to tell anyone that they should quit their job, I still have mine, and will continue to have it, what I am telling you is this: If you find yourself in a low skill position (be honest with yourself), the type you get with a general college degree, and are not feeling satisfied, the answer is not to pursue another “advanced general degree”. I see this almost daily from young people like me in the hopes that more school will get them the lifestyle that we desire, we are in a constant state of preparing as opposed to a constant state of doing. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”
One of the most influential quotes that I have ever read in my life was from an essay published by Ryan Holiday, the quote is in reference to school and pursuing an advanced degree in writing, it reads “What do they never say? Go do interesting things.” The idea being that if you do interesting things, people will want to read about them, and you sort of save yourself the idea of having to sit in a classroom and getting a degree in “advanced writing” while also publishing no work.
So What Am I Saying?
I already told you that I am not going to tell you to quit your job, but I am going to caution you before further pursuing your career if you are in fact unhappy with your own. The world has plenty of direction followers, that in itself is not a unique skill. What the world needs is your creativity, your passion, and your best work. You do not do your best work when it is not something that you enjoy. For me, what I enjoyed most was the ability to create things. I live to write music, to write stories like this one, even to make up stupid games to entertain my friends and I. I have yet to be paid a substantial amount for any of these things, and yet I will tell you, they make me feel happier than my paycheck does every two weeks.
Are the things that bring you the most joy the things that bring you said paycheck? I really hope that they do, because I have spent most of my life on the opposite end of that spectrum. Before you jump in to get another credential or try to spend a few extra hours at the office to get that next job up, ask yourself this. Do I really want my bosses job? When I say that I mean, will this job bring the most fulfillment to your professional life? If the answer is no think about what might bring that fulfillment and pursue that instead. It is not going to be easy, I am writing this post at about 11:00 on a work night, I am not being paid to do it, but it is therapeutic for me.
I need to hear your collective words, the world needs to hear your collective words, and I do not need anyone else in my life who organizes papers and collects signatures…even at an advanced level. We are all dying to some extent, if a doctor were to tell you tomorrow that you have 6 months to live would you change anything? If the answer is yes, then why haven’t you? Whether you have 60 years, or 6 months your clock is ticking, my clock is ticking, and I want to spend it with people who are inspired by their work, who are creating good with their work and are not living in spite of their work.