Dr. Chester Goad takes a look at how education plays into our perception of success.
How do you define success? Do you believe college is a must to achieve legitimate success or do you believe that college is a joke that stifles creativity and cheapens the road to success? Are you a member of the “who needs a piece of paper” fan club? Or do you believe those who don’t go to college are irresponsible, and are making a devastating mistake that will haunt their family and limit opportunities for years to come?
I’ve come to the troubling realization that people have found yet another bias that only serves to divide us. This bias lies in a new form of exclusionary bias or soft bigotry —education bigotry.
On one hand, some believe that college is the only way and that those without a formal education are somehow losers. While the other believes that college is a waste of time and they are repelled by anyone with a college degree. They view college pursuits as an unnecessary or irrelevant path leading to a narrow and limited scope of success or even a hindrance. I was actually told by a friend that her boss, who owns a successful company, refuses to hire anyone who attended college. It is one thing to have strong opinions for or against college but it’s another to exercise blanket bias.
Full disclosure — I earned my doctorate a few years ago, I hold additional undergraduate and graduate degrees, and I enjoyed my college experience. I actually completed my bachelors in a race against my dad to become the first in our family to achieve a college education.
My doctorate was mostly a personal goal but I’ll confess that one tiny factor that finally initiated my terminal degree pursuits was one educationally self-righteous colleague I encountered in higher education. This person demanded I call her “doctor” rather than her first name. I determined then and there that I would go ahead and complete my doctoral goal so I could demand the same of people like that, if it ever happened again. Not the purest of motivations I know.
Nevertheless, on one side you have the “college degree or bust” crowd, and on the other you have the “college is a bust” crowd? Where’s the common ground? What is the answer?
I mentioned that my dad I and raced toward being the first in our family to earn a college degree. I didn’t mention that he beat me, but he did. My dad, who had been a mechanic in blue collar jobs all his life, earned a business degree. Upon his graduation, I was so excited I began putting together resumes and gathering employment ads for him. One day as I was sharing all of these wonderful opportunities, my dad interrupted, “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m helping you find a new job, after all you just earned a business degree.” My dad’s response was priceless, “I don’t want a new job. I’m happy working on cars and that’s what I’ll continue doing.” He went on to explain that earning a degree had been a personal goal, and that he didn’t expect or desire any sort of new life or new opportunities. He was already experiencing success, achievement, and happiness in his current job.
And that is where “success” lies. Success is one of those terms that people identify within the scope of their personal experiences and accomplishments. Success for one person, may not be considered success by another and that’s ok. Moreover success comes in many forms and by many paths.
A college degree or title does not necessarily bring contentment, joy or financial stability nor does it make you the best fit for a position. Success, contentment, and joy all come with the realization that we’ve accomplished our own personal dreams or goals whatever those might be, and awareness that we’re doing what we love.
If a college degree is what you desire, by all means go for it. You won’t be happy until you do. If you don’t want to go to college, don’t go. You’ll only be unhappy, feel stifled, or come away disgruntled. People on both sides use money or debt to bolster their opinions. To be sure, there are financial challenges with the potential to incur debt no matter which path you choose. Some people believe that debt related to college is no longer worth it. At the same time, there is a great investment in time and other costs and risks related to pursuits that do not include college. The balance or great equalizer is often nothing other than hard work. The important thing is that you define some goals, take action, work hard, and make them happen.
People who choose a different path are not wrong for choosing a different path. They would be wrong not to follow the path toward their passions. College is not for everyone. Trade school is not for everyone. Pet grooming is not for everyone. And entrepreneurialism is not for everyone.
Regret is the unfortunate friend that accompanies those who never followed their dreams. And Regret comes when we don’t do what is right for us, or when we live the life someone else wants for us. Life is too short to spend living with regret. What steps are you taking toward your personal success?
Folks on both sides of the college debate should be mindful not to project their ideas of success and happiness onto others as if they are less worthy or less accomplished because they chose a different path. Everyone brings value to the table. Don’t let your perceptions or biases limit the value you see in what others are doing.
Photo: Flickr/Nazareth College