This is a big topic and it’s one that is so underrated. I wish that I had more people in High School (honestly, before then) who really sat me down and taught me how to reflect on my skills, interests, and passions to come up with a game plan for my future. The main focus when discussing college, was always: which school are you going to and how to get in. Never was it: is school the next best step for you right now? If so, what kind of school? If not, what kind of job or experience will you pursue next?
I wish the discussion as to whether I should go to school or not had been more of a pronounced conversation. I remember having two counselors at school who questioned me as to why I wanted to go out of state but they never took the conversation further. So, I want to have the conversation that I wish I had because this discussion is not just for those in High School. The questions at the heart of this matter is not just: “what college are you going to?” but “what is your vision?” and THAT is a very important question for anyone at any stage of life.
School vs. Work: What ‘Should’ You Do?
First things first, let’s talk about the most glaringly obvious question here that everyone faces in our American society at some point: will you go to college or not? School is a wonderful privilege to have. It is a tool. Some people have sharper tools than others when it comes to this arena and some people have the completely wrong set of tools for what they’re trying to build. Yet, we live in a society that treats school as a Rite of Passage instead of a toolbox and I firmly believe that is setting us up for failure and financial insecurity.
There really is no ‘should’ in this situation – it depends on your plan for yourself. Looking back on my experience, I didn’t have a clear-cut plan, I knew the subjects I was interested in and had different ideas of careers I might pursue but nothing solid enough to make college the best next step for me, and yet, I went anyways. It is at this point where we face a crossroads in trying to figure out what we should do with our vocations: do you not go to school simply because you don’t have your whole life mapped out? No, I don’t believe so. However, going to school simply because “everyone does” or “you need to to be successful” as many people would have us believe, are not good enough reasons either.
As with many things today, there needs to be a balance between having an end goal that we work for and being flexible when times and visions change. Most importantly, we really need to teach this balance to the upcoming generations; otherwise, they run the risk of getting stuck like many today over decisions they made when they didn’t have the proper tools and discernment to make them in the first place. Essentially, the skill I am talking about is resiliency and boy do we need that now more than ever.
We Need To Have A ‘Why’ As Well As A ‘How’
Here’s my opinion: school is good and I think people should go to school if it is necessary for your end-goal, whatever that may be. If it is not necessary for what you want to do in life, then there is no need to go. We often equate our degrees with intelligence but this is false equivalency – think of all the people who cheat their way through school, who “just get by” and end up with the same piece of paper as those who work hard for it. Can we really measure intelligence and success just by getting a degree alone? Plus, there are many people who didn’t go to college, and some even high school, who are incredibly intelligent and successful now, how do they factor into the equation?
So what are we missing?
We’re missing our reasons for pursuing school or work – the ‘why.’ This will ultimately determine our decisions. If you are in my situation and realize that you want to be a lawyer, school is the next best option. If you were like me in high school and kind of all over the place with interests and passions: working for a year to get a concrete experience of some sort or getting your basic requirements done at a community college would be the next best step. I believe that would have been the next best step for me because my solution would have allowed me to experience different developmental settings (still being in school but also while working) thus matching the state of life and mind I was in. I was nowhere near ready to commit to a specific school and degree so I should have put myself in a situation that allowed me to try and do different things to determine what was right for me.
Why are we investing and committing years of our lives to things we have not properly discerned are right for us?
This isn’t to say that you take so much time thinking about your options that you never make a move. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to taking action and making a decision to see what the result will be. You may pursue a career only to find out five years later that you want to do something different. Who says that you made the wrong decision? It’s not wrong, you just evolved and that’s normal. That being said, what we should be aiming for here is that balance we talked about in the first section – resiliency. The first decision we make shouldn’t put us in a situation where we can no longer evolve or change our mind if we do. Again, a balance between commitment and flexibility is key and yet, sorely lacking.
How We Can Change The Game
So how do we change these extremes? How do we create a better atmosphere for education and career development that can nurture people of all talents and backgrounds for their vision? A few suggestions of mine would be:
- Stop treating a school or career decision as if it will determine the rest of your life. You may spend twenty years working for the same business or twenty months. Neither one is wrong as long as you are able to sustain yourself. We need to be able to set goals, pivot on those goals when challenges arise or opinions change and then put an action plan in place to pursue those goals.
- Stop treating college as the only option: college is good but not for the person who doesn’t know what they want to do or knows what they want to do but it doesn’t require a four-year school. You do not need a degree to be successful.
- Stop having these conversations about school until we can make the financial side of it the majority of the discussion: if you can afford to go to a four-year school “for the experience” that’s great! But that’s not the case for most people. I am now inundated with private loan debt (that I brought upon myself) for going to a school that I should have thought much longer and harder about attending. I accepted because they offered the biggest scholarship but that scholarship was not big enough to offset the out-of-state tuition. People need to have a better understanding of personal finances if they are going to decide whether they go to school or not – and that applies to anyone at any age.
- Stop treating graduate school as if it’s worthless: there are in fact some people who need to go to graduate school to get the career that they want. That path is not for everyone just like not going to school is not for everyone. The problem in this situation lies in why people are needing more and more degrees to do what they want to do but that issue does not rest upon the shoulders of any one person. Nor can it be solved overnight.
- Stop treating community college and trade schools as “less than” liberal arts or four-year schools: there is an unspoken snobbery that comes with pursuing these options instead of going to a four-year university and/or a liberal arts college. If I could go back, I would have stayed home, taken my General Education Requirements from a community school, and worked part-time before deciding on going to a university or not. These options are GREAT options for those who are in an interim period where they are deciding what they want to do next or know what they want to do but don’t need to go to a four-year school to do it.
One of my friends knew she wanted to be a nurse and she knew the nursing school she wanted to attend. She ended up going to community college and nannying for the first two years out of high school to take the pre-requisite credits she needed to get into her first-choice nursing school and to work on her application. She is now graduated from said school and working full-time in her dream job.
I know of people who never went to school who are working hard in fields they love and those who are still in school going on their sixth year of higher education to receive their Doctorate in a field they are passionate about – what do they all have in common? A vision. That vision doesn’t necessarily have to be a lifelong one but it does need to help you decide as to whether you should go to school or enter the workforce (or something alternative, which I’m going to discuss in a video tomorrow!) Everyone’s definition of success and happiness is going to be different so why would we treat our careers and education as a one-size-fits-all system?
If you are in the process of deciding what to do next in terms of school or career, I encourage you to reflect on the following three things to help make your decision:
- Finances: will the reward outweigh the cost?
- Result: will it move you forward, closer to where you want to be in life?
- Why: why are you pursuing this decision?
If you can not answer these three questions then I would step back and not make any decisions until you can. Even if you are in High School – I don’t care what people say, it is okay to not go to school right off the bat. And to the young adult (or even older adult) who is considering a career change or going back to school, these reflections still apply! The goal here is to make a decision knowing that it moves you closer to what it is you desire; if you’re not sure if it does that then stop and re-consider. Can you even say in detail what your goal is? Stopping to re-evaluate or deciding to take time to think things over doesn’t mean you never go to school or change careers, what it does mean is that you are being more intentional about this decision-making process than what society is currently encouraging us at the moment. This is your life and you deserve to treat every decision as an important one because it is.
At the end of the day, if the only thing holding you back is fear of failure then you’re in a good spot…pursue the next best step that will put you in a situation where you are closer to your dreams.
“Pursue the next best step
that will put you in a situation
where you are closer to
your dreams.”KimberMarie Faircloth