Opportunity or desire?

So, really, what I’ve learned in the past several years is that, when it comes down to it, your degree isn’t worth shit in today’s modern industries.

Oops. Did I say that out loud?

I did. Because it’s true. The college experience itself is valuable and important and incredibly rewarding. But for the most part – specifically in the case of degrees that don’t require graduate school – the title on the piece of paper you receive means less than the ink used to print it.

(For the most part. I HAVE to say “for the most part” because there are some of you who actually used your degree to get a great job that you’re still at, and there are some of you who are doctors and lawyers and you needed those four undergraduate years to study anatomy and law and whatever else a college convinces you to pay $20,000 for.)

Here’s why: we don’t know if we’ll ever like what we decide we’re going to do when we go to college until long after we’ve gotten our degree. Most majors spend three and a half years teaching you facts and figures without ever letting you experience the field – and even those experiences are watered-down internships that offer no real insight into what the career will really offer.

My Example

I have a teaching degree, which proves that I know the details involved in teaching. I was licensed for five years to be a teacher in South Dakota. I passed all of the tests, I completed all of the projects and I worked pretty hard to learn everything I was supposed to learn.

But I never learned the nuances. I gained knowledge, but I never gained experience.

I never wanted to.

And there’s the problem.

I had the opportunity. But I didn’t have the desire. My degree said I could do it. My heart never wanted to.

What’s worse, I never realized I didn’t have the desire – at least, not until I had nearly completed all of my studies. Far too late to turn back. Far too late to understand what I’d really be getting myself into.

The disconnect is this: you don’t need major-driven classwork to find your perfect career – you just need to be willing to prove yourself. If you want to get into Web work, you don’t need the school-mandated study, the probably-already-outdated texts or the inflamed professor egos. You just need the desire to learn it on your own time.

Where We Are Now

As Deane points out, an entire legion of college-educated degree-holders are jumping ship to learn more lucrative and rewarding trades. They’re proving that the goal of choosing a career path at 17 or 18 – when you’re barely in a position to make career decisions – and going through four years of college to prepare for it may be both outdated and impractical. And Seth Godin piles on, confessing that the correlation between a degree and professional success is questionable.

College is important from a social standpoint – a finishing school that bridges the gap between parent-assisted living and full adulthood. Yes, you’re getting an opportunity for a safe career path. But you’re also pigeonholed into that safe career path; convinced that it’s your only option, you stop looking outside of the field, the myth of the degree forcing your hand.

Get the degree. Enjoy the time. Frame the diploma. Or don’t – learn on your own, prove yourself and get noticed.

Then, keep looking forward. Perfect your craft. Stop worrying about what you went to school for, and start worrying about whether you’re continuing to learn.

It takes more work, but it’s much more rewarding.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 22nd, 2010