I went to college because I wanted a good job.
Everyone from my guidance counselor to family friends to Cory Matthews was telling me that college was The Answer. It wasn’t just the next step after twelfth grade—it was the key to success. It was the final rung in the ladder that would help me reach all of my dreams and potential.
So, I devoted four years of my life to classes and expensive textbooks, then a fifth year to tack on a Master’s. I worked several jobs to avoid being saddled by debt, and then was saddled by debt anyway. I skipped parties and nights out with friends in favor of hours hunched over the harsh glow of a laptop, editing a thesis. It was a trade off. In the dim glow of that laptop, I could already see my future, fantastic job with its pals Security, Money, and Retirement Plan. All of that time and cash and debt would pay me back with a bright career that would carry me through adulthood.
I didn’t plan on finding out that I had interests and skills other than those I’d known at eighteen.
Logically, I know there’s no shame in that. Yet, an unused degree seems to represent… waste. It feels like all of those resources I intended to invest were dumped recklessly on a path that hasn’t been taken. I poured all of my energy into becoming a teacher, and here I am typing up a blog post at a desk in a gift shop that sells greeting cards. Leaving that degree on a shelf to gather dust reeks of untapped potential, squandered time, money, and energy.
It’s like packing a dress for a weekend trip. And you don’t wear the dress, because you realized you had something else in the bottom of the bag that was a better fit.
But only if that dress you opted not to wear was a $100,000 dress that you bought just for the occasion. Like that.
But, it’s not just the money that bothers me (though the money bothers me a whole, whole lot). Sometimes I have this fear that friends will think I’ve moved on because I wasn’t able to get a job in my field. Because I wasn’t good enough. Other times, that fear is outweighed by the guilt of knowing that I could and did, and consciously just passed on it. On one hand, I don’t want to be mistakenly perceived as inept, on the other, I’m afraid that I’ll be seen as irresponsible—partly because I wonder if I have been.
So, the bright side? In all of the waffling and second-guessing of myself, I’ve actually decided a few things. First, that not having a job in my field isn’t the same as “not using my education.” I’d like to think I’m at least more aware of stuff I wouldn’t have known without college, if not more knowledgeable. Theoretically, education is valuable unto itself, yeah? Not just a means to an end.
But even more than that, I try to focus on the fact that I went to college for opportunity. I wasn’t signing up to be shackled to one specific path for the rest of my life. In fact, that’s exactly what I didn’t want: to be cornered into a job that wasn’t a good fit. If an education, rather than just granting me added opportunity to explore, makes me feel forced into a corner, that seems to defeat the purpose entirely. I went to college to avoid being cornered. The opportunity provided by my degree still exists, and I continue to invest in it—trying to keep the education-geared portion of my resume fresh, keep my credentials current. And if one day these other opportunities are less glittery than they seem now, hopefully it’ll still be there, waiting for me on that dusty shelf.
I’m still mostly sticking to the original plan, which entailed eating and surviving and not being stuck in terrible jobs. I’m doing all of those things, even if I didn’t have the expected details quite right.
Photo: Gabriel Harber Photography