College, Career, and Happiness

Are you happy? One of my nieces asked this simple and provocative question online recently and it made me stop and think. Her question was in relation to career goals and the pursuit of a college degree. My answer to her post was brief, but here’s my real answer…

I sincerely enjoy the type of work I do. Being in communications means that there is always something fresh on the horizon, and the explosion of social media has made communication processes much more interesting and challenging. There is no shortage of information, and no way to slow down the flow. Some days this is a welcome challenge and other days it is an overwhelming disaster that screams “you are burning out faster than you know!” It occasionally feels as though the workload is daring me to fail. Luckily, I am an extremely competitive person. So daring me to fail is almost a guarantee of success. Almost. One of the major problems with my work life right now is that technology has elevated expectations to the point where it is impossible to meet them. That includes my own expectations for myself. Just because we can all move information from place to place in a heartbeat does not mean we should, and does not mean it’s done in the best possible way. Faster does not equal better.

The nature of my work has changed over the years and I’m okay with that. But no one loves every aspect of their chosen profession and, without going into detail online, the honest reality is that my career is stalled. Therein lies the career “happiness” problem which is quite definitely linked to the college degree issue.

Reading the news, circa 1983

Reading the news, circa 1983

Because I never completed a bachelor’s degree I am shut out of some job opportunities. The reasons for my not getting this degree are numerous:

  1. I was a party-girl during my first year in college and almost flunked out. Yes, it’s true. My straight-A-high-school-self went more than a little crazy when I left home for the first time and at the age of 18 I was immature and irresponsible.
  2. My parents declined to pay for my partying lifestyle and brought me home. I attended community college, which was a great experience and I did get an associate’s degree.
  3. By then I was working full-time in a job that I loved, which led me to a career in radio news.
  4. I was a decent reporter and became an okay news director, and did not need that bachelor’s degree to do it.
  5. When our children were young, the news business no longer suited my lifestyle. To put myself on a more regular schedule, I took a job at a small non-profit as communications director and fell in love with the work, the people, and the role. I never looked back.

Throughout all of these changes, I never needed a bachelor’s degree to get ahead. The reality is that for the small town where we live I earn a decent living without it. But not having it absolutely does make a difference. Even though I have always tried to bring professionalism and integrity to the workplace, some places will simply not consider me because I lack a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, I have found myself competing with people who have a master’s degree.

While lunching with a friend the other day she said, “You should just do it!” She is absolutely right, I should just do it. The only thing really standing in my way right now is money, because we are working very hard to keep daughter #2 in college so that she can pursue her own career and life aspirations. We want our kids to be launched properly and then whatever they choose to do with the rest of their lives is entirely up to them. Fortunately, they have not made the mistakes I made. They can find enough of their own.

So my advice to anyone thinking about going to college is: Just DO it. Do it early, and quickly, and on a tight budget if you have to, and squeeze all of the learning and fun and experimentation (legally, that is) out of it that you can. Try new things. Dabble in different types of course work. Try out new extracurricular groups. Taste new foods. Play new sports. Travel. Enjoy it. But DO IT! The rest of your life will absolutely be easier if you have a degree. If you are not cut out for college, then find some trade school or apprenticeship program to enhance your skills. But DO IT and finish it and move on. Because there are other things you are going to want to do in your life. You may want to go in a completely different direction later and that’s okay. I know many people who have degrees in some field of study that do not match their professional lives. 30 years ago you could get by without a four year diploma, but that is not the case anymore and having a degree – in anything – is essential.

But here is the rest of my answer on the happiness continuum, and this is very important. We should never, ever, ever allow our happiness to be dictated solely by our work lives.

I have fabulous, supportive people around me. My family and friends mean the world to me and they make me feel happy every day. I volunteer for some terrific causes and that makes me feel productive and useful and happy. I try to work on some creative thing every day just to demonstrate that I still can, and that makes me very happy.

So, for me at this point, work is where I go to earn a living that allows me to pursue other things that make me happy. Many of us become defined by our careers when, in reality, we are so much more than that. For what it’s worth and if you care to take any advice from a mid-50’s woman with a boatload of experience here it is: get a degree because it will open more doors for you, find something productive or creative to do with your time, and surround yourself with great people. Happiness is where you make it.

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2 thoughts on “College, Career, and Happiness

  1. Hear, hear! I wholeheartedly agree that everyone should go to college if they possibly can. It may not seem integral to the life you imagine for yourself RIGHT NOW, but you have no way of knowing where life will take you. Thanks for a great post!

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