I was not encouraged to go to college when I was a kid.
When I say ‘not encouraged’ I mean I was told this: You need to just go out and get a job and support yourself.
I’m paraphrasing but that was the message. I took that message to heart and it became my truth. I was going to work, not school.
College seemed exotic and something that was behind a thick layer of plexi-glass.
I remember visiting a college when I was in high school, the whole junior class went. I was amazed. Kids not much older than me living on their own. They even had a bowling alley.
I have no idea why I remember the bowling alley.
When I was 25 years old, I made an attempt at being a college student and took one class a semester while working full time and taking care of a toddler. It wasn’t that intrusive and I was young. I had energizer bunny levels of energy when I was 25.
I attempted it again when I was 27 years old. I was newly divorced and struggling to not have a mental break. I had just transferred from a job I had held since just after my 21st birthday to IT. I hated it so much but I stuck with it because I needed to support myself and my son.
One night in July, I called my mother. I sat outside long after the sun had gone down but there was still no relief from the heat. Zach and I lived in a shitty 3 room apartment with no air conditioning in a questionable neighborhood. I cried because everything was falling apart. My marriage ended. Zach was unhappy and my boss was unhappy with me. My mother told me to pack my things and come home. Maybe I could even go to school. Full time.
So I did. I quit the company where I had worked for 7 years and used the little bit of retirement money that I had built up to go to school.
I made it three months of living at home when I realized that living with my father was the worst of all worlds. Getting a degree wasn’t worth the soul sucking pain of living in a house with another human whose goal in life was to tear mine down.
I abandoned my plan of becoming a psychologist and bluffed my way back into computer programming. Within a short time, Zach and I were on our own again and resigned myself that the 21 hours of college I had accumulated over a few years were the only hours I was going to get.
Sure, I could go to school now if I wanted, but I honestly don’t want to. I don’t want to work all day and go to school at night and on weekends. I don’t want to cram for tests. I have other ways I want to spend my spare time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few things that I still dislike about not having a degree:
1. “You don’t have a degree? Really? You sound like you went to college”. I have heard this a number of times and I know that it’s not meant as an insult, but honestly? You don’t have to go to college to gain knowledge. I read a lot. I’m not a dumb ass. I’ve educated myself on many subjects. My education might not be conventional, but that doesn’t mean I’m not educated.
2. “It’s just a piece of paper”. Okay, this one not only minimizes the work that people put into their education but it’s also not true. It’s not just a piece of paper. It’s a members-only invitation. I was the director of IT at my old job. My boss recognized my value and put me in charge. He did not do me any favors by promoting me. When it came time to look for new work, most places wouldn’t even consider me for management because 25 years experience just isn’t enough, I had to come with a degree. Trying to get a programming job when you hold a director’s title is also difficult. I had to answer the “Why would you go backward in your career” question quite a few times before finding the job I have now.
3. I don’t have any cool ‘when I was in college’ stories. Mine would involve trying to find a babysitter. The whole dorm life, drinking with friends and cramming for tests subculture is completely foreign to me. I was riding the bus to work and living off my data entry job when other people my age were pledging sororities or planning a trip abroad before settling down.
4, My self education is lopsided. I educated myself, but only in subjects I wanted to learn about. This explains why even though I’m a computer programmer my math skills might be equal to those of a 6th grade student.
5. Hard transition from childhood to adulthood. It seems to me that college is that time where you get to try out being an adult while still having a foot in childhood. Obviously, I could be off as I didn’t go to college but I still feel like I missed something. I’m aware it exists, but it has no context in my life. Kind of like Australia. (Hello to my Australian friend)!
6. No degree frequently makes my ‘what I’m anxious about now’ list. When I’m with a group of people who I know had a formal education, I feel like I have ‘dumb ass’ smeared across my forehead in mud. This is my problem. I can’t at the moment remember a time where someone attempted to make me feel bad because they were educated and I was not. Honestly though, I got that covered for them.
7. What doors might have opened for me? I managed to make a decent life for myself. I’ve moved mountains in some ways. I do find myself wondering what I might have been able to accomplish if I had a formal education.
I’m still working toward self-acceptance and actually making strides. Part of that acceptance includes me being happy with myself even though I was not formally educated. It includes the understanding that sometimes my work life is more challenging, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been successful.
If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely go to school.