Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Am I Going Back to School?

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site as "Contemplating College at Age 53.")

I don't have a college degree.

For more than thirty years, those six words have sort of haunted me. In a world where popular opinion says that a college degree is necessary in order to find a decent job and be successful, I've managed to meander my way through my work life without one. Have I had decent jobs? I think so. Have I been successful? I guess that depends on how you define success.

I've performed very well in every job that I've had, and I take great pride in that. To me, that's success. On the other hand, someone who gauges success by the amount of money someone makes would probably say I could've done better. But that's fine. I have never been all about money and I've done well enough over the years to keep my family fed, put a roof over our heads, and provide us with some nice things.

Sometimes it blows my mind that I've only worked full time for four different employers in my lifetime. I spent the summer after high school graduation working for a landscape company. After that I spent a short time working as a radio personality in Ohio before going to work for a library reference/textbook publisher. I spent the vast majority of my career working for that company, putting in a total of 24 years with them before my position was eliminated in late 2013. Over the years, I also worked on and off for my father's business (a general building contractor).

I was never someone who was in love with school. I managed to graduate from high school with honors without working very hard. After high school, I went to broadcasting school. My dream was to work on the radio, and trade school was the shortest line between where I was and where I wanted to be. That six-month stint in broadcasting school was the most enjoyable educational experience of my life. I loved it and was sorry when it ended.

At the ripe old age of 18 I was hired by a radio station in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, to be their midday air personality. I moved away from home for the first time, had my own apartment, and was living my dream. Unfortunately, the dream ended when I discovered I couldn't make enough money to even pay my rent. That's when I decided to abandon the radio gig and move back home to...go to college.

I decided to go to college as kind of a last resort. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but at the time I had a "What else am I going to do?" mentality. I lived in the metro Detroit area, and I knew my scant career in radio was unlikely to land me a job in a major market. (Lord knows I tried, though. When I returned from Ohio I sent résumés and air check tapes to every radio station in Detroit.) Going to college seemed to be the logical, albeit not my favorite, choice.

The whole college thing was probably destined to fail right from the beginning. My parents were not well off, and they told me that I'd be paying for 100 percent of my tuition and books. I chose to attend a local "commuter" college, so at least room and board weren't an issue. But I remember going to a bank in downtown Detroit and taking care of the paperwork for my student loan and saying to myself, "What the hell am I doing?" Taking out a loan to pay for something I didn't really want seemed kind of stupid to me. But what else was I going to do?

To make matters worse, I chose to study radio broadcasting in college. I obviously knew a lot about the subject and profession already, but it was the only thing I was interested in. I thought if I got a college degree in broadcasting, maybe I could land a major market job, or at least a job in a reasonably large market. In other words, a job that might pay me enough money to live on.

I went to college for about two years. The introductory radio courses were boring for me because I knew the material. I aced those classes without even trying. On the flip side, the non-radio courses--with the exception of one film class--were excruciatingly painful for me. I wasn't interested in the subject matter. I didn't want to be there. I felt like I was wasting money I didn't even have yet. Add all that up and you can probably guess what happened next.

I quit.

Instead of going to college, I set out to find a job that would appeal to me in some way. I had always been interested in English and writing, and I found a job posting for an editorial assistant with a local publisher. I applied, and after two interviews I was offered the position. Long story short: I would end up working for that same company for 24 years.

I don't think the lack of a college degree ever really hurt me during my publishing career. But I always had an inferiority complex, because I worked for a company where just about everyone had at least a bachelor's degree.

Now my publishing career is history, and I'm looking for a job that I'm truly passionate about. And while I've been searching for that needle-in-a-haystack opportunity, I've come to the conclusion that A.) I might just need that bachelor's degree now; and B.) I definitely need more education in the field I'm interested in (addiction/recovery).

So maybe it's time to go back to school. (And let me stress the word maybe.)

I'm still not in love with the idea of going to school. Especially at my age. I'm also not sure how I would pay for it, since I'm unemployed and my wife's income isn't even enough for us to survive on. We also only have one car, so the logistics of getting to and from school present a challenge. But maybe online classes are a possibility.

I took the first step in the process last week when I requested my college transcripts. They're supposed to be mailed to me today, so I should have them tomorrow or the next day. It'll be interesting to see how many credits I actually have, and what my grades were like. (To be totally honest, I don't even remember how I did in the classes I hated.) It'll also be interesting to see what credits will even be transferable, given that I took these classes more than 30 years ago. But, what the hell. Life's an adventure, right?

If any college administrators out there are reading this and want to give me a full scholarship to their school, I will gladly accept. And if anyone wants to give me college credit for my life experiences and present me with a bachelor's degree, I will gladly accept.

Ahhh. If only it were that simple.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." --Mark Twain

My last day of work at the company I spent 24 years with.

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