I recently accomplished something that I should have done 28 years ago. I finally completed my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Now, in some ways, this is a moot point. I co-founded a company with a friend back in 1999, and I have been the sole owner for the last seven years. The business has survived several recessions and the meltdown of 2008. This survival in the midst of a very challenging environment is significant. I have had to do everything in this business; financial projections, hiring and firing, establish benefits and insurance, update CAFM databases to Microsoft SQL Server, teach AutoCAD, measure massive (over one million square feet) buildings in dangerous neighborhoods (Bedford Stuyvesant), take out lines of credit, conform to all of New York’s labyrinth of regulations, remove ice from the gutters with a hammer and screwdriver and take out the garbage. This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.
Since I already know so much about running a small business, why would I seek a degree in what I already know? A legitimate question. There are several reasons:
First, I love to learn. Going back to school has been a joy for me. I love the interaction, the accountability of a class schedule, and a set time frame for finishing a book or an essay. I learn more this way. I believe that I am a much more informed person by finishing this degree.
Second, many opportunities open up with the acquisition of a Bachelor’s degree. I love to teach, and yet I have found many doors closed to me because of my lack of that elusive Little Bo Peep diploma (sheepskin, get it? Never mind). It is great to say that a degree doesn’t matter, but when you know that you are completely qualified to do something, and yet people tell you that you can’t do it due to the lack of a degree, it is a bit hollow to say that it doesn’t matter. I will now have greater opportunities for consulting, teaching and employment due to my new degree. That is a fact.
Third, it validates and legitimizes my experiences. I can say that I know X, Y and Z, and I may be far more competent than my colleagues that have a degree, but without it, there is a sense that I am coming in through the back door. That I am second best. The degree eliminates doubts in my own mind and others about my capabilities. Indeed, when I sought to teach AutoCAD at BOCES here in New York state, I had to get special permission to teach, and even that was conditional at best. I wound up losing that position due to my lack of a degree in spite of outstanding success with my students and fellow teachers. I had three students finish first in the State Automated Manufacturing Technology competition, and they went to the national VICA/Skills USA conference in Kansas City. Yet, I was not qualified to teach without a degree according to Albany. As frustrating as that was to me, the rules are what they are. If I had finished my degree when I was younger, I would have had my card punched and I would have been able to control my future better.
Fourth, a person with a Bachelor’s degree makes on average about 75% more than their non-lettered counterparts. I like those numbers, and I like those odds. This is a no-brainer.
Fifth, I felt that I had a responsibility from God to improve my situation in whatever way that I could. This was an unfinished goal from years before, and I needed to complete it. Those who are given much are expected to accomplish much. I have been given much.
So, what is the takeaway? Kids, stay in school if you are inclined to get a college education. Find a way to complete your degree with no debt (or very little debt) and do it while you have fewer responsibilities. I can guarantee you that it will get much harder once you are married and have kids and a house payment. The other takeaway is never give up. Never Give Up! It is always easier to quit. To say that I am too old, to say that it doesn’t matter, to say that there is no reason to push myself academically. Those are all lies. When you stop learning and dreaming, you start to age. I don’t mean physically, I mean in your spirit and soul. Don’t embrace the naysayers’ doubts. Push yourself to the next level of your career, relationships, or self discipline. It is a new year, and you can do it! You should do it! There is grace for this kind of step, but there isn’t grace to do nothing.
In this case I can say emphatically: Do as I say, and do as I do!