Education Is Not A Golden Ticket

These days, it seems to me that more and more millennials are seeking higher education in greater numbers. No longer does the college degree of yester year cut it - we all seem to have masters degrees or are ‘working on’ some sort of PhD or further education.  For me, this hunger for knowledge, credentials and education comes from a desire that one day I may finally ‘arrive’ and be treated like someone who actually knows something worth knowing. In this information age in which most people know something about everything – it can be really difficult to feel like a ‘real’ specialist. It’s hard to know more about something than someone who has access to the world-wide-web.   

In some ways the tutorial explosion of the 2000s made it possible for everyone to learn how to do a little bit of everything, from bridal make up to changing a tire to an introduction to quantum physics (yes I have watched all three videos to varying degrees of success). As someone who yearns to be ‘special’ (enneagram 4 anyone?) this has been a hard wake up call. Just because I have my Masters degree in mental health counseling – doesn’t make me infallible in all things mental health. Our education informs us, builds up our knowledge and ability to take part in dialogue, but it doesn’t generate immediate respect the way I hoped it would.

Newsflash: Education is not a golden ticket anymore.

Did this surprise anyone else? Because it certainly surprised me. As I creep (slowly) closer to a terminal degree, I begin to see the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education. At some point we have to stop collecting degrees and figure out what to do with them, which is TERRIFYING because I was really hoping someone would walk up to me on graduation day and hand me a house, job, company car and flexible vacation days.

Alas I have come to see that we can no longer rest on education alone to carry us into success (I have a working suspicion that this urban legend was never true to begin with…). The job market for PhD holders is really no better than for college graduates, showing that our education is reaching far beyond our occupational grasp.  (To illustrate my point, the increasing number of millenials who have undergraduate and graduate degrees working full time at Starbucks should give us an indication).

Instead, figuring out what to do with our education, actually implementing and using it in creative helpful ways is the challenge that lies before us. Perhaps in the renaissance people could get fat on information and education and still live a productive life, but I’m beginning to feel a restlessness in further education that hints at a deeper problem – How can we begin to grow beyond simply consuming information and instead generate and implement our education into society?

1.Remember how privileged you are to have any education at all

Chances are, if you are nodding along to any of my scattered thoughts, then you too have had the privilege of getting a college degree and are wrestling with the should I or shouldn’t I conundrum of graduate education. Having access to graduate education doesn’t make us bad people – but it can make us forget to slow down and be grateful for what we already have. Higher education rates may be rising, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the country has the same opportunities in education as you have had. Your college degree may not feel like it is stretching very far for you but it is good to remember that there are some people in this world who have accomplished more with no high school diploma than those who have gotten a PhD. I say this because it has been an important point that has humbled me over the years and that slows me down. Am I genuinely hungry for more education? Or do I just not know how to stop eating? At some point we need to share the wealth of knowledge we already have to close the educational gaps in the world rather than increase them.

2.Respect each other’s degrees and build one another up in confidence  

So I know there are may out there who could be thinking, the last thing a millennial needs is more confidence – and I agree…. in part. The unfortunate stereotype is that most of us are certainly carting around a huge ego, whining about how we could change the world if only everyone else would get behind us, and entitlement doesn’t look good on anyone. But I want to come at this from a different angle and suggest that most of us are swimming towards higher education because we aren’t yet confident to share what we already know. Maybe when I get my second masters I’ll be respected. Finally, when I get that PhD the doors will open wide. The myth of ‘arriving’ and having everything ‘fall into place’ once that gown and cap in on is a haunting reality for many of my peers and I. I think it’s great that we want to read up on our stuff so we don’t open our mouths and make a fool of ourselves – but I also think our insecurity begins to shine through. What use is that education if you don’t learn how to respect it yourself, and to respect the education of others?

What I really mean by this is that we’ve got to stop comparing our friend’s medicine degree to our own ability to Google Web MD. There is a difference between those who have put in the work to earn the degree and those who have a passing interest to brush up on the top ten Google hits.

I love to practice this in my own life by giving genuine dignity and respect to those who have different degrees than me, and I have grown to expect the same in return. Whilst I love art, at the end of the day I didn’t actually choose to get a fine art degree – so at some point I need to decide to stop competing with those who did (or those who have spent a lifetime painting) and instead encourage them in their expertise and learn from them. Bringing respect and dignity back to those who have put the work in is an etiquette I hope we all can learn to keep education alive.  

3.Embrace being entrepreneurial as a fact of life

This may actually be the most important and practical of my points. No longer is it true that you get the degree and someone else creates the work for you (at least it hasn’t been in my circles!) If we get fat on education, but never work out through entrepreneurial endeavors, our education will just sit there gathering dust. Our generation is fortunately, one of the most creative and quirky out there. People have made careers out of things like Instagram and Youtube – even more impressive are the millenials who have found ways to self-publish, launch their own record labels, start their own nutrition kitchens or open up a specialty bike shop (I saw last week that a girl from my undergrad with a communications degree had moved to the middle east and started her own web mini series– that is gosh darn entrepreneurial). The hard part of this explosion in creativity is that everyone needs to find a way to take part. I think all of us can benefit from figuring out how to read and lean into entrepreneurial skills training and reading. To bring it home for my husband and I, both of us have found that our respective degrees become infinitely more interesting when we combine them with entrepreneurial expectations. I will not become a helpful private practitioner if I don’t learn how to market myself, specialize, lead workshops and eventually launch and run a private practice. No matter what your education is, I encourage you now to start that evernote of ideas – even the bad ones! – to bring your own personal fingerprint to your field of knowledge.

4.Ask yourself the hard questions of life

Ok so this may be the career counselor in me – but I would be remised if I didn’t take a moment to talk about self-insight and the art of knowing your own motivations. The terrifying idea lurks out there that some of us are simply going through the motions of education without really knowing why or what we want to do with it. You don’t want to be that person with a PhD in Textile Design who has no idea what they want to be when they grow up.

An unfortunate reality of the Fall and of sin, is that we all have to wrestle with our own ego and pride when it comes to further education. Do you want it because you need it? Or do you want it because you desire the accolade? Our pride, self pressure and ignorance can carry us further than we ever thought possible into degrees, debt and career paths that we ultimately don’t feel connected or obedient to. The two counseling questions I invite you all to explore are:

Who am I? & How do I want to show up in the world?

You cannot underestimate the mental health you can experience through knowing intimately who you are, what makes you tick and what drains you of life. If you’re halfway through med school, but it’s really baking that gets you up in the morning, why aren’t you in pastry school? Some of this is the whole follow your passion/calling speech, but some of it is simply an appeal to understand your motivations and inspirations for being in your field of education.

With regards to how you want to show up in the world – this is where the real soul work begins. You may have discerned that who you are, is a phenomenal stock broker – but deeper still, you have to decide what kind of stock broker you want to be. How will your Christianity come to bear on the vocation you find yourself in? This is more than sharing the gospel by the water cooler or earning a lot of money so that you can tithe at church – it’s a deeper invitation to bring light into darkness. How do you want to show up in the world? Loving, peaceful, patient, faithful, kind? If so, does having more education serve that end or does it serve another?  Ask yourself, why do I really want to get this education and what responsibility do I feel to steward it for the glory of God and serving others? These answers are seldom easy, and you will likely have to surrender your pride to get to the good stuff.

5.Stay humble and hard working

This is a lesson from the baby boomers before us, who did not grow up following their passion, but instead put down the roots in jobs that put food on the table and built a work ethic we all could learn something from. Sometimes being young and educated is hard, because you are a bright, young, intelligent, qualified person who could make a real difference if someone would just take a chance on you – but for some of us, the opportunities don’t come knocking right away and we find ourselves settling in a job we don’t love. There is a big difference between a job and a career my friends – you may have to take that shift at Starbucks today but that is just one job in the career that lies ahead. Use these less than perfect ‘in between’ jobs to learn how to work hard and to be humbled.

The other side to getting your dream job is that, heaven help us, we still have got to be humble. I want my masters degree to be respected, but I will have a hard time getting respect if I don’t first respect and love others who have gone before me and learn to take their feedback. Feedback is a tough part of life in which you come to find that your education is never over. Instead the classroom is now your cubicle and the teacher is pretty much everyone else you work with and serve. There are always lessons to be learned if we can remain humble enough to receive them in love.

6.Take the longest view possible

Finally, fight against the pressure to race. I love being reassured that Jesus was 30 before he started his formal ministry. One of my favorite professors in Theology hadn’t even become a Christian at the age I am almost finished with my seminary education. We aren’t formed overnight and we aren’t supposed to be. I attend a university in which the rat race to get that PhD feels very real and if you don’t keep up with the pack the fear is that you may not be as influential, important or intelligent as you once hoped. But life is so, so much more than school. Some of us need to be gently nudged out of the educational nest and encouraged to soak in life, experience and the world outside our campus. You can always come back for more education (believe me, higher education loves your money) when you’ve paid off that first round of debt, or had that first real job experience. I’m actually of the belief that our PhD dissertations would be far richer if we lived a little more life to put into shaping them.

However, others of us also sorely need to be encouraged to keep up the good fight to finish that PhD and to keep pressing on as the debt mounts higher and ramen noodles taste staler. Putting the work into a PhD takes a village of support and love to make it through alive. But on the other side of graduation, you will still need a long view. Weaving your education into a life that is rich, balanced and full with other important things like relationships, health, faith and service takes a long view to life that knows arrival doesn’t come in the back pocket of that cap and gown.

It is my hope that we keep getting educated for the right reasons, rather than the bored, scared, misguided ones. I think I saw a cheesy postcard once that espoused the cliché, ‘let life be your classroom’ and I cheesily agree. Education is a part of life, so please let it teach and form you, but do not loose sight of who you are or how you want to impact this world for Christ in a book. Putting our knowledge into tangible practice is the real ticket – it may not be golden, but it is worth more than all our student debt combined.