May 19, 2009


Posted in *cringe*, Darth Vaguer, Nerdiness, Past, Present, The Aaaarrrghhhhh!, The Just a Little Sad, The Why, The WTF at 9:29 am by Dagny Taggart

A parent’s wet dream?  Not quite.  But I am privileged to be constantly surrounded by really intelligent and articulate people – something that I took for granted, for a really long time.

I’ve talked about my overeducated family before.  96% of my high school graduating class went directly to a four-year college, and something like ten percent of those went to some pretty old schools with impressive greenery.  I did the same, in large part because that was expected of me.  I got into a good school filled with really smart people, where I was challenged and where I had to really study in order to succeed (I didn’t, always).  But this was all just what was expected of me.  Par for the course, for a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.

I was sheltered in a number of ways, but this was one of the most significant.  My first encounter with a population for whom college wasn’t a given, was when I lived in Tennessee for a summer, with my college roommate.  Her parents were among the 10% or so of her native area to have four-year degrees, and she was the only one among her friends.  They showed me that it was, in fact, perfectly possible to have a successful life without an $80,000 piece of paper.  That for most of them, it was preferable.  That the path of higher education was just one of many. 

Interestingly, my most serious relationships have been with men who were uniquely intelligent, but for whom formal education was at best an afterthought.  I think I envy them both the freedom from student loans, and the freedom from feeling like one has to do something related to all of that education, to make it worthwhile.  And what I admire in them, is the decision to take a different path – something that, had it even occurred to me in high school, I doubt I’d have had the courage to try.

So, since I often wonder if my degrees weren’t essentially the equivalent of 7 years spent in a dead-end job, and since I think of them more as representative of stretches of time, rather than who I am as a person, it often surprises me when people make assumptions based on those degrees.

Have you ever wondered what would have been your “path less traveled”?



  1. Hammer said,

    The gas pump says that the difference between credentialing and learning can be tricky, as many folks attain one but not the other – sort of like automotive performance and fuel efficiency. As for happiness, it’s all a matter of degrees.

  2. AliasFaux said,

    I like to think I have an interesting perspective on this. My folks met as undergrads at the very same college that you attended (where my brother also went), and one dropped out to have me, and the other finished.

    I dropped out of college before my senior year, and took the path less traveled for 5 years, and then went back, and finished, and am now finishing up my graduate degree.

    The point is, I’ve seen both first and second hand, both sides of the coin, and I’m of the opinion that a degree is a piece of paper, and nothing more.

    The experiences you gain while earning your degree (and the knowledge, perspective, and self discipline) on the other hand can be a HUGE part of who you are.

    You can get absolutely nothing from your time earning your degree(s), or you can get a ton.

    This is to say, once you know somebody, what degree they have or have not earned can tell you a ton about somebody, but it tells you next to nothing about a stranger.

  3. I was the odd ball in most of my academic circles as I had parents lacking in impressive letters behind their names. Yet the notion that my sister and I would not have those credentials never occurred to either of us or our parents. Would my life be substantively different had I opted for the road not taken? Who the hell knows; however, I do think that I would not be substantively different. This is especially true for me since I opted out of the corporate world for a restaurant life after a stretch of life. One thing would be different: my passive aggressive mother would not use every opportunity to indicate her belief that I am “wasting my education” with my current path.

  4. Hammer: The gas pump is really spot-on with the analogies, isn’t it? Thanks for the song!

    Alias Faux: I concur. 🙂

    restaurant refugee: Yes – that “wasting one’s education” argument is annoying, isn’t it? But what is awesome, is that you had the courage to take the road less traveled, despite the sunk costs of the education. That’s pretty amazing, and one hopes that you’re being karmically rewarded for taking the leap. If you’ve got any problems in that department, let me know. I might know someone who can help.

  5. vvk said,

    Fairly soon now, I will be the only person in my immediate family who can’t be addressed as Dr… and I don’t have any sort of college degree.

    And really, it’s not for lack of trying. If Universities gave out degrees for just passing a certain number of classes with a certain GPA, I would have earned a degree a long time ago… But I’ve always had a hard time conforming to someone else’s just of what I should know… and what I should do to prove it. That, and what seems to be an insurmountable mental block when it comes to writing papers on things I couldn’t care less about… and I’ve never quite managed to finish a degree. I keep going back every few years because there is such a high expectation from my family.

    I basically see a degree as an easy way for society to determine that someone is more likely than average to know a bit about some topic… but doesn’t really prove much of anything else. It may get you past HR, and it is something that people who don’t have the time or inclination to learn more about you can take a look at… but I’ve always managed to find ways around HR, and don’t really care about the other.

  6. vvk: It’s funny – I have a hard time imagining making assumptions about someone who didn’t have a degree, now. I don’t think about it when I meet someone new. But given my job, it’s obvious to anyone who knows that much, that I have one. I’ve taken to describing what I do, rather than giving my title, just so that people don’t have the opportunity to make assumptions on that basis.

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