By Laura Jasmine
When we go to college or pursue higher education of any kind, we do so with the idea that it will open doors for us. But too often, we actually end up allowing our shiny new degrees to limit us.
I’m sure you’ve had the thoughts yourself or know someone who has. You secretly dream of being a wedding planner, but you tell yourself you can’t waste that MBA that you worked so hard for and spent so hard for. Your parents sacrificed to help contribute to your tuition, and you can’t let them down.
Or, you graduate from college with a history degree and a heart full of regret, knowing that you are much better suited for engineering. But, you feel that you are already too far along the path you have chosen, so you hunker down and apply to law school instead.
Or maybe you’re dissatisfied with your current job as an administrative assistant, and one day when you’re scrolling through job listings, you find yourself drooling over a social media position with a well-known and successful small business in your local community. You are always the first amongst your friends and family to adopt the latest social media trends, and you know that you would excel at the job. But, you decide not to apply because your degree is in French, not communications or journalism, which is what the job posting requests. You think there is no way your resume would get pulled for an interview what with that darn French degree.
In all of these scenarios, degrees created perceived limitations rather than opportunities. And I relate, because I’ve been there myself.
I went to school for 21 consecutive years, from my 2-year-old preschool class all the way up to when I graduated with my Master’s of Social Work. Talk about a lot of time and effort! So, you can imagine how confused and frustrated I felt when, two years into my first “real” full-time job at a hospital, I just didn’t feel like I was where I was supposed to be.
It’s not like I totally hated my job, but it was undeniably not a true passion of mine. I was also suffering health consequences, some that were permanent, due to working in a medical setting. I was increasingly becoming disenchanted with my job and began to explore alternatives.
After quite a few months of searching, I unexpectedly happened upon what I instantly knew to be my dream job: a wish coordinator position with Make-A-Wish. This role would involve coordinating wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. I would literally be making dreams come true! With my passion for vulnerable children and my excellent organizational skills, I knew I could do the job and would love the work. But then I saw the “Education” section of the job description, and my hopes fell. The required education was a Bachelor’s degree.
I was overqualified. All of the time and hard work I had put into my Master’s degree would be meaningless if I applied for and took this job, wouldn’t it? And, at the same time, I also felt underqualified. I had experience as a social worker, not a travel agent! What professional experience could I point to as proof that I could flawlessly plan all of the little details involved in sending an ill child on a trip to Disney World?
After thinking about it and talking it over with my husband, I realized that I was unnecessarily limiting myself.
Why do we think it’s okay to stay in jobs that are mediocre at best or terrible at worst, just because it’s a job that perfectly aligns with our degree? Who do we think we are helping? We are just making ourselves miserable, and likely the people around us, too. Worse yet, we are ignoring that little voice inside of us that beckons us toward our passions. We are missing our callings.
We have to see the costs of our degrees–time, financial, and otherwise–as sunk costs. We’ve already done it, and we can’t take it back. That shouldn’t affect (and limit!) our choices moving forward, as we continuously grow and change as dynamic human beings.
Or maybe, we can go a step beyond that and actually see our degrees as positive experiences, regardless of whether or not we are in a job that “uses” our degree. Without that degree, you may not have met a really important person in your life. Without that degree, you may not have realized that your degree field was not, in fact, one of your passions, and you might still be one step further from discovering that passion. Without that degree, you may not have gained vital skills that you use daily in your current job, despite the fact that your job doesn’t necessarily require that degree.
After realizing how much I was pigeonholing myself, I kicked myself in the tail big time and applied for that job with Make-A-Wish. Who cared if it didn’t require a Master’s degree if it was what I really wanted to do? And, when I looked at my past work experience through a broader lens, I realized that perhaps I wasn’t as underqualified as I had originally thought. Sure, I had never professionally planned someone else’s vacations before, but I had coordinated medical services for my patients and planned events through volunteer commitments. I knew how to organize little details. I could do this!
To my amazement, Make-A-Wish granted me a phone interview, then an in-person interview. Then, I was offered the job. I cried tears of joy as I called my family to share the good news. I couldn’t believe that my own wish was coming true!
And the funny thing is, even though my job doesn’t require a Master’s degree, I never would have gotten the job without my degree. In my Master’s of Social Work program, I spent a year-long clinical rotation at the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This line item on my resume showed my new employer that I had experience working with children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. And really, it was my time working at UNC that gave me a passion for these children anyway, as I suffered with them through the dark times and celebrated with them during the hopeful times.
Friends, we have got to stop seeing our degrees as firm stakes in the ground and instead view them as helpful stepping stones that have the potential to lead us perhaps to a predictable path or perhaps to a trail unknown. It’s time to shake off the guilt and the “should dos” and pursue our dreams fearlessly.
I may not sign off on medical charts as “Laura Jasmine, MSW, LCSW” very much anymore, but I do get to be Laura Jasmine, Professional Fairy Godmother. That’s not such a bad trade-off, is it?
Laura Jasmine is a wish coordinator with Make-A-Wish. She is also a fair trade, social justice, and green living advocate. When not attempting to cure the world’s problems with glitter and vegan handbags, she can be found cuddling her dog and enjoying cupcakes and wine with her family and friends.
Header image credit: Ivorymix