I have a complex relationship with my bachelors degree. I possess this tangible paper that represents my intangible college experience. I own my degree. I worked for it. I paid for it. And in return it’s supposed to give something back to me, right? I was expecting increased potential future earnings, career preparedness, personal fulfillment and the pride of an accomplishment. These were just my assumptions; I had never really stopped to analyze them. It was just expected of me my whole life that I would get a degree. I never questioned its usefulness until after I found it to be not quite so useful.
My dad told me something when I graduated college that pissed me off and excited me at the same time:
‘Real education begins with graduation’.
You can imagine my response. ‘Great, then what have I been doing for the last few years? And what do I not know??’
And ever since that day when I wore my cap and gown, I have been constantly reminded of my Dad’s little adage. Because fortunately and unfortunately, it was true.
I was so angry when I graduated and felt completely unprepared for the real world and the job market. I felt so betrayed by academia, like everything they taught and prepared me for was a useless lie. And what really infuriated me were the biweekly emails I received from the alumni association constantly asking me to donate money. Are you kidding? I just paid you $100,000 and now I’m poor and unemployable and you want ME to give YOU money?
Then one day I decided to mentally shift my opinion of my degree, and try to focus on the positive, you know, to salvage the relationship. When I started focusing on what my degree had given me, I realized I had a lot to be thankful for.
Academia provided me with a theoretical framework to understand the real world. It was a safe zone where I could express and be exposed to new ideas while only having to deal with limited responsibilities. Academia taught me how to think, and if you know how to think that you can learn to do anything. It taught me how to research, a skill that I use on a daily basis. It taught me how to write. It made me a credible job applicant, because my degree shows that I accomplished something.
But Dad was right; during this last year I’ve learned just as much as during my college years combined. The real world taught me to be adventurous, and that if you aren’t happy with your cards, then deal a new hand. It taught me not to fear change, because with everything I let go, space is made for something new to enter. It taught me to be entrepreneurial, to expand my interests, to network and nurture relationships. It taught me to enjoy simple pleasures, and to deal with stress before it becomes overwhelming.
The biggest lesson that I learned (the hard way) is that the real world is NOT academia. Academia can prepare you for parts of the real world, but it’s just the beginning of an education.