Thursday, February 6, 2014

Using My Degree

As of late, I have had a lot of people comment things like, "you're so smart!" or "you should be a lawyer or something, you're so good with words".  More than once over the last seven years, a coworker has asked me what exactly I am doing working the job that I do.

I hate admitting this, but I used to be ashamed of my education.  I never flat out lied about my college degree, but I have omitted it on my resume once or twice. The term "overqualified "comes to mind. All those stories that you hear about how employers only wants to hire people that they think won't leave. The stigma about working a job that's requires a lesser education level than you possess is that you will eventually find something that uses your degree, and inevitably pays better, and move on to that instead.  The job market today is as such that employers have the luxury of handpicking exactly who they want for a position, because for every job advertised, more and more qualified people apply.  I was of the opinion that being overeducated was just as bad as being under educated when it came to the line of work that I had chosen.  Supervisors, men in particular, have been intimidated by my bachelors degree and my somewhat advanced vocabulary.  The realization that a lot of employers want to just hire a "grunt" to do manual labor and outdoor work made me angry, and also made me alter certain things about my job applications. For instance, I created an email address that did not list my first name, just my first two initials, "C.E.", as I have thought that I would have a better chance of getting my applications read if they did not immediately know that they came from a female. The omission of my degree on my email applications and resume was an even bigger step – "dumbing myself down" for the sake of being hired.

However, at the ripe old age of nearly 29,  I have begun to realize that my degree is not "useless", as I used to claim. Expensive, yes, and seemingly wasteful to have spent four years and a lot of my money (and even more of other people's money) on an education that I don't "use". I use the term "use" in quotations because it is meant to mean I do not need it for job qualifications - only once in seven years have I held a position that's required a bachelors degree, and that lasted a mere four months.

For most of the last seven years, I have worked jobs that were primarily manual labor, lawn care, snow removal, garden maintenance, etc.  In these positions, I have solved problems, created schedules, organized myself and others, used my artistic skills for design, and wrote some really impressive cover letters (and some even more impressive letters of resignation).  In more than one position, I have been required to create my own job description.  I have been complimented on my abstract thinking, my ability to create simple and inexpensive solutions, and my written communication skills.

I owe all of these positive things to my education.  Four years spent completing a liberal arts education may have left me with a degree that most people look at and say "huh?", but it has left me with an advantage over others in my field, even if my positions have not reflected that in title (or in wages, usually).

So, I have resolved to fly my college degree like a banner over all that I do.  I did it. I stuck with something for four years, paid enough attention to gain some really valuable skills, and read a lot of excellent books.  I have heard from a lot of recent liberal arts grads about the frustrations of not being able to find work that they are qualified for (i.e. jobs that require a degree).  I have come to realize it doesn't matter if you "use" your diploma for work- you will always use your education for something.