Education: A Good Thing

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I almost decided to skip posting this week because I’m immersed in a boatload of new learning experiences: relationship coaching with Lisa Kramer; Gottman Institute level I training for working with couples; and dream/archetypal pattern analysis teleseminars with Michael Conforti at the Assisi Institute.

My studies take me through to the early part of next year, and at that point I’ll probably continue with more classes. I’ve also decided to complete some professional certifications in the coming months.

So clearly, I love learning. You probably picked up on that. It’s one of my top values, and doing it brings meaning to my life. But there’s more to it.

Bottom line, I know it’s a smart move. Statistics tell us that education is almost always a good thing. Not only in terms of income, mind you, but in job security too. And these days job security is as much about developing your talent, skills, and savvy as it is about keeping your spot on the company payroll. Because as tough as it is out there, those who have planted their professional gardens with perennial learning and development seeds are reaping the bounty right now.

Of course, as a business owner, job security means something a little different to me. And after ten years I definitely get it. It’s one thing to bring in clients; it’s another altogether to keep them. And have them leave with good experiences that they want to tell others about. I’ve learned that business is built by enthusiastic clients, so I’ve got to keep learning. Growing. Staying on top of my game.

Actually, at its core, it comes down to ethics and integrity.

I can’t, in good faith, fly by the seat of my pants and give good service to clients. And because I’m in a period of professional transition, letting go of certain things and taking on others, it’s vital that I carve out opportunities for more education, training, and credentials.

Which brings me to the deeper point of this ramble (I know, I know, that took some time). I’ve noticed something interesting in my online travels lately. Something that looks a little like a devaluing of education, training, and credentials.

It might be my imagination, but I don’t think so. I’m usually pretty good at picking up on these things. So when I read words like, “I never went to college and I’m glad I didn’t” or “I have no credentials for the service I’m offering but all that’s just bunk anyway,” I begin to wonder what’s going on.

Maybe it’s because the virtual world is a lot like the Wild West right now.

Rip roarin’ and gun totin’. A slew of modern-day forty-niners who can’t be bothered with the learning curve on gold mining. No siree, they’ve just gotta forge ahead and get as much of the good stuff as they can, as fast as they can.

And I can appreciate that. Sort of. I mean, some people, like Peter C. Whybrow, have suggested that this drive, this pursuit, this race forward, is genetic. Hard wired within us. No time for the new breed of forty-niner to stop for a little book learning.

But when it comes to the slightly cheeky dismissal of education that I’m picking up on, I have to wonder if there’s something more going on. Like, dare I say it: FEAR.

Yes, fear. Because, you see, I’ve been there. It took me 15 years to get my bachelor’s degree. I started college when I was 17. Dropped out three years later, when my mom died unexpectedly. I was rudderless. Floating. And I sure couldn’t handle getting myself educated. But I did make another failed attempt at 23. Still another at 28. And then finally, at 30, it worked. I stuck with it and graduated.

But oh, how I railed during all those years leading up to it: What a waste of time! That’s stupid! I don’t need it! Who are they to tell me I’m not qualified just because I don’t have a dumb piece of paper?

And with each attempt and subsequent failure, I got more scared. I feared I’d never get this thing I wanted so badly, and I almost gave up. As a result, my bluff and bluster grew exponentially.

After that experience, you might think I learned my lesson. But no, I didn’t. In fact, I repeated the same story (just a little different version). I sat on the fence for five years before I decided to jump down and go for my master’s degree. And again I railed: Why do I need this? So I waited. And then waited a little more, because I didn’t know for sure that it would get me what I wanted. Which is just another way to say that I was afraid.

Finally, though, I came to understand this story. In my second year of grad school I took a job as a career and academic advisor, working with adult reentry students at a local university. Most of my advisees were in their thirties, forties, and fifties (although one of our students graduated at seventy). During my time there, I heard countless versions of why these adults couldn’t and shouldn’t return to school. I held their hands, I listened, sometimes I even had to tell them to stop yelling at me, because I wasn’t the one who decided they needed a math class to graduate.

And somewhere along the way I realized what was underneath the false bravado. The proclamations of not needing an education. The anger. All of it. What lived beneath were two most universal fears: the fear of not being enough, and the fear of being overwhelmed.

On graduation day, though, I saw those fears float away, like a bouquet of helium balloons let loose all at once. I saw other things, too: doors opening, connections made, promotions offered, salaries increased. And best of all, I saw the burst of confidence. Self esteem. Realizing that you are indeed enough.

Because that’s what education provides, inner and outer growth.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out and get a degree (or another degree). Absolutely not. But we do need to get good at what we do. We need to educate ourselves, traditionally or non-traditionally. And we can’t just say we’ve read a lot of books, so that’s that.

Nope, we simply can’t do it alone. Think, for a minute, about the most talented artists. The singer who takes voice lessons once a week. The dancer who’s in class regularly. The novelist who meets with his writing group. The painter who attends the yearly retreat. All of them understand that they need mentors and teachers. They know they must continually work at their craft. And being the best takes effort and ongoing education.

So here I am, gearing up, at a time when some of my peers are winding down. Maybe it’s because of all that railing I did, and I’m making up for lost time. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure: I still have much to learn.

How about you? How important is education? And what’s been your most valuable educational experience?

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19 thoughts on “Education: A Good Thing

  1. You’re absolutely right, Patty. So much of the damage being done to education happens because of fear. People are afraid of failing, of being judged and found wanting … but instead of buckling down and improving ourselves, we tend to lash out. Instead of rising to meet a higher standard, we push for educational reforms that eliminate standards altogether.

    And it’s a great pity, because when we water down education in this way, when we stop demanding excellence and focus instead on giving every single person a passing grade (to quell those nagging fears), then all the arguments against education (it’s meaningless, it doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s irrelevant in today’s world) – all those arguments become true.

    Kudos to you for admitting your fears and confronting them, for becoming more yourself, instead of trying to make everything else less.

    • Hi Jeffrey – Welcome, so nice to see you over here! Thanks for connecting the dots and pointing out that the false bravado about getting educated often leads to watering it down, as a way to keep people safe. But it sure doesn’t do anything for the fear; instead I would argue it makes us MORE fearful, less willing to risk and push ourselves. Which in turn makes our worlds smaller, and leads to a definition of safety that traps us.

  2. Patty,

    I liked this post and your story! My favorite line was this one: “Because that’s what education provides, inner and outer growth.” I think that is so true and good for you to keep learning new things and getting degrees.

    I’m involved with an ESL program. Many of these students have already gotten their Master or PhD degrees in their home country, but they come here with such a determination to go to school, learn English and improve their education. I love their love of learning.

    The other thing I find interesting about learning is that on-going studies show that it keeps the mind sharp and can help with problems such as Alzheimer’s…so, learning is healthy, as well:~)

    • Hi Sara – Great point about keeping our minds sharp as we age – so true, and I’m really glad you mentioned it. And how interesting about the ESL students. In your mini story I hear a gratefulness that they possess, maybe even a wonderment at the chance to learn and stretch themselves. I guess it all depends on your perspective. But wouldn’t it be cool if everyone felt that way?

  3. Patty, you have a great story and you bring up so many good points here especially re: fears that plague us.

    I think the temptation for many is to go with a perceived devaluation of education if they find they’re unhappy with their jobs, or worse, still looking for a job after they’ve gotten into massive debt for an education. (Maybe they compare themselves with the financially successful entrepreneur who never went to college.)

    But for someone who’s illiterate all her/his life, and to one day be able to make sense of words and read a book (or write one), it’d be a completely different perspective.

    Yes, many of us live in states where the system is watered down, but I’m not ready or willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Because as long as there are people willing to complain, there are people willing to run for school board (or at least make recommendations to people who have the power) to make improvements. Talkers vs. doers.

    I’m glad you didn’t touch on home-schooling or my comment would end up being longer than your post!

    • Hi Belinda – I’d love to hear your perspective on home schooling! I have a few thoughts on that one too. Hey, why don’t you write a post about it? You make an excellent point about comparisons, too. Because the financially successful entrepreneur who never went to college is not the norm. But when we make it so, when we say, oh, look what they did, without an education, so why should I bother, then we actually begin to give up some personal responsibility. Thanks!

  4. Hi Patty.

    Well this is a post from the heart and great that you have such a positive attitude to learning.
    For me study, learning, certificates are nothing when there is a lack of integrity.
    With knowledge, any knowledge comes ownership, accountability and responsibility.
    For me it is the atttitude with which one learns and is being taught.
    Life is about expanding your knowledge, your inner wisdom, your practical skills and enriching your life.
    There are many places and in many ways one can learn, there is no one set formula despite what we are told.
    If we allow ourselves the freedom to honor every learning, and if we allow each other the freedom to choose how we learn and if we listen as you did to stories about learning, we honor learning and our expansion of wisdom and knowledge.

    Uniform learning has hurt people and has done damage.
    As you did, we need to listen to that as well and as with everything in life with good listening we might change stories about learning and that might open doors for others to expansion.

    It is great way to address this topic as learning is valuable.
    Love Wilma

    • Hi Wilma – You’re so right about integrity and responsibility. That’s one of the reasons why I continue to educate myself, because it’s a way to maintain my professional integrity and ensure that I do good work. I also love how you link listening to expansion of educational opportunities and strategies – such a great point! Thanks.

  5. Patti,
    I sure do respect you for your integrity and hard work. I loved school. My master’s degree has brought me many rewards including monetary.

    I think our school systems are crumbling today for many reasons. My daughter called me yesterday to tell me they are cutting $900 dollars per child in my grandchildrens school district. This is after several years of prior cutting. It’s insane.

    The schools I’ve visited the last 2 years do not have enough books in their libraries and we won’t even get into how many are lacking computers.

    And teachers you couldn’t pay me enough to be one. And the little pay they receive they spend on the children while all the cuts are made.

    Yes I absolutely agree with you and value education. However I see education changing in the future. A new high school in my town has no textbooks. All is done online. They are on the leading edge.

    I don’t know what kind of changes will happen with education but I know they need too. I think the only way left is up!

    • Hi Tess – So right! Let’s hope the only way is up. Seems like we’ve certainly reached the bottom of the barrel/dark night of the soul experience in education and it’s time to climb out. Interesting about no textbooks. I do love real books with spines, so I hope that isn’t lost to the coming generation. But that’s just me, and I’m all for it if it makes education more accessible and inclusive. In my state the public university – California State University – has just announced that applications for the coming year jumped by 53% over the past year, a new record. But unfortunately the system is also facing a $564 million budget cut, along with increased fees and furloughs for employees. And they’ve actually had to shrink enrollments. It’s hard not to be upset by this. Clearly people want education, and so many studies have pointed out that an educated public is what will move our country out of the depths and change the dynamics of the marketplace and job availability.

  6. Hi Patty – Wow, this one got me thinking. I know what you mean about the blogosphere being a little “education-phobic.” I wonder if this is sort of a backlash against the idea that a “regular person” has nothing to share or shouldn’t speak without the backing of a degree from an institution. Anyone can now “publish” their ideas on the internet and I think many individuals feel empowered by this free access. No longer do I have to wait for someone else to say that I can share something that I’ve learned in my life experience. Maybe this is just one part of the cycle of “formal education experiences vs. informal education experiences.” Thanks!

    • Hi Amanda – I think you’ve really hit on something. And I’m all for free access and empowerment. But I’m bothered when it moves to a message that implies education is unimportant. Actually, they’re two different things: sharing your ideas and life experience in an open forum is one thing; educating yourself is another. I don’t think you need to educate yourself in order to share your ideas. But when someone suggests that education is unimportant, and goes on to claim expertise based on life experience alone, then I think we’re dealing in shadow territory where other things are going on. Like fear. Thanks for the comment!

  7. My most valuable experiences in education were when I studied something in depth – say researched and wrote a paper. That stuff stuck. My least valuable were multiple choice tests – most of that was gone like five days after the test!

    • Hi Paul – Me too! I’ve come to despise tests. I’d much rather do in-depth study and research. And talking about it. That helps me tremendously. Thanks for the great point.

  8. Patty,
    You are right on target. Education is very important in everything we do. I have found that the college education gives you a good solid foundation for the “real” education that comes on the job. I am in the computer support field, and much of that is learned on the job, or through smaller tech schools or seminars. I also find that even in the tech field, which used to be full of the “modern day forty-niners,” more and more employers are looking for a candidates with a college degree.

    • Hi Eric – Great point about the difference between college education and on-the-job learning. They are quite different animals, aren’t they? I’m really glad you brought up the distinction, because sometimes I think people do dismiss traditional education because it doesn’t always appear to be directly applicable to job duties. But they forget that it enhances key skills that employers are looking for, such as critical thinking, brainstorming, research, and communication skills, to name a few. And yep, education is where it’s at for employers right now.

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