Thursday, April 14, 2016

The world doesn't need any more mediocre accountants...

"Don't expect most people to understand you. They're so busy fighting their inner battles that they use you as a sounding board to justify their own failures." a quote from bradley on RfM...

I find myself unusually inspired by Mormons and exMormons today.  Right after I vacuumed the house, I sat down with a bottle of bubbly water and started reading the messageboard on Recovery from Mormonism.  Someone started a thread about the pervasive negative attitude some people have toward people who choose to get liberal arts degrees.  As someone who studied English as an undergraduate, I have often been on the receiving end of disdain for what I chose to study in college.  Indeed, look at what I'm doing 22 years post graduation...

Once again, Avenue Q applies...

A couple of weeks ago, Bill and I went to a beer tasting hosted by a member of the Stuttgart Beer Club.  We met a young couple there.  The female half asked me about my education when I told her about my blog.  I told her I have a B.A. in English with minors in speech and communications, a master's degree in public health with a concentration in health administration, and a master's degree in social work with a macro concentration.  "Well, I can see you never had plans to make a lot of money." she said with a smirk.  I have often gotten comments like those from people who don't necessarily know what they're talking about.

Actually, I don't think what a person studies in college necessarily has much to do with what they will end up earning in the future.  I could have majored in accounting, but I doubt I would have been a financially successful accountant.  I hate numbers.  I have little talent or aptitude for math and even less for being organized.  Even if I could have successfully completed a college program in accounting, I seriously doubt I would have been good at the job.  That would have led to unemployment.  Ditto for fields like computer science, engineering, or even nursing.  Yes, they might have been seen as more "practical", but how practical can studying those fields be if I suck at them?

In my heart, I am an artist.  Not the kind of artist who creates with paint, but the kind of artist who uses words and music.  I am good at writing.  I always have been.  I am probably even better at music.  Looking back on it, I probably should have been a music major.  Of all the courses I took as a college student, music classes brought me the most joy and made me feel the most alive.  They also caused me the most stress.  Taking music in college awakened something in me.  I can't necessarily say that about my English courses.  Even the ones I took that focused on writing (and sadly, there weren't that many of them), didn't bring me that much joy.  However, I can say that ever since I finished my double master's degrees, every penny I've earned has come from writing and research.  It's probably what I was meant to do. 

While public health and social work aren't thought of as especially lucrative fields, if you find the right opportunity and have a bit of luck on your side, you can make money even with master's degree in social work.  You just have to open your mind up to opportunities beyond the typical.  As a freelance technical writer just out of grad school in Washington, DC, I got paid $40 an hour to work from home doing research and writing grant proposals.  I got the job due to my grad school education, but it was the writing skills I picked up as an English major that gave me the ability to do the work.  

Had I wanted to and invested the time and effort into building my business, I could have made really good money, especially if we'd stayed in the Washington, DC area.  But being in business requires stamina, chutzpah, and belief in oneself.  Sad to say, back in the early days, I lacked a couple of those qualities.  I never aspired to make a lot of money, anyway.  I just want enough money to be comfortable and able to pay the bills.  Fortunately, Bill has been successful enough that we have a pretty nice lifestyle.  I am very lucky that he shares the fruits of his labor and his successes with me.  I realize that not everyone is that fortunate.

I really don't think people should be so focused on studying fields that will specifically make them "conventionally employable", unless they happen to be fields that they enjoy and have a chance in hell at achieving success.  I could have studied business, but chances are good that I would not have been successful in that field because I don't care that much about making a lot of money.  I like money for paying bills, but making money is not what makes me happy.  What makes me happy is being creative and other people enjoying my efforts.  Being paid decently for what I do is certainly nice.  If I weren't married to Bill, it would be essential, lest I be forced to go back to waiting tables.  Some people love to wait tables, too.   I didn't, though I know I could do it if I had to.  It's all about your aptitude and what makes you happy.  

When you're eighteen or nineteen years old with your whole life ahead of you, you may not be in the best position to know what you want to do with yourself.  Life is full of surprises and twists and turns.  You can take all the steps that other people will tell you will lead to success.  But if life throws you a curve ball, you may find yourself feeling like you wasted time and money on something that doesn't bring you joy or even much of a paycheck.

I have a longtime friend who majored in horticulture when she was in college.  When she was young, she had a lucrative job working for Busch Gardens.  She was not able to keep doing that work because she developed physical problems that made working with plants impossible for her.  So she had to change her career.  She ended up working for my dad for twenty years, then bought his picture framing business.  It turned out to be a great move for her, especially since she's a very talented artist who has the kind of personality that makes her ideally suited for being her own boss.  If she had rigidly held on to the idea that she was meant to be a horticulturist, she'd be in a world of hurt right now.  She does, by the way, still work with plants.  She bought my parents' house and has done some beautiful work on the landscaping.  It's just not something she can still do as a career.

One thing I like about living in Europe is that the people here don't seem to place so much emphasis on working.  Work is important, but so is simply living and enjoying the process of life.  Life should be about more than work; though I realize I say this as someone who has been extraordinarily lucky.  I didn't used to think I was lucky, but I'm now wise enough to know that I am.  For too many people, life is simply about survival.  Just being able to entertain the idea of attending college is a luxury for a lot of people.  To be able to do what I've ended up doing... which is essentially nothing, right?... is an example of the rarest form of luck there is.  I do understand that.

Let's face it.  I spend my days doing chores around the house, taking care of my dogs, and writing blog posts.  Sometimes I make music.  I travel in style all over Europe and write about my adventures.  It's definitely not what I planned for myself.  It's taken a long time to accept the reality that is my lifestyle.  Most days, I still don't believe it or even accept it.  I still hold on to that expectation that I once had that I would be someone's mother, have a career, own a home somewhere, and have what people think of as a "conventional" lifestyle.  It's what I aspired to for most of my life.  I look at my friends and family members who have homes, families, and jobs and think that's what I should have had.  Instead, I live a nomadic lifestyle that my education wasn't intended to prepare me for, yet somehow it did.  I use my degrees all the time, just not necessarily in a money making capacity.  Somehow, so far I have been able to make it work and have even had some fun doing it.  

So, I guess my message is that people shouldn't have a condescending attitude about other peoples' educational or career pursuits.  When it comes down to it, chances are good your best laid plans won't pan out anyway.  I think people should focus on doing what makes them happy or at least makes life more bearable.  That doesn't mean you should not be taking simple steps to make yourself employable (learn how to wait tables or type, for instance).  It just means that if you want to major in music or art or English, your life probably won't be a complete and total failure.  Hell, I look at the money my mom earned as an organist for 50 years and wish I had stuck with piano lessons when I was growing up.  I see the marvelous works of art some of my talented friends produce and wish I had that gift, especially when they are able to sell their creations.  The world needs creative people who can dream.  Just make sure you pair your dreams with a practical skill that can help pay the bills.  You don't have to go to college to learn how to work in a restaurant, for instance.  And that is a skill that is very transferable.

The world doesn't need any more mediocre accountants, scientists, or engineers.  You should try your best to do what you love and embrace your talents as much as possible.  If you're lucky, the money may follow.  Or maybe it won't.  But at least you won't have spent a lot of time and money on something that doesn't interest you in the slightest, or worse, makes you miserable, right?  


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