I was recently talking with some friends about college degrees. We all agreed that a college degree is often a necessary requirement for many people to get started in their professional careers. But we also noted that often times, our careers take us in a different direction than our degree might otherwise indicate.
I am a good example of this: I have a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an Associates in Aviation Maintenance Technology from the Community College of the Air Force. I can’t really say there is a direct correlation between those degrees, both of which are in the aviation field, and my current full-time job (I am self-employed).
But it also wouldn’t be fair for me to say that college was a waste of time, or that it wasn’t necessary for me. College had a huge ROI for me, and it was very necessary for me.
Even though I don’t directly use my degrees in my current field, there was a direct correlation between those degrees and the first few years of my post-military career.
After I left the Air Force, I worked as a consultant doing logistics analysis for the Air Force, then I transitioned to working on other elements of the USAF supply system. Without my degree and background as an aircraft maintainer, I wouldn’t have been qualified for those positions. And working in those jobs gave me needed skills to grow professionally, while also giving me a means to support myself and my family as I grew my business from the ground up.
There is No Right or Wrong Path
When I was a kid, I loved reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. You read a few pages, then you are given a choice – and your answer tells you which page to turn to, leading you to another fork in the road and a decision to make. You can read the book a dozen times and never have it turn out the same twice.
In a way, our careers and lives are like that. When I started college in 1998, the internet was very different than it is today. I didn’t have much interest in it, and never thought I would run sites as a full-time job. But to be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, which is partly why I joined the military after attending one year of college.
As for my degree choice? I could have chosen the degree that paid the most – instead, I chose my degree strictly because it was the degree I could accomplish the most quickly. I signed a six year enlistment contract when I joined the Air Force. Around year three I made the decision that I wanted to get my degree as quickly as I could so that I had career options. Achieving my degree would allow me to apply to Officer Training School (OTS), reenlist for another four to six years, or get out of the military with a Bachelor’s Degree in hand, making it easier to find a job in the civilian sector.
My first choice was to go to OTS. I wanted to be an officer and see where that path would lead. But at the time the Air Force was drawing down troops and it was very difficult to become an officer through the enlisted ranks. (In a weird twist of fate, it would have been easier for me to get out of the Air Force and later apply for OTS as a civilian, than it would have been to apply while I was still in the USAF. I still don’t understand that logic).
My other choices were to remain enlisted or separate with an Honorable Discharge. I wasn’t thrilled with my job at the time (I was an aircraft mechanic and deployed frequently), and there weren’t many jobs I was interested in cross-training into. I had achieved virtually all of my professional and military goals to that point, so I decided it was time to turn the page on my Air Force career and see what life had in store in the civilian sector.
Separating from the military wasn’t easy. A degree doesn’t guarantee a job, and it took me six months to find a job. But my degree and Air Force experience played a vital role in the jobs I had after I got out of the service. I worked as a civilian contractor on several government projects in my post-military career. My experience, more than my degree, helped me land those jobs.
It was shortly after I started my civilian career that I stumbled into blogging and I was intrigued. I had a big interest in personal finance and career topics, and I knew I had a lot to learn. So I created this website to help me learn and become accountable to myself and others. Along the way I started several other sites, took up freelance writing and consulting gigs, and turned this site (and everything else I do) into a business. It has been a huge blessing.
So when I look back at my choice of college degrees, I can say, “No, I don’t use my degree in my current field. But it was necessary for me to get where I am today.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Create Your Own Path
If there is one thing I have learned in life it is this: life does not come with a blueprint. There is no clear path to happiness, wealth, or a successful career. Actually, I am inclined to believe that you shouldn’t be afraid to stray from the pack and create your own path.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to question established practices and search for a different set of answers. Some of history’s most interesting and successful figures did just that; sometimes with great success and other times with massive failure. But they weren’t afraid to try. Investigating different options and looking for other answers or a new means to accomplish something spawns creativity and innovation.
Take a Walk Down the Road Less Traveled
Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Contrarian Point of View
There have been times in my life when I went against “traditional wisdom,” and those decisions have shaped me into the man I am today. Probably the best example of this was my decision to join the United States Air Force.
Growing up, I was anything but the military type. In fact, until a few months before I enlisted, I had completely disregarded the military as an option for myself. My decision to enlist shocked those who knew me well, including my family. Why would this honors student drop out of college to enlist in the USAF as an aircraft mechanic?
Never Stop Learning or Pushing the Boundaries of Your Surroundings
My action was against the “traditional” way of thinking. But it was also one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned more about myself and the world around me than I ever would have as a college student, and I have learned to truly appreciate my place in life. I learned to embody the characteristics of integrity, honor, and teamwork, and will carry those traits with me for the remainder of my life.
My military travels took me to over 30 countries on 5 continents. I learned how to use hand tools and power tools and gained a basic understanding of mechanics. I learned the soft skills of how to give orders, and more importantly, how to follow them. I learned to deal with people of various backgrounds and dispositions. I have earned certain veterans benefits that will stay with me for life, and more importantly, it was in the USAF that I met the woman who would later become my wife.
Make Your Own Path; Don’t Follow Someone Else’s
Toward the end of my military career I decided to finish college. I took full-time night classes while maintaining a full-time work schedule. The sacrifice was worth it. I graduated from college before I separated from the USAF, and professionally, I am on par with my age group.
My life’s journey to this point by no means followed a traditional path. But I kept my eye on the ball and I consider my life to be a successful one thus far, however success may be defined.
The path I took is not for everyone. In my opinion, success and happiness and wealth lack a true definition, and you need to feel your own way until you find what they mean to you.
Write a book. Start a business. Take classes for knowledge or fun. Take a job that interests you instead of taking a job only for the salary. Or simply turn left instead of right. The point is to create your own path and make this life yours.
Do you use your college degree in your current career field? Do you think college was essential for your career path?