How to Pursue Success Without a Degree

I’m so sorry I have not been very consistent with my posts! However, today marks a new series that I am going to try! Let me know how you like it! I’m super excited about this series because I can share some awesome stories and inspiration with you that I can’t share from personal experience! We are going to call this new series Extraordinary Women! Come back the third week of every month to hear some extraordinary stories and inspiration from women I have learned so much from and am inspired by everyday!

That being said, I am excited to introduce you to our first Extraordinary Woman! She was my boss at Chick-fil-a in high school and for a reason only God knew, we stayed in touch, eventually living together for a short phase of life. She has seen me through so much and is always there to provide a listening ear and words of wisdom. (even when the truth hurts).

I’ve always admired her willingness to do any job and to truly live out her faith that God does provide for his children! Okay, I’ll stop talking and let her tell her story! Thank you Connie! I’m so glad to call you friend!

My Life Without a Degree

I’ve lived my twenty years as an adult without a college degree, and managed to get along pretty well. We won’t go into the reasons or thought processes about why I quit college, because that would take all day. What I want to talk about is how I made it work, why it worked for me, and what I’ve learned from it.

How I Made It Work:

1) I didn’t consider any job above me. If I needed work, I would go find a job. I can’t say that I didn’t have times of feeling like others looked at me a little differently – as “uneducated.” Now that I am past my insecure young adulthood phase, I’m beyond that. But no matter my worry about what other people thought, I didn’t let it keep me from making a living. At times, that meant having three part-time jobs. I kind of liked doing that, actually. It broke up the monotony. For example, I’ve been a pizza delivery driver, a farm-hand, and a carpentry assistant.

2) I worked hard at every job I had. Everything worth doing is worth doing well. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 I can’t say that I’ve been passionate about most (if any) of the jobs I’ve had. But that hasn’t stopped me from working really hard at all of them. The result? People always wanted to promote me and give me more responsibility, which, of course, equaled more money. Doing a good job IS recognized because in our world, it is, unfortunately, uncommon. I could have moved further up the ladder at many of the companies I worked for, but, honestly, I learned that the more responsibility I took on, the less I liked the job. So, after a few jobs where I eventually quit because the stress became more than I wanted in a position, I stopped taking the promotions and extra tasks.

3) I learned whatever what was put in front of me. I have done clerical work, and one of those positions grew to include bookkeeping. I was taught how to use Quickbooks by a CPA, learned how to manage business taxes, etc. That knowledge has been invaluable to me. I couldn’t have known that, in the future, my husband would start a non-profit and I would start my own business. If I hadn’t had that groundwork, our bookkeeping/CPA fees would have put us OUT of business by now. And the power tool skills I learned as a carpentry assistant have helped me out on many a home project. Not to mention the culinary concepts I learned while working for a caterer. I can now edit a recipe with some confidence.

4) Learn what ISN’T put in front of you. I do a lot of things myself in order to save money, so that life doesn’t have as much overhead as some people’s, and I can live happily on a smaller budget. You have to be intentional about making this possible. I make my own laundry detergent, shampoo, and body wash. I cut my own hair. I do my own yard work. I do my own taxes. Things not to skimp on? Insurance and shoes. Trust me.

Why It Worked for Me

1) I got to do the things I loved. I said above that I wasn’t passionate about any of my jobs, which some of you may have found sad. What I didn’t say is that, most of the time, (there have been some stressful eras where this was not the case), having jobs that did not tax me emotionally and mentally left me enough reserve energy to do the things I was passionate about. I’ve been in a band, and I frequently do art projects. Last year, I wrote my first book, and now I’m working on the sequel.

2) I felt free to move on any time I was undermined or belittled. Basically, I didn’t feel the need to put up with being treated poorly. I could go find another restaurant to be a server in, or another family to nanny for. Switching jobs was no problem.

3) I got to try new things. I have a restless nature and I bore easily. I found that once I’d mastered a position, I didn’t really want to do it anymore. By continuing to consider no job above me, I could move on without compunction, even if it meant taking a “step down” in job status.

4) No one could tell me when my vacation had to be. I’ve done about 6.5 years in jobs where they tell you when and for how long you can be off. The rest of my working career, I said: “Hey, I’m going out of town,” and no one could tell me any different. Now, that did often mean that I had to spend the previous weeks leading up to vacation hustling and taking extra work to cover my time off, but I really don’t see that as a downside. Even now, if I need more money, I just skip my days off and do a little extra work.

What I Learned from It

1) It helped me learn what I want. I like autonomy and self-direction. Therefore, for me, business ownership is the bomb! Is it easy? Heck, no. Transitioning into making my cleaning business my sole profession took a year and a half of working 60-70 hours between getting the business going and keeping my gas station attendant job in the meantime. But now that I’m in it full-fledged, the idea of going back to a 9-5, or even just something where I’m told when and where I have to be, sounds terrible. As it is, I make my own schedule. I make my own decisions. Most days, I can sleep in. If a client is consistently making my life difficult, I just stop working with them. I couldn’t walk away from mean customers when I was the manager of a fast food restaurant. Now, I can. It’s still not easy work. I have 65 clients, some who like to discuss the minuscule details of their homes. I have seemingly endless paperwork and employees who I have to figure out how to keep happy. But I wouldn’t trade it, even for the bank teller position that holds my adult job longevity record at 5 years. I mentioned above that I always wanted to leave a job once I felt that I’d mastered it. Well, here’s a secret: I don’t think you can ever really master owning a business. There are a million ways to improve in innumerable areas! So, maybe this is my calling!

2) It helped me learn what I DON’T want. I learned that the corporate world is not for me. (I did have some very respectable jobs at very respectable establishments.) I learned that the rigidity of that environment and its lack of individualization stifles me. I am a creative person, and the cookie-cutter requirements made me feel like a drone. Also, I noted earlier that you are recognized for doing a great job in today’s world. I found that to be less true in the corporate world. Everything was formulaic, and there was very little room to stand out. And standing out was discouraged. My sole negative at a performance review was that my dress was too trendy. When that’s part of your job performance assessment, I, personally, think there is a problem (unless you’re breaking some dress code you agreed to, which I wasn’t). I learned that I don’t like jobs with a lot of open-ended tasks. I am very task oriented and when I have a lot of unfinished things hanging over my head, I get overwhelmed.

3) I learned not to find my identity in my work! Who you are as a person is much more important than what you do for a living. If it is honest work, and you are doing your best at it, then you are doing great, and don’t you let anyone else tell you otherwise.

4) It taught me to take risks. Maybe that new job will be worse than the one you have; but maybe it won’t! You owe it to yourself to find out. Don’t stagnate in a place you are not flourishing. Do your best while you are there, but find a way to move on as quickly as possible. There was a time I found that my job had exceeded the stress limitations of my severe introvert nature and was turning me into someone I didn’t like very much. I hit a breaking point, and quit before I had another job. I somehow fell into the role of logistical organizer at a very large music festival with weekly concerts. I was in charge of lighting and tents and the power needs of all vendors and booths. The festival lasted three or four weeks – long enough for me to find new work. I’d never done anything like that before, but I truly believe God provided it for me.

5) I learned not to fear a struggle. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck most of my life. Maybe that sounds like a nightmare to some of you, but I’ve never minded it. I’ve had a few jobs where I didn’t have to do that, and, honestly, those were the jobs I liked the least. Sometimes I’ve been able to have a little in savings. All in all, I’ve tried not to let my standard of living grow too much, even when I had better paying jobs, because a higher standard of living feels like a trap to me. You get caught in payments that require you to stay in your job because you can’t take a lower paying job, etc. I’d rather be willing to struggle and strive to change things than be stuck somewhere I am unhappy.

6) I learned not to live beyond my means. Thrift stores are awesome! Thankfully, I was never a person who thought keeping up with the Joneses by getting into debt was a super great idea. Otherwise, I’d have been “another day older and deeper in debt” every day and becoming more miserable all the while. If I’d been snared in debt, I would have been far more fearful of changing jobs, moving on, etc. Debt is a trap that keeps you from having the freedom of choice!

7) I learned to seek outside advice. I have found this to be especially helpful since I’ve owned my own business. Using resources like the Small Business Administration has given me a lot of guidance in how to successfully grow. Without seeking assistance, I would be stuck at the level of my own knowledge, which is never going to be endless. Getting help makes you see how much room you have to improve and gives you the motivation and ability to do just that. I have also used consultants in other areas. For instance, I have paid a CPA to consult when I had concerns about tax questions. It’s much cheaper than purchasing their actual services, and it’s not too hard to find someone willing to do it.

Wrap-Up

I’m not knocking college. If you have a dream job that requires a degree, go for it. I will add a caveat, though. Go find several people who work in that job, and interview them. Find out the good and the bad. Ask them if they would do it all over again. Ask them about the stresses of the job versus the rewards. Then think about your personality. Ask yourself if those stresses are things that would make you miserable or things you could brush off. Ask yourself if the rewards are really things that matter to you. Then make an educated decision.

I’m probably never going to be rich. So, if being rich is your goal, maybe getting a degree is your best bet, although, I wouldn’t count on it. The trend seems to indicate that having a degree is no guarantee of getting a good job, much less your dream job, and I think that a discouraging number of people find out that their dream job is not really their dream job.  There are definitely things I would do differently if I could go back, but getting a degree wouldn’t be one of them.

So, be resourceful. Work hard. Trust God. Don’t give up. And whatever else you do, be nice. That is about as successful as you can get.

 

Thanks for your insight Connie! My favorite take away (though there are many): Debt is trap that takes away your freedom of choice!  I have learned that lesson the hard way as I am in that trap!