What is a college degree worth?
Chances are that if you work in the business world, you have a college degree. That degree may be in a major that has nothing to do with your occupation. But the standard rule in the modern business world is that you have to have a college degree to even get a seat at the interviewer’s desk.
My degree is an achievement that I’m proud of, especially the fact that I funded it myself. But I find that it is basically irrelevant to my life and career today.
I occasionally refer back to a finance book or a specific case study to refresh myself on an issue I’m dealing with at the time. But for the most part, I rarely apply anything I learned in college to my current work. My experiences after college are what I usually apply.
In fact, when I interview someone with more than five years of business experience, I rarely look at where they went to college. If they are still resting on that laurel, I assume that they must not have very valuable experience.
Education is a building block. Not an accomplishment.
The inferiority complex
Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to have many friends. Many of them, for one reason or another, do not have a college degree. Virtually every one of them has become successful in whatever career they have chosen. We’re all pretty high on Maslow’s hierarchy. But over the years, many have made comments to me about feeling inferior because I have a degree.
Although I don’t dwell on my education, it occasionally comes up during the college football season or the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m a fan of my alma mater. And now that my group is at the age that we have children going to college, the topic of college comes up more often.
I’ve never thought I was better than someone who doesn’t have a degree. And I hope I’ve never implied that to anyone. They all have at least as much knowledge and experience as me. But I still get the occasional comment. I had a “friend” once who had a habit of pointing out my mistakes and failures in an apparent attempt to remind me that I wasn’t so special.
The competition of life
Regardless of one’s education or their chosen career, I see many of my peers – at work and outside – compete at the game of life. They drive fancy imported cars and flaunt a lifestyle that challenges the Joneses to keep up.
I once had a coworker show me the blueprints of his planned new home, citing what it will cost to build and how much his mortgage would be. I’ve also known people throughout the years that in not-so-subtle ways indicate how much they make.
I love a good competition. I like to play games and challenge myself. But I’ve never seen life as a competitive sport. There are times to compete and times to cooperate. I’ve never believed that the size of your house or salary defines your success.
Most of us are taught at a young age that money equates to success. A multi-millionaire may be successful in business, but a complete failure at life. Conversely, many people fail over and over in business, but have loving families and an abundance of friends. They are much more successful in life than many people with money.
Success is when you have the respect of the people around you. If you leave the world in better condition than you found it, you have lived a successful life. If you can look in the mirror and be satisfied with the person that you are, you are successful. If you have more friends than you have time to spend with them, you are successful beyond most people’s wildest dreams.
Movin’ on up
If you work hard and smart in the business world, you will likely be given many opportunities to move up the ladder and increase your salary. I’ve seen too many times as people move up that ladder, they develop an air of aloofness. They become arrogant and condescending. They suddenly don’t have time for the people that they were once close to. The money they make is suddenly very important.
It is important to remember that we all have important responsibilities. I tell people that I manage that I’m not more important than you. I just have different responsibilities.
Success at work has little to do with success in life. As you move up the corporate ladder, don’t let your altitude affect your attitude.
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