I believe my Dad was right when he told me to go back to school for an advanced degree.
My Dad was born above a butcher shop in Detroit in 1931. He worked hard, fought hard in Korea, and believed hard in his Catholic faith. Both his military service and his religious faith gave him great comfort during the long battle with cancer that ended him. It took eight years. It was during those difficult years that he told me, more than once, “Son, if you can go all the way and get a doctorate, you should.” He was trying to pass on his belief that education leads to success and a happy life.
When my father died, I decided to go back to school to get that doctorate. I studied hard, thought hard, and worked hard. It took me four years. After graduating I accepted a year-long post-doc position doing research. These kinds of positions are meant to be temporary, transitory jobs in preparation for a career in academia or in industry. I was using my education, innovating, contributing, and helping people in a unique way.
Today marks one year since I finished that research position. I have been unemployed and looking for work for well over fourteen months now. I believe that I have never felt more useless. I have a computer spreadsheet on the number of recruiters, the number of applications, and the number of interviews I’ve had. I stopped counting about three months ago. Although recruiters love my background, hiring managers tell me that having an advanced degree makes be “not a good fit” for industry. I’m overeducated for an entry-level position and too inexperienced for a management position.
I think my father would be surprised at how difficult it’s been for me to find a job. In his generation, a college degree was a ticket to white collar success and suburban bliss. Perhaps his belief in hyper-education was more about his personal experience than about some core truth. In my experience, I see many successful and happy people who have nowhere near the education I have. Take for example Bill Gates, or Sam Walton, or President George W. Bush.
Even though it’s been difficult to swallow my pride and to continue to search for the right fit in industry, I do believe that my father was right. I didn’t go back to school to get a job. I went back for myself. I went back for what my father believed because I believe it too. And I am happier now because of it. Today I have no job, but my mind is clear on what I want that job to be and full of ideas on how to get there. Most of all, I believe my father would be very, very proud of me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.