I almost didn’t go to college. I saw no point, frankly. By the time I was applying to colleges, I was working a pretty much full-time job. 39.5 hours per week at American Eagle as an assistant operations associate.
I loved that job. You might think of it as monotony, but I loved the regiment. The organization. Even the small talk. It’s not glamorous by any means, let’s get real. If you’ve worked that floor and pushed a broom around at 10 o'clock at night, you know how disgusting other people are and how tired you feel after standing around for eight hours.
I don’t know that it was ever about the work. For me, it was about the people and feeling like I was good at something. I wasn’t some super athlete despite my family’s greatest aspirations when they realized I was tall. I was an average student compared to my valedictorian mother. I never lived anywhere long enough to make friends. Somehow I found a place where my style of hard work, smarts, and friendship came together.
I had a lot of those things in common with my coworkers. The managers I worked with were not book smart. They didn’t go to college or get excellent grades. They were survivors - mostly women who didn’t have close relationships with their parents or anyone to rely on at a very early age.
These were 20-somethings managing schedules and 50+ young people all the time, and they far exceeded the expectations most managers barely meet at big companies. With no training, certification, or traditional education, they were operating sites that generated well over six figures. It was no small job.
I loved my job and the team knew it. So that fall, the district manager offered me a full-time gig upon completion of high school. “I’ll have a store ready for you,” he said. “Just get your degree.” I was ecstatic. Nothing could’ve stopped me.
Except for my accountant Mom.
Upon hearing my great news and salary offer, she created a spreadsheet that calculated my lifetime earnings if I decided to go this path versus going to college. She pulled inflation, salary expectations, all of it. Suddenly, I looked at a spreadsheet that said if I followed my joy, I chose the wrong thing. It said that loving my job wasn’t enough. I needed a piece of paper to prove something before I could find work to love again.
It seems ridiculous, right? I loved my job. I had an offer on the table. Why would I have to take the path that costs money to make money I can make right now?
I ended up going to college. No regrets. I met some incredible people there. But I have a tough time believing that’s the path for everyone. If you find a job you love, why can’t you choose passion over a piece of paper?
Frankly, I use the lessons from my retail managers more than I’ll ever use something I picked up in a college classroom. These people taught me how to be a good friend, to show up for your coworkers during hard things, how to fight for goals, and what it feels like to win.
If I’m being honest, it made me cry a little to recount how many things they taught me. Sometimes, all it takes is a letter to realize how much some people mattered in my life.
Or how much something doesn’t matter, in the case of this week’s blog about college degrees. I wrote about how much degrees don’t matter for most jobs and ask an important question: why do we keep posting degree requirements despite the bias they bring? An expensive education shouldn’t be the criteria you’re hiring with, bottom line.
I’ll tell you right now; I’d hire someone from retail with no college degree before I’d hire some kid fresh out of school. I know what it takes to be a fighter. You can’t teach that in some lecture hall.
Keep up the good fight this week -