I was standing in a garage covered in chicken-juice. The dish I was carrying had spilled down my maroon button-up, darkly staining my shirt and tie, giving me essence of gravy smell. The woman who owned the garage was standing staring at me with her hands on her hip. Her overly botoxed face betraying her anger, she raised her voice to get her point across.
“This is not good enough! Who do you think you are, coming in here thinking this was good enough?”
As she left to inform her husband that the catering they had ordered was not up to par, I considered getting in the kidnapper-looking van that I brought there with the food and driving down the street with my middle finger in the air. I was catering at an hourly job, and it had started to get to my head.
‘I’m too educated for this,’ I thought.
After a rage-induced lecture from her husband (a semi-famous doctor in town) I stood, like a bad dog, defeated. Not wanting to spend a lot on catering, they had ordered too little, and it wasn’t my fault. But hanging my head there, over-educated and underpaid made me realize I had been thinking the wrong way for a long time.
I have been working in the food industry on and off for many years. It has gotten me through many tough financial years. But this was the first time, after earning a Master’s Degree that I realized that this just wasn’t worth it. Standing there in the garage with a Lexus and a Corvette, smelling like food and getting a lecture from people who didn’t even know me felt like the bottom of the barrel.
What the hell am I doing here?
Well, I got a state education (apparently ‘more affordable’), a BA in the dying craft of Journalism and a popular-sounding Master’s in Sustainability at an international school.
So why am I in a garage?
Because despite the excellent educational experiences I had, I can’t pay it back. And no matter how much I try, the hourly jobs I take seem to be sinking me further into the world of debt and negativity that surrounds higher education.
It hurts my ego, but I have to admit it. I’m over-educated and underpaid.
How could a bilingual, highly-educated, volunteer, advocate and by the way, a teacher get to this point?
You’re not qualified enough. You don’t know the right people. You aren’t trying hard enough.
Maybe. But no matter what I add to my plate as far as education has gone, nothing seems to match the feeling of desperation when facing debt. I know I’ve been wasting time, and I can’t exactly blame the world of higher education.
You have too much experience. You’d be too expensive. You’re over-educated.
When you go to school you are promised a degree. You can expect to leave with the promise of a piece of paper and hopes and dreams of a job with salary and benefits, but really, that piece of paper is the only physical return for your money. There is a lot of talk surrounding a new grad’s potential, but we all know the statistics of young people living in their parent’s basement, or people with PhD’s living paycheck to paycheck.
I’ve realized this keeps happening because we’ve believed a lie. Our own lie.
The lie that higher education will somehow be a key into the world of success. That hope that a few more letters behind our names will mean that somebody will see us for the knowledge we’ve accumulated and the money we’ve spent and they will take us under their wings and help us become great.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, nobody really promised us that. We assumed that in the exchange for so much money, we’d get more.
As many of my classmates and I know, we didn’t.
So at an unlikely age, we scrounge for unpaid internships and entry-level something’s and give our Fridays and Saturdays to other people, like the people whose garage I was standing in. We consider going back to school again because we were good at it and it might just be the one little thing we need to get ahead.
We waste time thinking that because of our education we’ll get noticed and hustle and grind for the scraps in the meantime. Soon, our lives are consumed with the hopes of a return on a promise that was never made.
We have been waiting for something to happen to us, instead of making it happen ourselves.
Your degree matters if you make it matter, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is what you do with your time, energy and creativity during school–and especially after. You’re wasting time if you think somebody is going to give anything to you after you graduate. It’s clear to me and all of my overeducated friends who are unemployed and underemployed that this exchange just isn’t going to happen.
Maybe the paradigm of overpriced upper education will never shift because it’s not supposed to.
We can continually learn lessons of paying too much for something and being disappointed, or using these lessons to our advantage.
I’m overeducated, getting treated like crap, and just letting it happen. Time to make it stop.
My debt isn’t going anywhere, but my time is. I can waste hours with Betty Botox and Dr. Demeaning and hope for them to be kind to me, or I can design my own future, and take my time back. I can’t let the astronomical cost of higher education be an excuse for just existing and not thriving.
I drove away from that party with a sense of relief. I had stayed to the end, but only because no matter what I decide to do with my time, I am an educated professional. The $40 tip from the multi-millionaires wouldn’t make a difference in my debt, but it would buy a nice bottle of wine for my own little celebration. I bought the bottle of wine, and decided that I could no longer go back to back to jobs like that.
Instead, I’m taking that time back and vaulting it for myself; moving into creativity and giving myself the chance to use the knowledge I’ve gained from school, work and relationships to make my own future. It is really the most important thing I’ve learned out of all the seemingly pointless jobs I have done in order to ‘get ahead’.
I get to decide what’s worth it to me, and you can do it for yourself, too.
Have you crafted your own future? Tell me about the turning point when you broke free of meaningless work and moved towards greatness.