Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a high school career day at my alma mater. The setting was the school library. Classes of fresh young faces entered the room, spent 32 minutes listening to my entrepreneurial wisdom and then moved on.
One of the strongest talking points in my career day presentation was the conventional wisdom that every high school student should continue their education. I underscored my point by explaining that I had bypassed college in favor of marriage and motherhood. While I stated that I never regretted my choice, there was no doubt that it had mattered professionally. Further, on a personal level, I shared that I occasionally felt subordinate to the diploma-ed world.
At the end of that career day, I was approached by a woman who had listened to my presentation from the back of the room. She was middle aged and appeared to be a school administrator. I prepared for an exchange of pleasantries about the school and the students. Instead, I was caught off guard by her direct approach on an entirely different subject.
“Why is it that you feel you need a college diploma?”
My reasons were many and varied, but when faced with this woman’s unexpected inquiry I struggled for even a singular reply. Eventually I managed a few short phrases about being well-educated in the competitive work force and may have even mentioned something about a personal goal. Her reply was as concise as her question.
“You need to take a look at all you’ve achieved and understand that your experience is as valuable and worthwhile as any college degree.”
I took the woman’s words to heart and thought about them at length. She was right. In reviewing the combination of my career as a world champion horse farm manager/PR director, gourmet bistro manager, national event/ celebrity promoter, government and corporate media consultant, event emcee and speaker, newspaper columnist, magazine writer, book author, and yes, mother, I had accumulated a background and expertise commensurate with a classroom education. From that point, thoughts otherwise did not enter my mind again … until now.
I am currently unemployed. Over the last few months I have filled out employment applications galore. The jobs have required skills at which I am adept, posted by companies that could profit from my expertise. In every application there has been a question about level of education achieved. In every application I listed my incomplete college schooling, never considering it as anything other than an informational category
Last week I was disqualified from two potential jobs because I do not hold a college degree. The prospective employers never met with me, never tested me, never lined me up with fresh-faced college graduates to see how we compared. They simply took the black and white facts on an internet application and made their decision.
According to the United States Department of Labor, more than 12 million people in this nation are part of my unemployed world. Obviously, competition for jobs is fierce. Yet every time I receive another employment letter or phone call saying thanks, but no, I think of that woman who taught me that my value, professionally and personally, is not solely tied to a piece of paper embossed with a ribboned seal. Then I smile, and think about all that rejecting employer has just lost.