Experience Counts – Sometimes More Than An Advanced Degree


Each and every opinion represented here (and all the rest which are not…but people are mulling over in their own heads) has a poignant value/lesson attached.  There is no right or wrong; there seems to be a vast mass of   ‘do what is right for you and your situation’ – who could disagree with that?

I do not disagree, rather I would like to pose a different idea not quite represented by the four people asked to write on the subject.  An advanced degree which generally represents more focused learning in a particular sphere, sometimes involving lab work/research, is necessary for many jobs and can not be avoided – the other side to this is there are many experiences out there which focus on a particular sphere and afford an individual unlimited access to a particular subject.

An example of my above paragraph would be Peace Corps.  Mind you I have an M.A. from a prestigious Ivy and would never belittle my graduate school experience – it was one of the most wonderful adventures and learning experiences of my life.  I could, however, state that Peace Corps was also one of the most wonderful adventures and learning experiences of my life sans all the reading, writing and theoretical exploration of said university.   For a long time I actually puzzled over what to answer when people asked, “Where did you go to grad school?” – not sure if  the best answer was Peace Corps or Teachers College at Columbia University in NYC.  My answer became situational – I determined what to say wholly dependent upon what I wished to represent and accomplish for the conversation/interview.

Over the years, I found that in some instances my M.A. was indeed the right trophy to have for a particular position (applying for a teaching job).  At other times, I found Peace Corps to be the appropriate trophy for a particular situation. What I learned was experience is a valuable thing.

Experience is sometimes more affordable than the formal education counterpart and opens many doors.  Experience is sometimes what you get when you don’t get what you want – if we are only smart enough to see it.  My example is a friend from Denver (M. O.) who was looking for a city planning job during a particularly bad economic down turn in Colorado. While having the ‘right’ education and background, the job he was looking for did not exist at the time. He got to the point in the job search where he was looking for any job.    The opportunity to be a bus driver came up and I said, “Jump on it”.  Why did I say this? (M.O. thought I was nuts to see this as un upward opportunity).   I wanted my friend to think about what he would gleen from driving around the city as a bus driver – how this experience would affect his perception of city planning in a way few others would be able to share (when was the last time some one asked a bus driver their opinion?).  We had many conversations over this idea. He took the bus driving job (not because of what I said, but because it was the right opportunity at the right time).

Last I knew, M. O. left bus driving and found the job he wanted. I am positive beyond a doubt he was able to represent a point of view few others could share and has made many important contributions to the community in which he works.

My other experiences include the times I left teaching (pre-Peace Corps and graduate school) to do all the other things I wanted to try out but had feared I would not have the experience to do – work in the samples department for a major paper company, become a plan representative for a mutual fund house and working with customers to better understand their 401k, 403b, etc., working as a stock broker, gardening on a community plot, summer camp counselor and so on.  Each and every one of the jobs I had made education something  more valuable and it was much easier for me in the classroom to answer the question of, “When am I ever going to use Algebra?” (unfortunately I was not prescient enough to know about the market nightmare of 2007 -?, but I guessed at it and thought Algebra would be practical for my students to know).

Of course I earned money with some of my jobs (sometimes more than I have made as a teacher with years of experience), I also earned stock options and shares of stock (some of which have taken a hell of a beating since 1995 when I first started to obtain them as an employee), most of all I learned more about the reasons to obtain an education and the significance of literacy in reading and maths.   Ultimately all of these opportunities helped me desire and get into grad school.  I am still paying off the student loan from grad school (and would not trade this for the world), however, I have made both actual monetary and non-cash contributions to my resume and have benefitted my community and self all the way around.

Experience, the next new-new thing.  When an additional college degree and student loan is not quite what you are after.  My new endeavor, an opportunity in Kenya, came about via experience and putting my hearts desire about a job out into the universe.  The work permit, a technicality solved by my M.A.