Monday, April 18, 2011

Dropped Out, So What?

Drop out

This column is for you high school and college drop outs who keep beating yourselves up for having made such an ill advised decision. Quit kicking yourselves and put things in perspective.

We live in a society that has thoroughly confused education and the acquisition of diplomas and degrees. For truly educated people, learning is a lifelong adventure. The list of successful people who lack diplomas or degrees is lengthy, but I'll mention two of my favorites.

Eric Hoffer was a popular author back in the 60's. I don't think he attended school as a student a day in his life. He did, though, spend time in the classroom as a college instructor.

He came to America from Germany with his parents as a small boy. Since he was inexplicably smitten with blindness and couldn't speak English, his parents didn't send him to school.

As a teenager, his sight mysteriously returned and he started a life long journey of self education. By the time he died in his 80's, he had authored several books, a newspaper column, and served as a commentator on PBS. He was a retired long shore man.

During the great depression of the last century, he worked as an itinerant farm worker up and down the West Coast. He had a pocket full of library cards from the many towns along his route. Public libraries became his way of carrying on his lifetime learning.

The second is Frank Schaeffer, a current author of both fiction and non-fiction and a film director. Schaeffer grew up a missionary's kid. He was supposedly being home schooled, but his schooling was pretty much being neglected by his parents. When he was a young adolescent, his parents were coerced into putting him in school, but by then he was functionally illiterate and he was also plagued with dyslexia. At some point, however, he took charge of his own education and launched a life time of learning.

The list of such people could go on and on. Google "famous high school and college drop outs" and you will be surprised at the people you find on that list. However, there is another list, the list of people who have diplomas but have accomplished little or nothing. I could start this list but it would be at the risk of libel. Instead, look around you and make your own list.

The reason an employer hires someone with a diploma or degree is the knowledge base he assumes goes with the certificate. In recent years, employers have found all too often that an adequate knowledge base isn't there. Even if the knowledge base is there, the employer is still going to have to educate the employee as to what they are being hired for. The diploma or degree helps one open the door to the job market, but there are other ways to get in.

So, what are people without the diplomas suppose to do? First they must do those things that make anyone a valued employee. To that, they must add lifetime learning. Take every training course and workshop the employer offers and then find courses or workshops they can take on their own. Learn how to use the local library and the internet to build on the education they already have. When it comes to educating oneself, the internet is an amazing place. Even those employees with some kind of diploma or degree must constantly add value to it if they are to remain valuable to an employer. If you are an employer, are you going to be happiest with an employee who, in spite of his education level, continues to add to his knowledge base or with one who hasn’t bothered to learn much of anything since receiving a diploma or a degree? Like all valued employees, the drop out should try to understand where his particular industry is going and prepare for the future, not the present or the past.

Finally, the employees without diplomas or degrees should note who in their organization is making the money and find a pathway to that job if it interests them.

The lack of a degree may keep employees from becoming the CEO of a major company, but it doesn't have to keep them from making a decent living at a job they enjoy. Even those with degrees must find ways to add value to those degrees or they are not going to rise far in their companies.

There is another side to getting that degree that is seldom talked about. Sometimes a person's degree traps them in a job they have discovered they really don't like and wish they could get out of, but they have invested heavily in the degree in both time and money and feel there is nothing else they can do.

For one reason or another, we all are at the station in life that we now find ourselves, but we live in a dynamic culture in dynamic times, and decisions of the past rarely have to control our futures. We are pretty much limited only by personal motivation.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sleeping and Driving

It is frightening to jerk awake after dozing off at the wheel and find yourself on the wrong side of the center line. It was after one such incident that I realized dozing behind the wheel was every bit as evil as driving drunk, and I view such drivers as true low life. It is something they choose to do that endangers the life of the rest of us. Finally, I realized my behavior was no different. It had to have been the grace of God that kept me from killing some unsuspecting motorist.

Once the truth of this hit me, I quit driving while sleepy. If I start getting drowsy, I pull over and sleep whether in a car or on a motorcycle. I have more than one picture taken by a riding partner where I am napping alongside the road or on a picnic table beside my motorcycle.

So, when I decided to get a job distance driving, I knew I’d have to get a handle on this problem. First I called my brother who is a long haul trucker. "What do you do when you get drowsy?" I asked.

His answer surprised me. "I drink a bottle of water," he said.
Next, I did what I always do when I want to know something; I got a book by the leading expert on the subject, in this case, “The Promise of Sleep,” by Dr. William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., and discovered some interesting facts. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was caused by sleep deprivation in spite of what was commonly reported in the national press. The same was true of the Challenger accident. We Americans get one and a half hours less sleep a night than our grandparents. Most sleep related problems go undiagnosed because doctors aren't required to study sleep issues in medical school and there are few clinics nationwide that specialize in sleep. Jonesboro happens to have one.

The doctor believes that sleeping while driving is a major killer in our society. Making people aware is a mission with him. (It might have helped his cause had he dealt with it in a pamphlet instead of a 500 page book.)

Here's the information I found useful. On the average, we need one hour of sleep for each two hours we are awake. During the day, we accumulate sleep debt and pay it back at night. If we are up 16 hours and only get seven hours sleep we have an hour of unpaid sleep debt. If we don't pay it back, the debt accumulates. If we let the debt get too big, the body forces the payback.

Most of us run a sleep debt all week and then pay it back on weekends. Some of us pay it back by napping. The way to tell if you have a high sleep dept is by how fast you go to sleep when you go to bed at night or when you take a nap.

If you knock off in less than five minutes it is because you carry too much sleep debt. It takes some sleep debt, say eight hours for 16 hours of wakefulness, to make you sleepy. With a normal sleep debt, it should take about 15 minutes to go to sleep. Assuming you are not dealing with a disease like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, the proper management of sleep debt will keep you awake while driving as well as keep you alert while on the job.

Also, our internal clock or Circadian rhythm gets involved. This clock got set in the distant past when people got up and went to sleep by daylight and darkness. At certain times of the day, our internal clock starts getting us ready for sleep. If your sleep debt is too large, it is hard to override you internal clock and stay awake. This becomes a serious problem when traveling rapidly through several time zones or dealing with jet lag.

Another valuable thing Dement noted was that the caffeine in that cup of coffee you are drinking to kill the drowsies, won’t kick in for at least 15 minutes. If you wait until you are dozing at the wheel to stop and get that coffee and then get back in your car and keep driving, you haven’t helped yourself. Drink the coffee before you start dozing. Its effect will last four or five hours.

The message was pretty clear. If I want to quit dozing off while driving, keep my sleep debt paid up, drink my coffee well before I need it, and drink lots of water to reduce dehydration.

So, how did it work out? Since reading and applying the information in the book, I have driven many hours without getting drowsy. It works!