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.

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