Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Career Decisions: Break with Tradition

Greetings from Washington. I've been on a trip to the wine areas in Oregon and Washington, and am stopped for a few days in the San Juan Islands. Beautiful Site!

I'm visiting two of my dearest friends and mentors and we've been talking about career changing and career planning. As I've mentioned in past blogs, one idea remains essential--do what you love. And speaking with my friends, it is the key to both career and personal happiness. But think broader about possible career paths--what you enjoy can very well turn into a very successful career.

Growing up my good friend wasn't an academic wiz--but was extremely good with his hands and with problem solving. Restoring his own cars and constructing buildings around the neighborhood was his true love. His parents both were academics, and urged him to go to college. While attending community college he worked part-time for the electrical department of the city. This became very interesting for him and the money was quite helpful. He quickly took on more hours and his school load lightened up. Within a couple of years he was working full time for the city and had had enough of college. This wasn't his parents' wish, but he was an adult and seemed to know what he wanted. Today, he's still with the city electrical department, having seniority and a management role and making a very substantial living.

Would he have been more successful going to college and then finding a white collar job? I don't think so. He enjoyed the outdoors, working with his hands, and solving problems. Although most of those qualities can be had with a white collar job--he wouldn't have been as happy. And for most college educations today the total cost is close to $100,000 for a bachelor's degree. Coming out of school with that debt load to land an annual salary of $35,000 isn't that empowering. And having a large debt hanging over your head makes you less willing to try new jobs and take risks with your career.

Sometimes finding an interesting field that fits your needs and dreams doesn't require four, six, eight or more years of school. Many careers out there can be rewarding personally and financially and don't require a degree or specialized training. On the job experience often quickly surpasses what a traditional education brings to work.

More on this later--the flip side to education--when it makes sense.

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