My Shifting Values of Higher Education and Dream-Job-Chasing

I recently became a fan of Marty Nemko, and it was the video at the bottom of this page that did it. There is a man who has consumed a lot of higher education and also worked for and in such institutions (both teaching and evaluating, at Berkley), yet he says higher degrees are often unnecessary and indeed a bad choice for many individuals.

This is no new idea; really, it’s very folksy wisdom in some ways.  America is obsessed with chasing dreams (a great thing), and we’re all about “finding one’s passion in life.” There a plenty of business podcasts and tweets telling us to quit our jobs and start our dream coffee shop. To an older generation, though, perhaps this sounds ridiculous.

After all, how many accountants ever had a burning desire to do accounting?

I’m not saying people should keep a job they’re miserable with, but I do say:

Finding a job you’re passionate about might not be as important as finding a way to be passionate about your work.

Some say it’s not what you do that matters but how you do it. Perhaps that oversimplifyies things a bit, but you get the point. A recent podcast from The Art of Manliness (Brett McKay) interviewed Cal Newport. Cal and Brett mentioned the research he found for Cal’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. I listened during breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can find it here.

Here’s why I care:

I was in college for two or three years (it’s hard to keep count, considering how long I was there), and I had no major. After finally choosing Global Studies, I decided I wanted something more–practical. I wanted to teach, so I changed my major to English, with a minor in Secondary Ed and kept Global Studies as a second minor. By the way, this was after the two photography classes I took that went towards no part of my degree. I then proceeded to accept a scholarship to study Chinese for a year in Hangzhou, which counted nothing toward my degree but was an awesome experience that changed my life. I married my wife there; in fact, she’s one of the main reasons I applied. 🙂

I now study at Harding School of Theology for a Masters of Divinity and love every class. Nonetheless, I’m 26 years old and married, so I spend much time thinking about work and school. For me, I have to balance the two, and the ratio is always an area I debate in my head: should I work more? Should I study more and finish sooner?  Do I need this big degree or should I go for a shorter M.A.? I can only answer for myself and not for you.

That being said, here’s my two cents:

One shouldn’t go to college just because it’s the next “logical” step for a high school student with good or decent grades. If one does go, unsure of what to study, I recommend choosing a narrow degree in business (if engineering or another topic isn’t clearly calling to you), and sticking with it: Get in, get out. Then, if you realize you want to do something else, pursue a master’s in that field.

If you really are passionate about something that doesn’t make lots of money, pursue it. But ask yourself if you need a degree to start doing that kind of work. If you want to be a writer, I’d suggest you just start writing and save your work. Build a portfolio and present yourself in front of the person you want to work for.

If you decide to go to college, though, spend some serious time studying careers before you start. Don’t lolly-gag. Look at the United States Department of Labor’s free Occupational Outlook Handbook online, and you can find estimates on specific careers (that you’ve never even considered, perhaps!): projected growth rates/demand, salaries,  required training, et cetera. An entire branch of government is dedicated to this research. Take advantage of it.

Watch Marty Nemko’s video. I like his observation that community colleges might be a great value! That’s great news for folks in McMinnville, Tennessee and just about anywhere. Watch the video to hear his thoughts based on experience and researching and working in that field. His job, after all, is to assess these things. Give him a listen and see what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

This has little to do with intelligence and much more to do with pragmatism. Of course continuing learning is good for everyone, but bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are not the only route to a smart, successful, and happy lives. Experience, seminars, internships, apprenticeships, certificate programs, trade schools, and community colleges are valuable options for continuing education.

What Colleges and Graduate Students Don’t Want You to Know:


Additional Resources:


Winter Break Update, Spring Classes, and the Best News I Can Offer.

The following message is for interested family and friends who might care about what we’re doing in Memphis. This is not written to attain many “likes,” shares, change the world, or make a point. I’m even skipping the pictures of Floridia and my parents-in-law. Call me cold. This is the winter break update.

Classes began this week, and I’m surprisingly more excited than I was last semester (my first one). An entirely different blog entry is needed  to explain why. I haven’t shared much in a while, so let’s start off slow and easy.

(Or not.)

The best part of the winter break, first: We saw three new believers born again in Christ. All non-U.S. citizens (you know where they’re from). I really want to show a ton of photos of the baptisms, dumpling parties, and more, but will refrain for their privacy and safety. (I think I can give some stories without names and places, but it’ll take another entry at another time). Suffice it to say that if you are a follower of Christ, you have three new sisters, and that is the best news I can offer for you. If you’re not a Jesus-follower, the best news I have for you, ever, is that Christ died for you, too. 

Somehow, we now have to move on to academics:

Last semester, the class results included two A’s and one B, in Advanced Theological Research, Greek I, and the Gospel according to John, respectively. I am pretty happy with the results because as much as I strove for perfect marks, having one “B” under the belt takes away some pressure. (I like to remind myself that John Piper made a C in preaching; also, I met him two weeks ago.) Honestly, I only made the A’s that I did by God’s grace and with the help of some gifted, merciful professors with high expectations. Honestly , I did work pretty hard last semester over the books. A joy, definitely, but by no means easy.

This semester, Spring 2014, we’re revving things up a notch or two: I’m adding an extra class and so is Linli–plus she’s working as a graduate assistant at University of Memphis. Thus, we’ll be even busier than last semester. Life-hint: pressure is a good thing and keeps us from procrastinating. Jesus has already been displaying his ability and willingness to sustain us.

To give you an idea of the workload, here is the school’s expectation: for every weekly three-hour class, nine hours of outside study are expected. If a class meets once weekly (the norm) and is three hours long, then that week’s classwork should take a total of 12 hours. 12 hours x 4 classes = 48 hours of studying needed, plus tutoring.

The classes this semester will be Greek II, Counseling Skills, Old Testament Survey (because I wasn’t a Bible major in undergrad), and Minor Prophets. Only Minor Prophets requires a term paper, so that helped me decide to keep the fourth class. Plus, I’ll continue tutoring in the afternoon and working on my Mandarin for Sunday mornings. (For some reason, they not only allow but ask me to read a scripture and/or pray in Mandarin). God is good.

Please pray for us to continue trusting the Lord and centering our lives around his will. We’re not sure where we’re heading (as no one is), but the difference is this: we’re pretty comfy with that. Linli added a CPA-prep course and is trying to become a CPA—think she could apply our tax codes in China? So, we might be in the States awhile, after all. Never say “I’d never . . . “, though.