A rant about education, success and the 3 Ds

Update: Contrary to online job posting, you don’t need a college degree to work at Mass. McDonald’s

Looks like the story was bogus. Short version: Some other job posting service put the erroneous requirement in its listing.

However, my comments below remain as applicable as before. (Note the Iranian expat who flipped burgers until she could use her chemical engineering degree).

Headline: McDonald’s help-wanted ad: Cashier position available; college degree required

From the article: “experts argue the unusually high qualifications McDonald’s is demanding are a sign of the times.”

The job description says compensation is $10/hour. Did you go to college for 4 years with dreams of making $10 per hour? Is that a sign of the times, or is it a sign of something else?

Please don’t take offense. I am not trying to demean or belittle anyone’s efforts or education. Full disclosure: I do not have a college degree, though I truly wish I had completed my degree when I had the chance. I applaud the hard work and determination of those who succeeded where I did not. I am nearly 40, and I see a disconnect in the world around me and I’m trying to understand it. I feel as though many young people today are told that a college degree is their ticket to a better future. But for many, once they have that degree, jobs that feel equivalent to their education are hard to find. While it can be argued that having a degree is more valuable than not having one we seem to be in an economy where skills, projects and/or portfolio are more highly valued than education-level. What skills do you have? What projects have you worked on? What have you created? What have you done recently that you are proud of? When you are applying for a job and asked questions such as these, will you have an answer, or will you point to your degree and say, I have this?

A degree is not a ticket to a better job, it’s more like an upgrade from economy to economy plus, or first class. You still need to get that ticket or boarding pass yourself, and the price is hard work. Sometimes it means taking an entry-level position and working your way up from the bottom. You need to use whatever job you do take to show that you have skills, initiative, creativity, determination and can solve problems on your own. Once you start doing this effectively and establish a history of being able to do so you will have those skills, that portfolio of you, that will be your ticket to a better future.

It used to be that a high school diploma alone was an indicator to an employer that you had the necessary skills to be worth taking a chance on. In my lifetime I have seen that requirement climb from high school diploma to college degree. Now it seems that many employers don’t want to take chances employing people with even college degrees. People may be afraid of taking the wrong job for fear of being pigeon-holed or type-cast, which could tarnish your résumé or hurt your chances at obtaining a job later in the field of their choice. I don’t blame anyone for those fears. I have had to reinvent myself for being type-cast as a systems administrator when I wanted to grow to bigger and better things.

I will share my own experience here, take from it what you will: My success has been determined by three Ds: Desire, Drive & Determination. Desire is the beginning. If you don’t desire to succeed at something, you won’t. Once you have desire, drive kicks in. Your drive will motivate you to do what is necessary to achieve your desire. Determination is what keeps you working when your drive is flagging, and it seems like you may not be able to achieve your desire. These are gross simplifications, but they will suffice for now. Everyone wants to climb the ladder of success, but you have to take the rungs at the bottom first. A high school diploma used to “spot” you the first rung or two, and a college degree another rung or two. That may still be true in many cases. I thought, like many it seems, that the rungs leading to success are on the ladder already–all I had to do was climb them. My life has taught me, and continues to remind me, that there are no higher rungs on the ladder to success that aren’t achieved at least in part by myself by way of those three Ds. Education only counts for a few rungs. The rest is up to you.

So, that’s my rant. It’s also the message I want to send to my children. I read another article this morning from the WSJ that had a segment about a woman who’d escaped Iran before the Shah hit the fan in 1979. She’d had a college degree, too. She fled Iran, and eventually made it to Canada. One of her first jobs? Flipping burgers. She went on to become a successful chemical engineer. If I had to offer an explanation for her success, I’d probably say the three D‘s had something to do with it.

5 thoughts on “A rant about education, success and the 3 Ds

  1. Great article. I’m a fellow non-degree holder, but I make it a point to constantly be enrolled or participating in something at the local University, in a free online MOOC, through private organizations (like a guild or workshop), or even through Learning Company and TED lectures. And there are clubs, camps, competitions, online communities, and so forth. Sometimes I’ll even go out of state if there’s something I just can’t miss.

    None of this is “for credit,” but it sure has been a lot of fun. I haven’t found my lack of formal credentials to be an impediment to what I want to do, but then I’m interested in vocation more than I am in career.

    I think that attitude is rubbing off on my kids too. The oldest has already decided not to go to college and won’t even get a High School diploma. It may seem silly to those of us who grew up in the diploma culture, but it hasn’t limited her opportunities so far. She’s out in NYC this week, jamming with some of the Jazz greats at Carnegie and Lincoln center and polishing off an education of another sort, I guess. We’ll see if McD’s will take her once she gets back… I know she’s in the job market now, at least until she’s qualified enough to work for herself. 😉

    P.S. You’re nearly 40? How did you get so old?!?

  2. Aaron says:

    Hey! No taunting the nearly 40 year old. You’re closer to 40 than 30 too, if memory serves. 🙂

    That is so cool about your daughter jamming at Carnegie (found out about that from your wife’s recent posts).

    What does MOOC stand for? I also love TED lectures and such. Did you see the one about Self-Oriented Learning Environments (SOLE) a few months back? We’re trying some of that out at home with our kids to see how it turns out.

    Career vs. vocation is an interesting word choice. I learned that the etymology of the word career is from old chariot and horse races. It meant one lap around the track. (Thank you, Hugh Nibley). I sure don’t want my life to be seen as a series of laps around a fixed circuit. Just watch Ben Hur if you want an excellent parallel to how cut-throat the business world can be 🙂

  3. Me? Pushing 40? Yes, and feeling it too. I swear, just last week I was standing in a school-lunch line, wondering how long it would be before I finally made it to the 6th grade.

    Have a look at Coursera.org for some Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I just finished one from Berklee College of Music. You can get all kinds of great, free courses from accredited universities, they just don’t come with the credit.

    I don’t know if I’ve seen the TED lecture you mentioned. I don’t recall it, so now I’ll have to look it up and watch it. My wife and I like to watch those together.

    The Learning Company is good too, but those lectures you have to buy, and they go into a lot of depth (we spend hours and hours watching them, and it’s straight-up lecture format from stodgy professors. But, it’s awfully interesting stuff).

    Yeah, I think career and diploma go hand-in-hand. There is certainly a place for that, if you’re the career sort of person. Unfortunately, it gets pushed on kids early and then they can’t stop running the rat race. Or the chariot race, as the case may be.

  4. Hello: In 04/12/2012, there will be a , . It is a Scala group from Se3o Paulo, Brazil. Ok, the site is in Portuguese, but anyway could you put a rncereefe to them in the next ‘This week in Scala’?Thanks,Rafael Afonso

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