Monday, March 29, 2010

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”

Derek Bok said it best, "If you think education is expensive, try igorance."

But according to the latest story on NPR, getting a higher education (while trying to "hide out" during this economy) could create up to a decade of lower salaries.

I can only speak from personal experience, but I have found that an education can surely help in getting a better paying job. However, during a transition period, it almost hurt.

I was one of those kids who never questioned whether or not I would go to college. I am not sure where the idea came from. I did not have parents who would point a finger and say, "You WILL go to college." Though, they were never discouraging. My father went to college  to study sociology and was in the Air Force. He took both routes. My mom studied interior design. I think it was never a matter of "you have to do this or that" to be successful. It was more of - "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was left to my dreams. Any dream.

The first "conscious" years of my life I wanted to be a professional dancer. I had caught the dance bug and wanted to moved off to NYC, study dance at the New York School of Performing Arts, then on to the American Ballet Company. Fifth grade comes along and I was bitten by the theater bug. By the age of 12, I had another epiphany - I like to act, but I also love to write. I really want to travel. Hmmm... then while watching the 6 o'clock news - I saw Tina Hicks on 13 WMAZ. I thought to myself, hey - I can do that!

And so it began. My quest to enter the world of broadcast journalism. Unfortunately, the options in high school were a joke. Theater department? ha! But luckily there was the Community Children's Theater of Macon and Youth Actors Company. I figured this would give me tons of "speaking" opportunities. Journalism?? ha! Our school had maybe 3 choices - a Montage Staff (literary piece), I like to read fiction, but it is not my thing to actually write; a newspaper - which again, I am not into print; then a year book. How is that journalism???

So I had to wait - I went off to college to major in Broadcast Journalism. Did it, and did it well. By the time I got through all of the crap classes (the lovely core classes we all had to suffer through) I made it to my first course in Broadcast Journalism. I was hooked. I soaked up every morsel of anything my professors could (and would) throw at me. I wrote for a paper, I worked as a radio dj, I was a reporter/anchor on our college station, then by my senior year in college I got the opportunity to be the Executive Producer for our television station. THEN the producing bug bit me.

Later I did an internship with the very television station that inspired it all as a child. Lord have mercy, if you can survive an internship with moody reporters, then you can handle anything. My internship ended on a Friday, I was hired as the Midday and 5pm News Producer on Monday. Crazy luck. Rare. It is always hard to tell that story to my interns today. Because they are so eager to get jobs immediatly. I am not sure how my situation worked out. .. well, who am I kidding. It was a bit of luck mixed with good old fashioned hard work. For one, I did not ask for money as an intern. Second - I worked 40 hours a week for three months for nothing.. zip.. zero bucks. Two weeks...just two weeks before my internship was to end, one of the producers turned in their notice. Now looking back, I think our News Director took a chance on a kid fresh out of college, but she did, and I am forever grateful.

I worked in news for a couple of years. LOVED the fast pace. Loved how every day was different. But unfortunately (and this is where I think the station completely messed up) I was locked into a contract that I hated. I was also missing the opportunity for more creativity and really wanted an easier schedule. I think after years of college, then killing myself to make it work in news - I just needed a break. I moved into our Marketing/Promotions department and became the producer for the actual station.

I found that I enjoyed doing that, but it was a bit too slow. I was still so used to the rough and messiness of news and the new fluffy (and yes, super cheesy) stuff was not making my heart skip a beat. Plus, there was a minor complication - marriage. I needed more money, because now I felt like nesting. ;-)

I happened to notice in the newspaper an ad for a job with the Girl Scouts of Middle Georgia, Inc. I had crazy connections there and could not believe I saw an actual job ad in the paper. (How odd is that these days.. more on that later.) So - I wrote the most passionate cover letter and attached my resume and took a chance. I got a massive panel interview, and no sooner did I get back to the station - I was hired. ;-)

The position was for a Field Executive - which is basically marketing and recuiting for the Girl Scouts. Now I could possibly transition into Public Relations. I was transfered to cover 6 rural counties and so - my one and half year experience in Marketing began. I liked it, but found it challenging due to my age. I was telling people (old enough to be my mother) how to manage their association and that became one of my biggest challenges. I was missing the opportunity to work with the media and was praying to find a jub as the actual Communications Director somewhere. Luck would have it - the Communications Director up and quits. I hesitated - should I apply? Did not have to, the CEO called me and offered it to me. I did have to turn in a resume, etc and wait for the "x" amount of days to pass before they could hire internally. But it was done. I was the new Communications/Program Specialist for 22 counties in Middle Georgia.

Moving right along.. I was 29 at this point. My salary was good, I had excellent flexibility, and it felt right. Once I got through some of the personality quirks of working with all women, I was able to make my place at home.

Then one of the biggest snags in my adult life (career wise) took place. It was a blessing, a small prayer from long ago answered, and a curse. My husband got a job out of state - and I could finally leave my hometown. Sooo - I took the chance, and left. (after working with the GS for 6 years.)

I moved to Birmingham thinking - ah - bigger city, I have lots of experience now, a wide range of experience and excellent references. HA. The joke is on me. I could not find a decent job to save my life. I thought my luck was with the Girl Scouts. They had a position open for the Communications Director. Hey - this is what I have been doing - and soo.. I got an interview. Turns out they paid $15k less than what I was making in Georgia - that was a no go. I applied with the Zoo (again a Marketing Director position) - not even an interview. I applied with AIDS Alabama - had an interview, they never called me back. I thought I was finished. I did get a few calls, but as soon as we were discussing salary - which I absolutely hate - I was out of the running. The sad thing is, I was not asking for much, yes it was less than I was making - but it was not that much.

This is where I get to what NPR was talking about - I had to do something. I asked myself what three things do I like (outside of my career). I answered:  makeup, coffee, books, photography. So - I began applying to all of the above.

I saw a crap job with Olan Mills - and I applied. My interview took place in a shady KMart. I went, I got hired, but then the next day I ended up in the hospital with meningitus. No dice. Once I left the hospital and felt as if I had fully recovered, I began to apply to the books, coffee, and makeup places. I had essentially given up hope for anything real for me. Parisian called me, and I began the interview process with Clinique. Got it - and worked there for 9 months. Ironically, after I got that job a barista position came open at Joe Muggs, but I had to say no I was not interested.

Working for Clinique after trying to work in my field of choice (since I was 12) was a hard pill to swallow. I was in the service and sales world now. With a dash of creativity. I enjoyed my co-workers. It was delightful to finally make some friends in a new city. I also let go of some of the stigma I had for retail sales. All but maybe three of the women I worked with were college educated, and working there by choice. I let it all go. I had to humble myself. I still remember doing makeovers on women as they treated me as if I were a high school drop out. I kept my mouth shut, I smiled, I did the best I could. And more importantly, I kept sending those resumes out. I did not give up. But I began planning. I thought about going back to school. I thought about traveling. I thought about the Peace Corps. I thought about so many things.

Then one random Saturday I was browsing I saw a position for a Communications Director position with the American Heart Association. I thought, well - I probably won't get it, so what does it hurt to send it? I sent it in July. By September I got a call from an HR director asking me questions about the position. I had totally forgotten I had applied. LOL. I went through a looooong lengthy interview process and was finally selected. Almost one year after moving to Birmingham, I FINALLY got a job back in my field.

I am telling this story - mainly to let my old interns know, my friends struggling, and my family members that may be struggling know - you have to practice patience.

Yes, I do think the degree opened doors that never would have even cracked for me otherwise. Yes, and only if you think you can truly afford it, would I recommend hiding out in graduate school right now. Get a job - any job, and don't leave too many holes in your resume.

Is this my final stop on the quest for career enlightment?  Probably not. What do I want to do in the future? That remains to be seen. But for now, I have enough items on my plate to keep me busy. I work with some amazing people. I get to travel from time to time to random places. I am writing, I am taking photos, and I still get to rub elbows with my tv and radio folks. It's all good, and the ride - oh the ride, even at the mere age of 37, makes more and more sense everyday.

I may not be a ballerina, a famous actress, or the your news anchor - but the path I chose fit me. I am happy with that. I am proud of that - and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

PS - To this day, one of my favorite "coming of age" opportunities was when I was working side by side with Tina at 13WMAZ and I smiled once and said, "Tina - your life and your career is why I am here now." ;-) What an angel - I sure do miss her.


Anonymous said...

So stressful! I've had horrible, humbling jobs my whole adult life. I'm sick if it. I really just can't take jobs like that anymore. There's only so much degrading work a young, prideful person can take.

Thanks to shitty economy, I'm choosing a path with guaranteed job options. A cool job, that I won't mind having, even though the pay is crappy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for recommending this post to me! You sure did jump around a lot, but that probably happens with people more than we realize, especially today. Sometimes I can have a sheltered view of things because my entire family has pretty much worked at the same place since I was growing up - maybe changing jobs once since I was born - so I have the perception of career life that says you pick a job and pretty much stay at the same place forever. It's different now because you can' have majored in one thing and have a job in something totally unrelated to what you studied in school. Thanks again for telling me about this post. I really enjoyed reading it.

PS: Why do people getting makeovers always think it's safe to get snarky with the makeup associates?

Nicole said...

Lauren, I completely understand your viewpoint. I often get frustrated with my family - they tend to stay in one place, not exactly happy. It may seem like i jumped around - but remember - this was from 1994 - 2010. Three companies (with the big jobs) - just different positions. In the end - it worked out. I have been with AHA for 4 years now, GS's for 6 and TV for almost 4. It's about the going rate in my field. I definitely think you should stay somewhere at least 3 years. :-) Good luck to you, and yes - I know the feelings you are going thru now.

Cassandra - Amen, sister. I know - I know. Hang in there.


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