Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There's a Difference Between an Etch-a-Sketch Drawing and a Master's Degree

If we throw out everything I wanted to grow up to be when I was a kid - Astronaut, Starfleet Officer, Writer, or President - and make a list of only the majors and career paths I've gone down (or talked about going down) as an adult, here's what you get:

Marine Biologist because I once got a 100% on an oceanography exam.
Teacher because I was working with kids.
Early Childhood Administrator see above.
Social Worker see above.
Fashion Designer because I remembered I was kind of okay at sewing after I caught an episode of Project Runway.
Cruise Ship Worker because I went on a cruise and the DJ was hot and I and didn't realize the workers slept in racks.
Merchandising Manager because I got 13 sketches in and realized I'd actually be a crap fashion designer.
Rock Music Journalist because I once read a lot of Pitchfork and then re-watched Almost Famous.
Event Planner because getting paid to party is a sweet job.
Mathematician because I got smashingly good grades in Calculus when I bothered to show up.
Accountant because it was a more viable ($$) career choice than mathematician.
Famous Genealogist because I didn't realize it had already been done.

My day job involves food and a hat, so obviously none of those illustrious careers ever panned out. Some of them might have gone somewhere if I'd cared enough to make them happen, but I was distracted by a Boyfriend or some free beer or some other lark every time. By the time I'd put my sh*t together again I was on to the next thing.

Buckling down and doing something felt claustrophobic; and I resented feeling like I had to choose which Barbie I wanted to be for The Rest of My Life. So I flitted about from True Calling to True Calling until I wound up dependent on my paycheck. Luckily, I'm paid so ridiculously well for what I do that when a girlfriend of mine told me how much she'd be making if she landed a job she interviewed for at Google, I laughed and pointed out that she'd be making less at Google than I make wrapping hamburgers.

You can go cry over your master's degree now. I'll wait.

But I'm not slinging burgers because I've finally realized my lofty dreams of grease-covered glory.  I'm there because it's a living. I'm there because I like it alright and it pays the bills and leaves my brain free to think about other things, like making jokes on the internet. I'm there because I had a proper grown-up job with a cubicle and a title and business cards- and it made me so miserable that I clawed my face in my sleep.

My back hurts sometimes, but I? Never go to bed worried about office drama.

But as I was portioning out a fry one day, one of our regulars asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

"Well, I was going to be an astronaut!" I answered cheerily.

I slipped a napkin in the bag and handed him his food with a big smile and then I died a little bit inside as he laughed at my Funny Joke.

My twenty sixth birthday is looming less than two weeks away and I still have no idea what I'm going to be when I grow up. I've got no designs on Fast Food Management and I flubbed the whole astronaut gig when I f*cked off in the eighth grade. And NASA cut the budget on the manned space program anyway.

My options are limited by more than just the crap economy; I never did get around to procuring an expensive bit of paper to prove that I'm as smart as my Mama says I am.

And even if I had a Master's Degree, or even a Bachelor's, I would cry over mine too because I wouldn't know what to do with a degree- other than hang it up in a gilt-frame and screech,

"LOOK. AH'M SMART. AH GOT MAH PAYPER!" every time I noticed someone noticing it.

On the other hand, I'm happy to not be working my student loans off in indentured servitude to the Olive Garden, which is where quite a few Masters of Whatever slag off even with a fancy smart paper. Standardized testing and the 99th percentile I scored every time back in high school be damned- I don't have mah payper, y'all. I've been running around doing just about anything I wanted (other than finding a Real Job) for eight years.

Astronaut is out, Starfleet's not real, and President looks like a loser job (in the sense that if you have it, you can't win), so out of the all the things I swore I'd grow up to be, Writer would appear to be the only viable option left.

But I am deathly afeared of sucking at it.

So thanks for reading.

If next week I decide I'm going to be a chef because I parked my ass in front of TLC for a few hours, y'all will be the first to know.

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(this title of this post was lifted from the song "Permanent Kitten" by the now defunct band The Actual.)

74 comments:

Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points said...

Child A, when he was little, told me he wanted to be a biologist, a chemist, an environmental engineer and a physicist.

When I explained to him that the advanced education system sort of mandated that he PICK one, he looked at me in horror and said, "But that's like saying you only get to have ONE KIND of candy bar for the rest of your life!!!"

Which was his first experience with the "sometimes life sucks" side of things, I think.

vicwu said...

This reminds me of that part of American Beauty where Lester Burnham tells the fast food manager why he really wants to work there after he tells him he's too overqualified. Having worked fast food in the past I don't get why people look down on people who work it. Just putting on the airs, I guess. Pssh!

Jennifer said...

I worked at Wendy's for five years of my life. I'd probably still work there if I hadn't had kids and get to be unemployed. I never minded the work and the paycheck wasn't too shabby, I just hated how people said it wasn't a "real job" and treated me like I was a moron. While they mispronounced "Chipotle". And "Filet".

Crabby Commuter said...

People with their paypahs aren't making out that great anyway these days. So don't feel bad about the burger slinging; at least you're not deferring loans while waiting for someone to discover the bottomline value of a B.A. in Poetry.

Sincerely,
Sabrina

http://crabbycommute.blogspot.com

P.S. I'd rather be cake boss - or hell, I'd settle for cake minion - on TLC too.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

After I got my master's degree, I thought I'd never have to do retail again. But several years in retail later, I realized I was wrong. I do get to teach, which is why I got the master's degree, but I don't get paid enough, hence the work in retail. Maybe I should sling burgers too.

Leah Mraz said...

I have three degrees thus far and they haven't gotten me any closer to what I want to be when I grow up. But don't hate on those who have the degrees because if they have one (even if it's not making them a whole ton of cash) but it got them the job they've been dreaming of, well, then they've got one thing up on both you and me, satisfaction with where they're at (professionally, at least). You'll get to where you want to go but you do have to be willing to give failure a chance. Good luck!!

Oh, and I applied to be an astronaut last year... but they told me they'd rather I had my field experience in biology rather than nursing. Ho hum. Come on writing (I dream of this as well).

Evil Pixie said...

You sound a lot like me... I changed my major 14 different times before I got my first undergraduate degree (I know have 3 undergraduate degrees, 2 MBAs, and I'm working on my PhD). That said, I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, I did know what I wanted to be (and still do) but it wasn't terribly realistic - that is, if I wanted to eat, pay rent, etc. - so I went another path. Still can't stop thinking about what I really want to do, and all those career and aptitude tests repeat the same things over and over... To a point of being extremely annoying. Ahhhh... if life only worked out the way we planned.

Toni said...

My job is to help other people find jobs, and I totally agree that all the fancy degrees in the world don't help people find their True Calling. As you said, people (with or without a Masters Degree) can make more money in a retail or food service position (bartending pays unbelievably well) than they can starting out in any office job.

Being happy in what you do, when you do it all day long, five plus days of the week, for the rest of your life, is way more important than anything else. Including how much you get paid or whether or not anyone thinks you have a "real" job.

The Ranter's Box said...

Interesting post and very apropos to my current situation. I think many writers hold themselves back out of fear of 'sucking'. But if writing is the thing that brings you joy then I say go for it!! And when in doubt, just take a look at your growing follower base and know that there are plenty of people who just so happen to enjoy your clever writing.

Imperfect and tense said...

Apologies. Bumped into you through Blogs of Note. Great blog, amusing, eloquent and life-enhancing. Found the Guatemalan place mats one particularly thought-provoking. Cheers for a great read. Regards, G

Queen of the Rant said...

You will rock at no matter what you do, as long as you love it.

Carlee said...

I'm almost 37 and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

shann said...

Oh my god...I know how you feel. Although I am still digging trenches from my cubicle of hell each day, I have wondered what it would be like to just say "f^ck it" and go work in a restaurant. Well..maybe not...I suck at customer service..but you know what I mean.

Just Lori said...

I'm almost done with my Masters. I work in a cubicle. I dream about what I have to do the next day. I miss waitressing.

Leonnie said...

I remember a quote that said something like "don't be scared if you don't know what you want to do with your life by the time you're 30, some of the most interesting people I know still didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives in their 40's" I think the whole not-knowing thing means you're destined for greatness, or maybe no one has ever known what they wanted to do in their 20's and the standard is unrealistic. Either way, great post

Anonymous said...

Are you a fellow INFP?

LM Lawrence said...

Today a job is a job and as long as you can pay your bills and be happy that is all that matters. I love how you keep it real all of the time. Fab post and I hope you are having the time of your life in San Diego :)

Ava Elaine said...

I kiss myself in my ass every day for every cent I have to pay back for the 2 student loans I've acquired. This is because I used them to pay for a degree that I never finished because as I was pursuing it, I realized I didn't need one to become a professional writer. You're right, it is just a piece of paper and I didn't want it. I'd rather people want to read my work because they are interested in me and what I have to say rather than be impressed by the fact that I have a Bachelor's or whatever (which I don't, and I am fine with that). I commend you for being so honest and confessing that you have the same unknown fears we all have and don't outwardly allow ourselves to show.

Ava Elaine said...

Oops...I meant I kick myself in the ass every day. That would be kind of hard to kiss it, but I'm sure they have degrees out there for that, huh?

Annabelle said...

I identify this to an extreme degree, except instead of slinging burgers I'm slinging mojitos. I am DOING things right now, but perhaps to some people I'm not doing ENOUGH things.... I don't have any fancy business cards either. I'm $40,000 in debt from student loans (granted at a 2% interest rate...) and the entry level fashion jobs I'm looking at after completing my second degree will barely pay for my morning coffee. (I hope they have free coffee in the office).

Daniel said...

I have no idea really what I wanna do after grad school... there are plenty of things I wanna do.... so ill prolly just try lots of diff things. But it doesn't make me feel like I'm going to school for nothing. I genuinely love learning and I love chemistry and physics... so although my double major its hard.... I find it fun and enjoyable. Imma have a hard time deciding whether to go for a phd in chem or physics. Eventually I want both. But I can only stand to have so much debt before actually starting to pay it off lol

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon your blog and enjoy it very much! You make mine look sad in comparison. My husband and I have, in our past lives, both made our living as "unskilled labor" and that term just makes us both roll our eyes. There's no such thing. It may not take a masters to do what you're doing, but so what? It still takes a particular set of skills and not everyone could do it happily or well. Work is work. No shame in any of it. With 50 not too far in the distance I'm just getting around to earning my masters, and I have to say I'm not sure it's going to make me a better teacher, but it will improve my pay (a little). Your writing has great voice. . . hope you keep at it.

sjblogginggirl said...

I just started reading your blog today, and I already think you would make a terrific writer. I actually thought about suggesting that when I was half-way through, until I got to the part where you brought it up yourself! You should definitely keep it in mind. I look forward to following your blog, so far I've found it very entertaining!

janjan said...

I've never met someone who wanted to become an astronaut someday. Those career plans you had when you were younger were great. I remember when i was in grade school, everytime the teacher asks what do we want when we grow up, I could think of a number of ridiculous, sometimes insane dreams. but when i was going in college, those dreams didn't matter anymore. but anyway, im happy with where i am now. my job and the things i do. if there's one thing i wanna be when i grow "up", i wanted to be a writer too.

Mei said...

I just went from a fancy job that used my degree and ate my soul to retail. I'm really having fun in retail for the moment, as I get to be very active and meet lots of people. Of course, who knows what I'll be doing 3 months from now..

Midwestern Mama Holly said...

My daddy always told me, "as long as you are making an honest living, you've got nothing to be ashamed of."
My daddy was a very smart man. He would have liked reading this too.

ghrency said...

thats pretty obvious..


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Mary´s Weight Loss Site said...

Cool site you've got here. Thanks for it.
I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

Cristine said...

We-e-e-e-ell, I think you're a pretty good writer and I also think you should go for it. Just let us know if you write a book and if you do so in your own name or a pseudo. I'll buy your book just because I like your writing style on this blog. Don't wait too long and regret not having tried to write, at least if you try you can say you did and move on to the next adventure (which I think you won't need to). You're so young and everyone sucks at something. But that is my opinion and I could be wrong... but what if I'm write???

Kait Nolan said...

There is, I think, no real ANSWER to this. I got the pretty paper and I can't say it's necessarily helped me get where I want to be. I feel like I wasted 5 or 6 years of my life doing what someone ELSE said I should do because being a writer "isn't practical". In an economy that's in the toilet, my master's degree isn't worth as much as it should be, I don't like what I can do with it, and anything else I might want to do with it finds me either overqualified by dint of having excessive education or not remotely qualified because it's in the wrong field. Our entire educational system is mucked up, possibly beyond repair (I fear for Idiocracy, I really do). The pretty paper has been completely devalued by our society's sudden insistence that EVERYBODY SHOULD HAVE IT. No, no, that is not true. I teach college students--NOT everyone should be in college. That is the entire point of trade schools and such, which are starting to go by the wayside.

In any event, I don't think there's any right road to becoming a writer other than the BICHOK Principle: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. The simple answer is that you have to treat it with the same seriousness you would a job if it's what you really want to do.

kate said...

*sigh* I'm right there with you...but if it makes you feel any better, I've got TWO pieces of paper and have spent the past two years working as a receptionist in a doctor's office. WOOOO!! Totally worth the 5+ years of post-high school education and $50,000+ of student loan debt.

I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, either, so in the meantime, I'm applying for anything and everything that I can that might just seem "fun". If I'm going to work some crap job for crap money that has nothing to do with what I went to school for, I might as well enjoy myself, right?

Jo said...

My degree is in Creative Writing... That's right. I got a degree that in no way actually helps me here in REALITY. I work in an office to pay the bills, and I still claw my own face off in my sleep because it.

Brilliant post - and not only because I totally know where you're coming from...

Ps: When I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman. You read that correctly. 'nuff said.

Uncle Skip, said...

I finally figured out, after retiring, that what I really wanted was to be happy in whatever it was that I was doing. That, fortunately, doesn't require anyone else to validate it.

Becki Boo said...

I haven't yet been to University, am still in college doing a BTEC national diploma, but as career choices go av had a fair few ideas in my 18 years,

nurse, teacher, barrister, singer (then realised i can't sing), geography teacher, businesswoman, social worker and now am back to not knowing what I want to do...nothing is set in stone...right??

Tony said...

You could always get a fancy piece of paper proving you're smart at writing.

Jenn said...

Just letting you know #1 - that I'm a new follower due to "Blogs of Note" and yes...I realize I'm a little behind...but also to let you know I DO have a 4 yr degree in a field that I most likely could be working in; however, as it turns out, I have a job in another field that doesn't require my 4 yr degree. Still glad I did the college thing...but I also don't think it's always necessary for everyone. Do what makes you happy...if flipping burgers makes you happy, then so be it!

Annah said...

Okay first of all I'm laughing my ass off at the commenter who said people couldn't pronounce "chipotle" and "filet". That's some funny shit. Second of all. I have TWO, count 'em, TWO bachelor's degrees and guess what? My ass is unemployed and doesn't have more than $5.00 to her name. A degree is important, but apparently these days, it doesn't mean shit.

*smooches!*

Tatyanna (and Dorian too) said...

It is so amazingly awesome to hear from another smart, creative, brilliant, funny gal who has done (or is doing) the fast-food thing! Hear this: I worked in fast food for over EIGHT YEARS!!!!! I made serious freaking BANK too. I did go into the management job, but not hoping to stay all my life. I think it was the best job I've had so far in my life, and I DO have mah paypah ... I guess I don't regret getting that degree, it's just that ... every "career" move I've made so far is one I could have made without it... sigh... And like another comment said above, the main thing I didn't like about fast food was that the people looked SO down on me and treated me like crap ... and I'm talking about people who were seriously questionable in terms of, like, criminal history, personal hygiene, basic social skills and such.

Heather, Queen of Shake Shake said...

My 36th birthday is six months behind me and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve taking my clothes off, so it's not like I have NO plan.

Colleen said...

I recently acquired my second piece of fancy paper, and I have since discovered two things: 1) all the good jobs are being given to people with 5+ years of experience (which I don't have yet) and 2) I'm overqualified for everything else.

Hurray, recession!

Levonne said...

Congratulations on being a blog of note the other day! Good work! Or play? What will you be when you grow up? Well I am nearly double your age and I'm still not what I am going to be when I grow up. I do have a graduate degree and I am a social worker and a writer. And I am now also a volunteer campground host. Come visit my blogs when you have a minute. The Camp Host Housewife

alonewithcats said...

I have a proper grownup job, minus the cubicle and a title and business cards. Am I doing it wrong? Or very right? It's hard to say.

What isn't hard to say is this: keep writing.

BookGirlR said...

I work retail. Every day I get screamed at by people, and I think that they scream at me because they hate their jobs and therefore their lives. I'm going to college because I know what I want. I want to write, and teach other people to love literature and writing. I'm a 29 year old college sophomore, I held off on college until I knew what I wanted. I think that no one should start college until they know what they want to do with their lives, it would save a lot of money and time.

Susie said...

Good for you for liking your job. But you don't need to put down someone else's choices - to get a degree - to make your choices sound good. It reaks of insecurity.

Susie said...

Also, not everyone who has gone to college has loans. There are things called scholarships...

Henna @ AboutCabinets Blog said...

of course, i agree with you, there are differneces, those who say that there are no differences are those who are unable ot judge them, thats what i think - being able to recognize what you can do is the best call in life

noo-ddd said...

I might want to do with it finds me either overqualified by dint of having excessive education or not remotely qualified.

Jeff said...

My Bachelor's degree has served me better as toilet paper than it has a ticket to a career. I started the last two years of school right when the economy went to shit. So, six months and one job interview later, I'm left sifting through the smoldering remnants of my bank account, which was annihilated by student loan payments. Crying over my degree. Serving the nation's geriatric soup that will never be hot enough.

noktour said...

I think it was the best job I've had so far in my life.

Margaret said...

Hi Susie. Thanks for reading!

I'm not sure where in this post I put anyone down for choosing college over burgers, other than to crack a joke about how much it sucks that we live in a world where even some folks who HAVE earned master's degrees often can't land work that pays as well as *some* less glamorous jobs.

And then I turned that joke around on myself a few paragraphs later.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I spent more time here putting myself down for being kinda flakey and indecisive.

That flakiness and indecision are a big reason I never got my degree, and for a long time, I *was* very insecure about that.

But I'm not anymore. And that was the point. And as far as paying for it goes, unless they give scholarships for skipping class and drinking Mad Dog down by the railroad tracks, I was pretty screwed on that front.

I hope that cleared up my intentions a little.

Thanks again. :-)

D.M. SOLIS said...

This is great. I love the idea of listing all the titles and am going to try to work it into a journal/discussion prompt at my blog. Thank you for posting your own wishes and dreams. Peace and all good things for you in your work and in life. Sincerely,

Diane

Turfdad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Turfdad said...

Margaret- I worked fast food and retail for 23 years before I figured out what I wanted to be when I grow up. And then I decided to go to school and get my A.S. School was a snap and fun in my 30's. And by the way, my wife never went to college and she makes much more money than I do.

Also, it's really rich that Susie can get all snippy on your site and not leave a link to her's. You handled that well.

Tom

Khaotic said...

Sad is it may seem I'm quite looking forward to getting my bit of paypah
because aside from it being in the feild I want to ideal work in, I want to learn as much as I can about it because I enjoy my subject smiley face.

twilightgazing said...

I want to be an archaeologist when I grow up - mmmm but then again do I really want to grow up?

Sidney said...

Hey Margaret i totally identify with the things/person that you aspired to be at some or the other point of time in your life (and also for the reasons that led you to them) :-)
for i too am from the same school of thought and that's one school i wouldn't wanna graduate EVER from ...
n yes "paypahs" suck (even if im planning to get myself one)...can't beat em ....(sigh ..havto) join em , u see
really loved your post btw ....
cheers

Sidney
http://wwwstillsidney.blogspot.com/

Tone:E said...

You Dont Suck At Writing.

Claudia said...

No - you don't suck at writing!

Anita said...

If I hadn't known better I could've sworn you were writing about me, however your current determination to be a writer gives you a 9 year head start on becoming a grown-up before I do. My whole working life I've alternated between retailing and admin work, until I got to the stage I was in management fields in both paths. So I took up something slightly different, as a console operator at a Mobil, which I LOVED for two years, until I interviewed for a management position and quit shortly after...
Good luck with the writing career.

Henna @ AboutDivorce Blog said...

you are absolutlety right and the difference is spotted by people only who are experts in themsevles, no tim, sick or harry can do it just by looking at it, a master is a master

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Don Shepard said...

Great blog, I just got done with a graduate teaching assistantship and am supposed to be finishing up my research now. The ones who get all the breaks are the ones who follow all the rules , have no spunk and just generally suck.
Anyway, one in a million people or so, who have a little something really make a good name for themselves and lots of cash. The others watch while less deserving people promote themselves and kiss each other's behinds. I'm happy with my meager writing wages and acadamia can have their childish fighting without me. Even scientists are corrupted to the point that they can be trusted no more than a politician. Rock on!

The Fickle Nickle said...

Does anyone reeeeally know what they want to be when they grow up?? I'm almost thirty, I have a degree, and yet... it's hard for me to subject myself to just 'one' calling. There's a million things I would love to try and get paid for.

PS- I was a waitress for nine years, and people would always ask me when I was going to get a 'real job'? Why is a blue collar job not considered a 'real' job?? I don't get it.

ziCoffee said...

Very interesting article, make me re-review my almost 33 years old of my life :)

Thanks and have a great day there.

Alpha Za said...

DO FINANCE DO FINANCE!

....wait, we all just watched 'Wall Street'

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
2girlsonabench said...

our list of what we wanted to be is strangely similar, without the math...

Keeping time said...

Thanks for the honesty. I sometimes feel pressured by my friends who make loads more than me, but they are miserably "cubicle-d". I'm a low paid teacher but I love what I do, and that counts for something, right?

SkyWaitress said...

I am just like this. I flit from one "true calling" to the next.

Although when I was growing up all I wanted to be was a movie star or a flight attendant. So I guess there's that.

There are about 57 other things I'd like to do too though. Glad to know I'm not the only one who isn't quite "there" yet.

Joe Pereira said...

Your condition is soooooo familiar to me. I'm 50 going on 15 with a to-do-list as long as my arm.
Great writing, keep it up.

Ash's Mom said...

Our educational system here is so screwed up that sometimes I wonder if school makes us all dumberer. ;-p while I agree it does suck that you almost need a degree to get a so-called respectable job, our schools are so full of people trying to jump on that bandwagon that the actual learning experience is diluted. Staff numbers going down while admission goes up, what do we expect? I don't think it matters what you do as long as you enjoy it and you're making an honest living. Who wants a dentist that hates his job coming at your mouth with a drill?? Not me! Same as I don't want the person preparing my food to hate their job either.
Just be careful though. If you find real joy in writing, don't let your livlihood depend on it. Cuz chances are, you'll end up hating it if you do. That would be a shame cuz you have real talent at it.
Truly enjoy reading your stuff. Thanks for being my first blog to follow. :-)

girlweena said...

Get outa my head, girl. Seriously. Congrats on BON status!

mike fox said...

very fun blog you have here! fun to read.

Teen Queen said...

as a teenager they always ask me what i want to be when i grow up, and i have no idea. that was pretty funny.