For the last few months, I have been sitting around thinking about what I am supposed to do next. Next…after what? Like I told my husband last night, I like having things to look forward to. I am undoubtedly looking forward to graduating from college in December but this only leaves me with approximately 8-9 months to come up with a plan for what to do next. I like having a plan.
There has been a quiet but manageable voice in the back of my head for months, maybe even years, telling me that I have fallen behind in this blasted life timeline. Actually, I fell behind a long time ago. The career path I chose when I left my teens and entered adulthood didn’t require a college degree. Conveniently back then, there were occupational ladders that I could climb based on merit, hard work, dedication, and just being damn good at what I did, and I was already climbing it. I earned two promotions within a few years and gained experience in almost every facet of the business. Then I had a baby and became a single mother, which wasn’t part of the plan. Suddenly, I wasn’t available in the middle of the night to relieve my sick auditor or to fill in for the exhausted college student who needed to cram for exams. I couldn’t work on holidays when daycare was closed or when my infant was vomiting for three days straight because of a milk allergy.
So I had to walk away from that career after trying really hard to make it work. I failed, and that’s okay. But I fell behind because I didn’t have a “what’s next?” plan.
I picked up Monday through Friday jobs that paid well enough to keep me afloat, that allowed for time off so I could attend a preschool sing-along ceremony or take my daughter, and even myself, to the doctor. I had health insurance, a schedule, and a supportive work family who believed children should be everyone’s priority. I didn’t get serious about a college degree until 2008 when I started to realize there was no occupational ladder for me to climb. A secretary’s desk rarely comes equipped with an occupational ladder and after so many years of being a secretary, people start to treat you like you’ll never be anything more than a secretary. That is what bothered me the most. So I finally came up with a plan.
And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years – working on a college degree that I hope will allow me to be more than somebody’s secretary. That will soon be over, though, and I will actually have a bachelor’s degree with my name on it by the end of this year! But then what? What am I going to do next?
Because, let’s face it: I’m in my mid-thirties and while I am proud of myself for making it this far in my education, I’m not special. A bachelor’s degree does not make me special. Teenagers begin this process all the time. I suspect most of them finish it, too. That’s my competition, twenty-two year olds who have had the time and the opportunities to do what I never had the time or the opportunities to do. I’m playing catch-up now.
Are any of you in this position or have you found yourself in this pickle but already pulled yourself out of it? Have your age or personal and family responsibilities held you back from pursuing these opportunities or have these factors encouraged you to go forward? Regardless of circumstances, do you find your years of hands-on experience competing against the younger set of educated graduates who have no experience? I’m still in the process of deciding what to do next, although I’m fairly confident that my choice of a master’s degree will be specialized enough to make me…well, special. It says so right there in the word itself: specialized!
My biggest concern is that the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. Everybody’s got one, right? What are your thoughts on going to the next level, pursuing a master’s degree in this economy? While I’m not terribly worried about the student debt (I’ve had legal bills higher than some student loans), I do want to make sure that I am armed with just as much education, if not more, as these newer and younger college graduates, regardless of the specialty. I want to get back into the workforce and I need to make a plan.