Really? Just the 2 options? I’ve done both and neither one served me all that well. 

College was a blast: late nights, some study and an escape to Costa Rica with most of the semester’s financial aid. When I finally graduated (I was on the 5 year plan), I was $35,000 dollars in debt only to use the degree for a string of bartending jobs that paid better than my later career did.  Bartending was also a hell of a lot more fun. 

Then came grad school with the promise of more prestige and more money.  What really happened was a minuscule increase in pay – not enough to cover the increased debt I had accumulated.  Oh, and I found my way into a middle management job I hated, and more debt to add to my tab.

Why do we keep telling kids over and over to go to college and/or get a career? We know college isn’t worth it.  Seriously, college isn’t worth the money. And why would you spend time acquiring a career only to work for someone who doesn’t respect you or appreciate your talents?  

Unless you go to work for Google, you will be told in one way or another, “Draw inside the lines, we don’t need and square pegs in round holes in this organization.

We push the same old thing year after year.

We still try to sell it to our kids even though we know it’s an archaic notion – stay in a job for 25-30 years and you can be happy when you retire.  It’s a grim circumstance at best; and we all know it.

Those of us in the machine every day secretly fantasize about breaking free and doing something else, something amazing: a bakery, a bookstore, a Tiki bar, a paddle board rental business on the beach, a small accounting business helping non profits.  Or maybe we imagine something beyond our current realm of understanding: an app, a system, a possibility only we can create.  Or maybe it’s nothing; maybe we dream of living life day by day and see where it all takes us. 

When students vocalize these same dreams we say, “Get your head out of the clouds, kid.  Check the box: College or Career. Both if you’re lucky.”

We choose for them and then complain they can’t think for themselves.  Goddamn kids don’t know how to think!

To that I say the same thing I used to tell teachers complaining about the fact that all their students  were failing – if most of your class is failing, that’s on you as their teacher, not on the students.  You need to motivate, inspire and help students want to be in class and achieve.  That’s your job.  Similarly, if the majority of our kids can’t think for themselves, that’s on us – our society – for turning them into college and career-ready drones instead of motivating and inspiring them to create their own destiny.

We revere dreamers but we do not cultivate them.

Why in this country – one that prides itself on freedom, choice, capitalism, and the American Dream (you can thank Fanny Mae for that little number) – would leaders, teachers, and parents tell its most creative, innovative, inspired citizens to check only two boxes: college and career?

Why do we read the Steve Jobs biography, only to put the book back on the shelf and take our place in line hoping we get picked for something better? As if waiting to be picked is a good use of  time. 

And because we are miserable in our choices we push that same misery on our kids.  We do this when they are at their best most fearless selves – getting ready to graduate high school. 

Just because someone squashed our dreams as kids doesn’t mean we should pay it forward and smack down the ideas of our youth. 

Change the reality; change the circumstance.

To students I say, there is more to life than college and career.  In fact, life happens in between and after college and career. Live your life and if you long for college and/or career, then go for it.  But if you long to create something that wasn’t there before from a crazy idea someone told you wouldn’t work, do it.  Do the thing you want to do. And then do another, and another.  

If any students out there are reading this, for the love of god, don’t listen to the soul suckers and naysayers.  Get our there and change your reality.  Change it for all of us.


4 Responses

  1. Carla Johnson

    I feel the same way. When I use my creativity and actually apply what I learned in college, I get reprimanded at work. I’m a third grade teacher, and god forbid, I deviate from the CC$$ aligned math textbook and actually teach a student a quick simple method to solve a math problem like carrying and borrowing, instead of teaching them 5 other frustrating and complicated methods to get the to the same math problem wrong . So now, I’m writing book and hopefully it will be translated into Japanese and become new and innovative teaching strategy over there.

    There’s a poster at a school where I used to teach that said, “if you want to predict your future invent it.” So hopefully people like you and me will come up with innovative ideas and get out of this conformity mess. I’m happy there are people like you who are brave enough to write about your problems finding where you belong in the world after college. Many people are not risk takers and not brave enough to do so.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Carla. I agree with you, quick and easy is much better, in most cases, than time consuming and arduous. I am so excited to hear you are writing a book and even translating it into Japanese! Now that is choosing your own path and destiny, and definitely deviating from the two check boxes mentioned in the article. Glad you’re here, Carla.

  2. Suzan Harden

    I love the last two sentences in this essay. We don’t cultivate innovators in schools because innovators are scary people. With all their questions, theories, and ideas! OMG, make them go away! And if they won’t go away, oppress, oppress until you shut them up. Belittle, berate, criticize! Call it “leadership.” But, SURPRISE! The innovators don’t go away. They have such a strong center, they KNOW they’re right and no one is going to convince them otherwise. And here’s the best part–they ALWAYS prevail! (Otherwise, we would still be living in caves.) Here’s to innovation–and the teachers brave enough to do it every day!

    • Kathleen Jasper

      You are right Suzan, innovators are scar because they dare to get out of the machine and challenge the regular way of thinking. I sure hope I cultivate an innovator in my daughter. The last thing I want is her to become a compliant drone. Thanks for being here :)


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