Go Ahead, Finish College — Please

I spent the first decade of my adult life experimenting with various game plans in hopes of striking one that would lead to financial freedom and happiness. My inspiration was success and entrepreneurial books, starting with Brian Tracy’s Million Dollar Habits. Tracy opened my eyes to the mindsets of the world’s most successful and wealthy people. I later read Robert Kiyosaki’s well-known and inspirational, entrepreneurship-promoting Rich Dad Poor Dad. There is nothing wrong with either of these books or the many similar works I’ve read since. However, one must consider their specific situation before attempting to apply the principles and ideas promoted in such books, particularly with concern to entrepreneurial ventures.

I was roughly twenty five years old when I read Million Dollar Habits. By this time, my post-high school plans had been ruined; having gone straight to the Air Force after graduating, then being dismissed because of a history of depression from when I was a teen — a condition that partly led to my pregnancy at age sixteen. The college funds and the financial security I planned on having vanished with my military separation. At nineteen, I was the frowned upon and ill-favored young single mom.  I began a self-improvement phase, reading Brian Tracy’s Million Dollar Habits in 2008. This book injected me with ideas and inspiration that I had never had exposure to previous. Tracy encourages readers to find what they love and pursuit it; success results from commitment, commitment is easy when doing something you love. Tracy is also an advocate of higher education, and shared his story of finishing high school and college as a non-traditional student. I enrolled in college upon completion of Million Dollar Habits. But, soon, circumstances brought me and my son to near-homelessness. After renting a room from a married woman who lived with her daughter, brother, and occasionally her estranged husband — very awkward, I found myself living with my mother again. I read Rich Dad Poor Dad at this time, and learned entrepreneurial secrets, as well as had my first introduction to the realm of investing.  I was inspired. With my initial life plan gone with the Air Force, I made a new plan: entrepreneurship.

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Years passed with me under the impression that I could become a business success. As Brian Tracy advises in Million Dollar Habits, I experimented with things that I love and things that I’m good at. My first venture was personal training. While in the Air Force, I was awarded Top Physical Readiness Trainee and Warhawk for fitness excellence. After my dismissal, I became a personal trainer; initially obtaining the certification for my own knowledge. I was a fitness nerd and an effective trainer. But whether I trained people at a large, well-know gym or as a freelancer or over the internet, the pay was not a living wage. My second entrepreneurial attempt was as a web designer. In high school I studied computer technology. Then, post-Air Force, I obtained a technical diploma in Computer Networking and web development. Too bad that diploma was from a useless for-profit, vocational “college” (beware of those). Web design was a legitimate and lucrative business venture for a time. But by 2013, the death of the well-paid freelance web designer was imminent. I then turned to a family business, but funding and personnel were a constant issue. Before completely calling it quits, I did fitness modeling and attempted to build a fitness dating website designed to compete with FitnessSingles.com. Multiple factors contributed to the failures of these two ventures. In 2015, reality at last checked in with me. I found that pursuing Real Estate investing or any of the other suggested ventures that can be found in the pages of a book like Rich Dad Poor Dad, are doomed to fail if one lacks the skills and resources to pursue them. With consideration of my circumstances, and greater observance of the social stratification around me, I knew that without a college degree I’d always be the lowest on the totem pole at every job. This reality led me to start writing fiction — I needed an alternate reality. But I also needed to pay the bills. At thirty years old, following my entrepreneurial stints and multiple low wage jobs, I re-enrolled in college.

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Pursuing college was not in the vernacular of my upbringing. Out of five kids in my family, one of my siblings holds a degree. I always planned on going to college after enlisting in the Air Force. But, because I have so many interests, I didn’t know what to study. I figured I’d not rush into it. This decision, perhaps, put the nail in my pocketbook, so to speak, and began a cycle of financial struggle. People often measure one’s worth by how much they earn, where they live, what they drive — what they can afford. When you’re down, as I was, and still am (financially), no matter what your situation is, many people may frown upon you and think little of your abilities, even your level of intelligence. They lack respect for those who can’t show their success in some monetary fashion. I’ve been on the receiving end of this lack of respect. While having the respect of others is nice, no one has control over the opinions of others. My push for a higher income is purely for my own benefit, as a parent and for my future.

So, I’ve been a slow starter. As a child of a low income family, I learned that the poor often pass on the tradition of poverty. The developmental years of a poor child are often not spent on preparing them for a successful adulthood. Instead, what’s provided are the basics of survival: food, if there’s enough money; housing, if rent is paid on time; and basic education, which is mandated by law. The middle and upper classes, conversely, pass on tools for success to their children: quality education, enrollment in sports and activities aimed at developing confidence and unlocking skills and gifts a child might have, and higher education, deemed mandatory by the parents.

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My family tree is as old and extensive as the next guy’s or gal’s. However, as a child of the lower class, an education on how to prosper in life was not passed down from elders, but was learned from scratch, through many struggles, year after year, experienced as an adult and young mom. I knew that I needed a better tool for success and happiness than a low-wage job. The most basic tool for any adult in the free world is a college education.

According to Tiffany Hsu of LA Times, the average degree holder can earn 84% (approx. $3.3 million dollars) more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma or GED. Supposing I don’t die in a freak accident, or of a virus, or some other surprise ailment, I can confidently guess that I have at least another thirty more years to live. Continuing another three decades as a low-wage earner who cannot provide for her child — whether underage, college age, and beyond; being unable to go on vacations, for fear of being fired upon returning to work; being unable to cover monthly expenses; and being unable to afford a home completely on my own, is simply unacceptable. I’d rather $3.3 million dollars more over my lifetime than the $30k maximum annual salary I’ve earned over the past ten years.

So I’m back in college. I started in 2009, and I’m finally finishing this time. No matter your age, I encourage anyone who is struggling day to day financially to pursue higher education. Motivational speaker Les Brown says it best, and simply, in the following paraphrased excerpt from his “Get Hungry” speech.

Woman says, “I want to go to law school, but It will take seven years to finish.”

Les brown’s response, “How old will you be in seven years if you don’t go to law school?”

Mr. Brown makes a no-brainer point in the short sentence above. No one has time to waste. We have to go after what we want. In this post I wrote about my wasted years; my mistakes — without using that word blatantly. But, I no longer see mistakes. Brian Tracy affirms, as many personal success experts do, that there are no mistakes in life, only lessons. I’ve learned my lesson. I hope you do too. If you’re hesitant about going back to college for any reason, do it. If you value your future and your past has been nothing but a struggle, do it. Give yourself that extra tool. It’s an investment in your future.

Sources:

College graduates earn 84% more than high school grads, study says:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/08/college-gradutates-pay.html

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