The ‘American Dream’, or ‘Fairy Tale’

I am a huge fan of learning. I would love to go back to college and study something like Psychology or Economics. I’m fascinated by both and spend a fair amount of my free time reading/listening/watching online content related to both fields. I’ve investigated the costs of going back to school and for me it’s a hard sell. To get a job of any consequence would require at least a master’s degree and the student loans I would have to take out in order to reach that level just aren’t worth. Add to that the time and energy involved. If I really focused and buckled down (which would mean leaving my blog/business/MMA behind) I might be able to finish in 3 years. I say ‘might’ because some Universities may require me to start all over from an Undergraduate Degree, given the fact that my Engineering Degree is more than 15 years old. Whenever I think about it, it just seems more practical to continue working on my business and my craft as a communicator of ideas and attempt to leverage that for greater income over time. What does another 5 years of focused effort into my business produce?

I’ve written about this issue before but now that we are in the Pandemic Era, it begs some revisiting. The number of Podcasts I have listened to where the speculation around remote learning potentially reducing the costs of college has been numerous. But it’s just speculation. Universities still have to pay Faculty and Staff, so in some cases tuition costs may not change much, even if an institution is online. However, that begs the question, if kids/parents will be willing to pay full price (or close to it) for an experience that is not in-person? Also, how motivated will kids be to engage in online learning (which I believe requires much more intrinsic motivation)?

There’s also the issue of wealth gaps. If I’m a kid that comes from a family that has money and lives in a nice neighborhood, then staying at home for distance learning isn’t a bad proposition. I’ve got a nice stable environment to do my learning in. However, let’s say I’m a first generation college student living in a house that has multiple generations under the same roof and my only access to the internet is school or the local library. Distance learning is a lot more difficult for that kid. It’s not impossible but it’s difficult.

Recently, I heard that State Universities in California are looking at letting go of the SAT/ACT scores as factors for determining entrance into school. They’re trying to look at students in different ways to judge merit for college entrance. I really hope that this pandemic causes employers to do the same thing. Degree’s have gotten soooooo expensive and it’s clearly very possible to learn without going to college. As a matter of fact, when I worked as an engineer it could be said that I had to start my learning from scratch. I was working in the Oil and Gas industry. For starters, I had to learn some basics about Thermodynamics. I didn’t need my Electrical Engineering Degree for that. The electrical problems that did arise were often more well suited to being solved by the Electricians that worked in the field. I had a lot of practice in Electrical Theory and they had a lot of practical application, with no degree.

What makes a person fit for a particular job role? What makes a particular product worth the costs being charged for it? I spend lots of time thinking about these questions and how we assign value to things. Why are degrees so valuable to people?

I think that part of the reason that degree’s are in such demand is the fact that they represent a metric. It’s sort of a way to measure whether someone is capable of learning certain types of ideas. Are there are other ways to reflect expertise? I think so. Part of what I try to do by writing every week and, in the past, by creating weekly videos is build my resume. Yes, I’m sharing ideas in efforts to enrich the reader but this also challenges me to learn and practice resilience in my own life. I’m trying to develop expertise on resilience and reflect to the world that I have that knowledge (how one build’s resilience). This goes back to what I was saying earlier, is my time better spent getting another degree or gathering insight through my own business? For me, I’ve already spent 5 years developing my business’s momentum and, though I have doubts at times, I try to think about what happens 5 years from now if I keep putting in the effort.

I think it’s worth pointing out here that we all have ideas about what success is, or is not. We all have ideas about what education is, or is not. We all have ideas about what security is, or is not. For instance, health insurance benefits is something that often gets brought up by people when expressing concern about the time and effort I’m putting into speaking and writing. Not having a full time job means no benefits. However, not having a full time job also means I have time to exercise everyday, eat home-cooked meals everyday, and spend time connecting with people that I love everyday. I’ve only had to see the doctor one time in the last 8 years. Other than that I try to see the dentist once a year for a cleaning appointment. I pay cash. I also brush and floss my teeth daily. I acknowledge that there is risk in not having insurance and I do the best I can to mitigate that risk through lifestyle choices. The question is: Does having insurance automatically mitigate all health risks? Does working that full time job still give you the room and flexibility to take care of your body well and be present in your relationships? The short answer is: it depends.

The reason I bring this up is because the pandemic is making people look at the challenges of life in a different way. I think the idea of The American Dream has convinced many baby-boomers that there is a path in life with no risks. When I was growing up, college was promoted as if there were no downsides to the decision at all. No one bought up the fact that you may not enjoy your major when you start working, your job may not have anything to do with what you learned in school, or you may graduate during an economic downturn and there may only be jobs available that don’t require a college degree. College was this fairy tale that automatically lead to this undefined version of success called The American Dream where you had a good house, job security, healthcare benefits, and a secure retirement. All of the things I just mentioned are either becoming incredibly expensive relative to income or they hardly exist anymore (think retirement pensions).

The point I’m making is that every decision we make comes with trade-offs. I watch so many people with 40 plus hour per week jobs and health care insurance struggle to find the time to even begin taking better care of their bodies, but they have healthcare insurance. Then there are the stories of people who have healthcare insurance and then when something catastrophic happens, the insurance provider won’t cover it. And, some people have massive student loans stacked on top of that (if that’s you, hang in there and put your plan together!). There’s risk to everything. Instead of living in fairy tale land where there is this one magic pathway to this vague definition of success called The American Dream, maybe we need to get real. Maybe we need to start advocating that people imagine the worst case scenario and have a robust contingency plan. We also need to acknowledge that you can’t plan for everything. Surprise challenges are a part of life. That’s why the homepage says ADAPT AND OVERCOME at the top.

Is the Pandemic causing you to think through some significant changes that may need to be made in your life? Were you already thinking of making some significant changes before the Pandemic started? What are the risks of change? What are the risks of staying your current course? (It’s not about me telling you what to do. It’s about you acknowledging the risks of your decisions and thinking about how you can mitigate those risks.)

-Travis

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