Why Not?: Your Education Needs No Justification

Image shows school girls with their instructors outside a classroom in the mining town of Bingham Canyon, Utah.

by Holly

I read a great blog post the other day by a stay-at-home mother who was feeling pressured to justify her rather expensive, now “wasted” Ivy League education. I forwarded the link to a friend, and her response was immediate and direct—“I really just wish we lived in a world where women didn’t have to justify their educations regardless of their choices.”

Touché.

I’ve got a bit of a hard head, and over the years the Lord has often had to speak LOUDLY for me to hear. With not quite two years of experience post-baccalaureate under my belt, the graduate chair at my alma mater approached me with an invitation to come back to school for a master’s degree. Looking back, I’m not really sure how it all happened, but I know there was a Divine helping hand in there.

I listened. And I went back.

Over the next few years, my professors and dear friends in the program helped shuffle me along the path to graduation. Multiple times I declared my decision to drop out, feeling overwhelmed or miserably short of the task. But somehow I kept plugging away, due in part to a note I kept in my planner that my mentor and professor had written to me early on:

“In terms of your personal journey, I can only tell you that whatever you do later, you were meant to be here now. I flexed all the rules when I invited you to be with us … I did it because I was hit like a ton of bricks with the message to invite you.”

Several years later, ready to drop out, suffering from shingles, and facing the final deadline before expulsion from the University Graduate School, I listened with a stony expression as my mother—in a fit of weeping—told me how strongly she felt I was supposed to finish. Weeping, that is, because she didn’t actually WANT to tell me, fearing it was not her place, but feeling inspired to do so nonetheless.

Well, less inspired and more compelled.

In short, God made it pretty clear—from outside sources—that He wanted me at school, earning that degree. And along with a slew of other experiences along the way, I knew—on the inside—that grad school was the right choice for me.

As is often the case when we’re “supposed” to do something, I’ve spent the six years since trying to figure out why.

Was it for the people I met in the program? Some of my dear friends from grad school have literally changed the course of my life, and we often joke that the only worthwhile thing we got out of grad school was each other.

Was it for the framed piece of paper hanging on my wall, currently half-buried under taped-up drawings by my husband and step-children?

Was it a necessary stepping-stone to my Ph.D.? If so, that failed miserably when I chose my (now) husband’s proposal of marriage over acceptance into my chosen doctorate program (which, in another delightful coincidence, arrived the same weekend).

Was it for my future career? I surely wanted to be a university teacher, and delighted in the chance to teach night classes at my alma mater … until I moved 800 miles away. Now I work for peanuts, recruiting students to higher education—no master’s needed.

Was it to attract my husband who, reviewing me on eHarmony (don’t you judge), was intensely interested by the fact I had the same level of education as he?

Was it just to prove to myself that I could do something hard?

Why, oh why, would God want me to go back to school and earn that blasted degree?

Then again—why, oh why, do I feel a need to justify one of the best things I ever did for myself?

I work an average job out of my home office in rural Oregon. A master’s degree certainly doesn’t make mowing the lawn any less tedious; or ease the annoyance of cleaning the kitchen for the zillionth time; or help when I have to muck out the chicken coop or chase the ducks into the garden. It doesn’t make organizing projects or shooting off emails at my current job any more thrilling; nor do I ponder on it when I go visiting teaching or prepare my Gospel Doctrine lesson. It’s not there when I talk to my family or my friends; it doesn’t increase ability or satisfaction or—quite honestly—brain power. It hasn’t changed the warp and woof of my daily life in the least.

But it has changed the warp and woof of me.

On Monday as I dug a trench for the new dog kennel, I found myself discussing possible could-have-been dissertation topics with my sweetheart, musing on the formation of social bonds between women in ward settings and the affect of similar life circumstances on those bonds. When I run across academic articles in the course of work-related research, the overblown style and excessive vocabulary of academia don’t intimidate me. Sometimes when I find myself facing a hard task, I remind myself that I’ve done harder. And occasionally, when I dream about my future and wonder what the next 40 years hold, I see myself in a college classroom, Ph.D. under my belt, teaching—finally doing the one thing I’m passionate about. I’m not sure any of those reasons were what God had in mind when He encouraged me to earn a master’s degree, but I do know that He encouraged me. And I do know that I’m a changed person because of it. And both He and I are pretty happy about it.

Lesson learned? Maybe you’ll never understand exactly why a college degree (or a certain job, or anything else He’d have you do), will benefit you, and perhaps you’ll feel a need to justify your education to someone else, or even yourself. But it might be wiser to spend less time trying to figure out “the why,” and more time just dwelling in “the do.”

8 Comments on “Why Not?: Your Education Needs No Justification

  1. Oh boy, I loved this! And I have conflicted feelings on it. In principle, I love this idea. Get an education because you want to, for the sake of getting one. But in practice, it’s a lot harder to drop the cash with so little justification. I’ve told my husband that I know it would be worth my time, but I’m unsure if it would be worth my money (ROI).

    But at what point do I just say, “It’s worth my money because it’s something I want badly enough”? I know I will go back, I’m just unsure of at what point I will be able to say that bit confidently, without justification. I’m hoping soon!

    • Thanks, Celeste! I totally know what you mean about the ROI. Both my husband and I WANT to get our Ph.D.s, but at this point, it would be a terrible decision for either of us. I guess there will always be that dividing line between the things we want to do for ourselves, and the things God wants us to do, (and figuring what to do with the former, and how to best do the latter ASAP! 🙂

  2. ….so I think you have a lot of great things to say. But, I have a bit of a counter-argument. Education is important, but I don’t think you can say it is the most important thing, no matter what the cost. In reality, education is expensive and you need to think seriously about the money you are going to spend and if it really the best option for you. I have seen people financially devastated (at times for many years) by costly education choices. I think cost needs to be part of the equation (unless you have the luxury of unlimited funds).

    • I have to agree with Christanne. If I were to quit my job, take out a $100,000 loan and bike/travel around the world for a year or two, at the end of that travel time I would have had a great experience and personal fulfillment. However I would also return and get a similar paying job to the one I quit and struggle to pay off the loan for years and years. I would be hard pressed to think it is worth it although others may think it is.

      I also think about a gender swap on this. Picture a middle-aged man with a family quitting his job and taking out debt to go back to school to get a masters degree in Latin literature (meaning an interest he has as opposed to a professional enhancement), he is going to have to justify that decision to his wife and himself before he does it. I see nothing wrong with being forced to justify big financial decisions to ourselves and those our decisions effect even when it comes to education.

      • Christanne & David–thanks for your replies! I think you both have a good point, and I think maybe I wasn’t terribly clear in my post. I don’t mean that education is the most important thing, and certainly not something to pursue if your financial situation doesn’t allow for it. At the time I went back to school, I was single and it was financially sensible. I worked my way through school and graduated without incurring any debt. I think the point I was trying to make was more along the lines of listening to what God would have you do–even when it’s entirely unexpected–and choosing to follow his path (in my case, earning a master’s degree) without trying to divine a reason for it. I think we often look for reasons in the circumstances God has blessed us with, and I believe that often we can’t make sense of them with our shortsighted perspective. For me, earning a master’s degree changed me fundamentally–as a person. But I spent a lot of time trying to guess at why God would want me to do that before realizing that I didn’t need to understand His ultimate purpose or plan for me in order to appreciate it.

  3. My husband and I had our first “date” when he made me dinner and helped me study for a graduate school entrance exam that I was worried about. After we had been married for a few months and our relationship was rocky – to say the least – he questioned why I was continuing to pursue my degree because I obviously wouldn’t need to further my career now that I was married. Maybe I only felt prompted to pursue it so that we would have the opportunity to get together. Ha. Ha ha. (That’s one of the many things that some great counseling helped us resolve…still very happily married eight years later by the way.) I used my graduate degree as a teacher for a few years before staying home with kids, but working for that degree and the experience that I got as a result of it have vastly changed my view of myself and my hopes for my future self. Sometimes the reason why is for our growth as a person rather than changes we’ll make in the outside world.

    • AMEN AND AMEN, Emily! That’s exactly it. I could erase my entire blog post, and replace it with that line, “Sometimes the reason why is for our growth as a person rather than changes we’ll make in the outside world.”

      You, however, get the happy chance to perpetuate the changes in your own self as you raise those kiddies of yours. And that, ultimately, WILL change the world.

      • Thanks, Holly! I’m in the thick of little people with a 4-yr-old and a 17-mo-old. Right now they’re good with getting loved on, played with, and fed regularly. Whether or not I have a certain level of education doesn’t matter to them – it only matters what kind of person I am, and if I’m a better and more dedicated person because of my education, then it’s serving me well for the time being.

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