A “Just in Case” Education is Not Enough

by Michelle Mooy

When I was 30 the unthinkable happened. My husband died of heart failure. I was a mother of an infant and a 3 year old, and I was a widow.

Luckily, I had my “just in case” education. I would be fine! My two bachelor’s degrees were all I needed to support my kids!

In reality, I’d known for years that my education was stale and basically useless. I had double-majored in biology and English. Do you know what the difference between a person with an English degree and a large pizza is?* Well, people with biology degrees make even less.

I worked before my daughters were born but for various reasons returning to those jobs wasn’t an option (field biology is the best job in the world as long as you don’t need to make more than $10/ hour and can live in Guam). I had earned a great education, but I still didn’t know how to get a job that could support my family.

It was like I’d been told my whole life that I would need a boat in case there was ever a flood, and then the flood came and I sat in my boat without any oars or rudder, drifting away from dry land and no idea how to get back.

Gaining an education is a great start but a degree doesn’t equal employment. Knowing where to look for a job, how to find mentors, how to interview, and developing a network are the missing part of the equation. It’s the part that I was never prepared for, never even thought about.

Growing up I was often asked what my plans were for college by people who clearly assumed I’d be a stay at home mom. I had been raised with a solid belief in the importance of education but never the expectation of a career.

Even college left me unprepared. In all the classes I took–English or biology–I don’t remember a single reference to jobs outside of academia. We worked on our educations like beautiful boats–built sturdy and gleaming hulls and dreamed of sailing into the sunset–without knowing anything about navigation and steering. I’ve literally learned more about the skills I’ll need to find a job by following Aspiring Mormon Women the last few months than I did during two undergraduate degrees.

Luckily, things have worked out well for me, but do I wish I’d been taught to keep my paddles in the bottom of my boat. I could have earned certifications, kept in touch with people working in my area, familiarized myself with local companies in my field, written blog posts, volunteered, attended a conference, kept up on new developments. These pursuits would have sounded completely overwhelming to me when I had a three-month-old baby, but I could have gotten a good start by dedicating even a few days a year to these pursuits. It would have been an immeasurable comfort to know where high ground was located when the water started rising.

I’m grateful for my boat- my education. I love the pursuit of knowledge. And I treasure the time I’ve had at home with my daughters. But I wish I’d kept some oars around. Just in case.


*A large pizza can feed a family of 4.


MichelleMichelle worked as a field  biologist in Guam and taught high school science in New Orleans. She has two children and a wonderful new husband and currently lives and studies in Salt Lake City. 

10 Comments on “A “Just in Case” Education is Not Enough

  1. Michelle- I got a degree in math and had the same experience as you in college: no one mentioned careers outside of academia. I had no clue what to do when I graduation, and I even got one of those “good degrees” that are supposed to feed families. (Spoiler: it doesn’t). Also, I was actively discouraged by my own dad to pursue a master’s degree (“women don’t need master’s degrees since they aren’t providing for a family- you already have a degree ‘just in case'”). I’m currently doing some schooling/job training to make up for these 6 years of SAHMness so I can contribute more to the household income, but like you, I wish the rhetoric had been different. “Just in case” isn’t enough if you don’t know the importance of keeping skills current, networking, etc.

  2. Michelle, Thank you for sharing your story. You make excellent points (and I love the boat analogy). I hope we can change the conversation about what women need to be marketable when they need to (or want to) enter the workforce.

  3. Great post! It was also my experience that the academic environment did not do a great job of preparing me for a non-academic career. It goes beyond finding and landing the job, too–it took me a while to really figure out the culture and expectations of a professional, non-academic position. The happy surprise, though, upon figuring out what the work world is like, is to find that there are so many interesting opportunities–much more than I could have imagined as a student!

  4. I have a degree in English and I am loaded… with ideas on how to make money. This is an excellent article and one I plan on sharing with my daughter and YW. The “just in case” mentality altogether is stale and archaic. I would never suggest that all YW need to work, but all need to plan on working. Even after they marry their millionaire-doctor-husband. Keep planning on working always. I’ve kept my resume fairly current with odd jobs and consistently tell people that I am a content developer and copy-editor. Not because being a SAHM isn’t enough, but because word of mouth and self-promotion has consistently brought me freelance work. And kept me confident in my abilities.

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m currently 24 and getting my master’s degree. I’m married, but no kiddos yet. I’ve sometimes got the “Why are you going back for more schooling?” impression from other people, but honestly it’s been a goal of mine since I was in high school. Thank you for confirming my belief in myself that I shouldn’t just wait around for someone to take care of me! There are SO many circumstances that can lead to a mother working to either completely support or help to provide for her family. We definitely need to change this conversation!

  6. With a Master’s degree in Human Resources and now 15 years of professional experience, I COMPLETELY agree with the analogy of the “oars in the bottom of the boat”!

    There have been several times over the years where I’ve tried to help once-SAHM’s find work and though they have a ” beautiful boat”, they lack the skills required to work in a professional environment beyond an entry-level job. They have spent their time doing great work raising a family and have patience, compassion, and grit beyond other candidates. That’s hard to write into a resume as they try to enter an environment for which they are not prepared.

    Volunteering in a local chapter of your national society or association (whatever your field) once a month will do more to keep you connected and current than some of the other activities I see on the rough draft resumes I review.

    Yes, that monthly assignment might seem overwhelming (I now have one child and get how that that might feel), but it is absolutely worthwhile from a networking and currency standpoint.

    I hope women everywhere balance “keeping their oars” handy with the less-practical, though rewarding, “girls’ nights” and “kids-free girlfriend activities” that can be so prevalent the SAHM society I’ve observed from the outside for so many years.

  7. This is a conversation that needs to be had in families with all of our children. Yes girls are the hardest hit frequently, but we all too often fall victim to the prevailing mindset that going to college and getting degree will head you in the right direction. I have two bachelor degrees as well as a masters. I loved my time in school and learned a lot but far too often I met kids who were in college for the experience. Accruing tens of thousands of dollars of debt for the experience is the worst thing to do. Have a plan, have a skill, get a job and learn what you like and don’t like. I loved this post and I love the message I was one of those “education just in case” girls. Didn’t get married until I was 32 and then fell in love with a police officer (it is insulting how little law enforcement gets paid) so I have never been able to be a stay at home mom. Yes I have been fortunate that I have so far been able to find employment, but I can’t tell you the number of times I wish I had a “skill” or had kept up on my fields of study. Well said, thank you. Preach on!

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