30 in 30 Project: Full-Time Office Drone, Part-Time Student

Part of my original plan when I finished my undergraduate degree was to go on to grad school immediately afterward. I wasn't ready to face the "real world" of 8-5, workplace drudgery quite yet, and I really wanted to pursue a Master's degree in English Literature. I didn't want to teach, but I wanted to continue taking English classes. To do what with, I had no idea.

I started doing some research in the fall of my senior year, and I took the GREs. My number one school choice was NYU. Moving to NYC was (and still is) a dream of mine, and NYU has an excellent graduate program in English. Unfortunately, my research turned up the very depressing news that there was no way in hell I could afford to go there (or to any of the other schools I was researching) without taking out a very big loan. I had managed to get through my undergraduate years without student loans, and I decided that I'd need to find another way to get my degree.

And so, I moved to London for five months instead. And upon returning from London, I began looking for a job in publishing. Liberal arts degree in hand. In a small city with a crappy economy. I was a substitute teacher for awhile while looking, and in the process reaffirmed my lifelong belief that I would be the world's worst teacher if I pursued teaching as a career.(Somehow I think school administrators would look down on corporal punishment in the classroom. I have neither the patience nor the tolerance for bullshit that many teachers need these days.)

And three months later, through a connection my fabulous favorite undergraduate English professor made for me, I landed a job as a copy editor at a computer publishing and training company. After about six months there, I was eligible for that company's tuition reimbursement program. The company would pay for my Master's degree...as long as it was related to my job.

So this presented a bit of a challenge. In order to receive the tuition money, I had to write a description of why each class I took was directly related to my job, and how it would help me become a better employee. Now, if the Master's degree I wanted to pursue was in Instructional Design or Technical Writing, then these classes would be a logical extension of my job as a copy editor. But this wasn't the case. My classes had titles such as "20th Century American Writers: Toni Morrison" and "The Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop." Hmmm...

So I summoned up all the powers of bullshit in the land, and somehow concocted masterful descriptions of how doing all the writing required in these classes would make me a much better copy editor, and eventually a good technical writer, which was my chosen career path at this particular company. And much to my surprise, the powers that be at my company approved each and every class... to the tune of several thousand dollars in tuition per class.

I was very lucky to have extremely accomodating managers, and they let me take some of my classes in the middle of the work day. Since the graduate English program at my chosen university was designed as a year-long, full-time program, most of the classes offered were held during the day, and not at night to accomodate those who worked during the day. So I often left work at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, sometimes twice a week, to attend classes. And it was an absolutely incredible experience.

To work full-time in an office environment, no matter how much you claim to love your job (I assume there are people out there who do, although I wouldn't know), at times can suck the very life out of you. There is no free thought (after all, you're working for "the man" and not for yourself), and the cubes and strange co-workers, the non-sensical rules and the lack of creativity allowed is soul-sucking more times than not, or at least it is for me.

But to be able to leave that environment and enter that of a college campus two or three times a week for 3.5 years was liberating. When you're in a college classroom, free thought is encouraged! You get to hear other peoples' unique ideas and they're not shot down in a blaze of glory because they're thinking "too far out of the box." There is no taking discussions "offine," there is no coworker sitting next to you hocking lugees so ferociously that you're considering erecting a tent over your own cube for protection. My graduate student days made me realize that I am not what I happen to get paid to do for a living. I am not my job. My job is what pays my bills, but at my core, I am comprised of thoughts and ideas and beliefs like those I contributed in the classroom. And that's a lesson I'll never forget.

It took my over three years, attending classes part-time, to finish my Master's in English. But when I did, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. However, please don't ask me if I'm acutually using my graduate degree right now because I'll have to lie and say I am. And I don't like to lie. Ever. ;)

4 Responses to “30 in 30 Project: Full-Time Office Drone, Part-Time Student”

  1. # Blogger Shannon

    Oh, and I've certainly using my BA in Linguistics at my jobs: bakery worker, record store assistant manager, and claims adjuster. Heck, even right now, as an unemployed bum, I'm linguisticking *constantly*! With the cats. I'm trying to figure out their language patterns. Ahem.

    I know precisely ONE person that has used her college degree in the actual field of said degree and amazingly, it was in Dance. I was so proud of her just for pulling it off!  

  2. # Blogger kenju

    And I use my BA in English in my job as a wedding florist? Actually, I do. Knowing how to write proposals, spell well and use syntax properly comes in handy. Plus, I think it gives people confidence in me.I may appear more professional than some who have the creative ability, but cannot translate it into words.

    Good for you for going on with you education and finding a way to get part of it paid. My daughter did the same thing with Law School.  

  3. # Blogger Geekwif

    What a great story. I was never so ambitious. I jumped into office work full-time at 17 and didn't go to school at all until I was almost 30. Even then I only got a 2 year diploma at a tech school which now does me no good because of industry changes.

    Ah well, life takes you funny places sometimes and like my husband says, an education is never wasted, even if you are not using it professionally.  

  4. # Blogger Kristi

    Shannon-I think that's a nobel endeavor. Check out the book Dogs of Babel. The main character is a Linguistics guy who tries to teach his dog to talk. It's an excellent book.

    Kenju-I agree. I like to think I have a pretty good vocabulary, which does help me in my job writing technical documents all day long. And good for your daughter! That's fantastic.

    Geekwif-Your husband is exactly right. Education is never a waste, and I think does help us in ways we don't imagine at the time.  

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