In recent videos, I shared that I completed my master’s degree at the end of 2020 and applied to a PhD program. I shared these things not to sound fancy, but simply because these endeavours have become part of my life story, which I’m writing about in a book.
The Narrative Inquiry Method
Interestingly, one of my master’s supervisors shared with me that writing a life story is a form of research called narrative inquiry, so I’ve been actively reading about how we shape our identities and tell our life stories using narratives.
I’m currently reading two helpful books: Narrative Inquiry by Jean Clandinin & Michael Connelly and the stories we live by by Dan McAdams. This research is helping me organize my thoughts in writing my own book.
Kicked Out of High School
So, while I now have a couple of degrees, getting an education didn’t come easy for me. In fact, I was kicked out of high school for truancy two weeks before my 16th birthday.
Although truancy implies I didn’t have a good reason, I actually did have a good reason, which I’ll talk about in my book. It wasn’t until I was almost 18 years old that I went back and finished high school. I graduated high school a few months before I turned 20 years old.
A Late Start with University Studies
And it wasn’t until I was 34 years old that I pursued a university degree, and that took me six years to complete. I graduated from university at 40 years old with a bachelor of science in psychology. At that time, I honestly thought I was done with school.
But working in the field of post-secondary education, I quickly learned that I wouldn’t be able to get very far with only (insert air quotes) a bachelor’s degree. That’s mainly because I was pursuing a full-time teaching position, which requires a master’s degree to teach full-time at a community college level. So, I signed up for one. That endeavour took me an additional 4 years!
I took longer to complete both of my degrees for a couple of reasons. One, I was enrolled as a part-time student in both cases. Two, being a mature student presents unique challenges for people, for example, trying to balance school work with raising children or managing job responsibilities – these can sometimes delay the process.
Ultimately, there’s no rush.
The Role of Parents
So why did the education narrative of my life story start off so tenuous?
First of all, neither of my parents completed high school, which wasn’t uncommon back in the 60s with the Baby Boomer generation. Lots of people married their high school sweethearts and started families right out of high school.
So they didn’t really push education maybe because they didn’t have that experience themselves. However, my mom is very intelligent and well-read and I have no doubt she would have earned multiple degrees if her life took a different course.
The Role of Religion
Another reason it took me so long to pursue a post-secondary education was that getting a formal education was strongly discouraged by the religious organization I was raised in.
Some of you may have watched the video I posted about my upbringing and about being shunned by my father for over 20 years. Sharing that narrative was difficult to do but was healing, too. And it led me to start researching the history and practices of my upbringing, which, to be honest, I’ve tried to forget.
Most recently, I read The Reluctant Apostate by Lloyd Evans – an extremely well researched and credible book. And I am now reading Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, which is a first-hand account of the inner workings of the organization told from the perspective of a member of the governing body – which is kind of like their board of directors.
Both authors used a narrative inquiry approach to share their life stories and experiences. So this is helping me with how to organize my own book. I’d highly recommend both.
I came across a video documentary on Lloyd Evans YouTube channel, which slapped me in the face with a reminder as to why my education narrative is sketchy, to say the least. This video clip was taken from the organization’s evangelical broadcasting program and the speaker is one of the governing body of the organization.
The better the university, the greater the danger.Tony Morris
The speaker is heard to say, “I have long said, the better the university, the greater the danger. The most intelligent and eloquent professors will be trying to reshape the thinking of your child, and their influence can be tremendous.”
This message appears to suggest that intelligent and eloquent professors are somehow a dangerous influence.
When I watched this clip, I had to pause the video. I stared off into space in disbelief and questioned if I actually heard what he said correctly. It was a head-scratcher, for sure.
So as not to digress down a rabbit hole of just how preposterous, and quite frankly, embarrassing, his words are, I’m just going to leave that right there for you to digest in your own way.
But for me, what he said was illuminating for my own narrative.
Beware the Critical Thinker
Furthering my education was never encouraged by my parents because they were being influenced and indoctrinated by an organization that promoted the “dangers of university.”
Essentially, the dangers of their children becoming critical thinkers who may start questioning the beliefs and teachings of the organization.
Attention High School Teachers
It may also be enlightening to some of you who are high school educators who have a student who is a member of this organization. Perhaps you see immense potential in them and have encouraged them to apply to universities or for college programs.
Perhaps they have politely declined or given you some excuse as to why they won’t apply. No doubt, there are some students who have internalized the belief that university is ‘dangerous’ – but I guarantee you, there are some that desperately want to apply but are forbidden to. And they’re too embarrassed to tell you the reason why they won’t be applying.
And unfortunately, acting against the organization’s code of conduct may come with severe consequences such as the potential of being marked in the organization as someone other members should not associate or socialize with, or worse, being completely shunned.
Learn Protective Life Skills
As someone who had already been shunned, there was nothing stopping me from pursuing a university degree. It took several years after I left that organization before I decided to go back to school, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
In fact, in my 2016 video resume, I share why the degree meant so much to me.
So, I learned the importance of perseverance, commitment, a positive attitude, and self-confidence. I’d say those benefits were reinforced through completing my master’s degree, too. It could be said that what I learned were protective life skills – I fail to see the danger in that.
What Education Doesn’t Get You – and What it Does
Ultimately, further education doesn’t guarantee you a job. By that I mean there isn’t an employer waiting at the other end of the stage at your convocation to take you to your shiny new position.
So, your motivation for advancing your education can’t be only extrinsic.
You need to do it for the intangibles that help you grow as a person.
You need to do it for who you can help with what you’re learning. And who you help – includes yourself.
There are so many rich experiences gained through attending university or college.
Your mind is opened to new ideas and experiences, and you’re often intellectually stimulated and challenged.
There is also the community that you become a part of. Not only do you make lasting friendships with peers who sometimes even become your business associates, but you also create relationships with professors who become a valuable resource when searching for positions in your career. They can recommend you to industry leaders and they can also serve as a job reference. Sometimes, they even become friends.
There are several other benefits to formal education, like a higher earning potential, but the specific benefits will be unique to each individual.
Sometimes, even just experiencing the challenge of finishing a degree is satisfaction enough. You may even decide you want nothing to do with the industry you just invested four years of your life preparing for. That’s ok. It’s all part of the learning experience. And often, employers just want to see that you finished a degree – sometimes, any degree will do.
It’s Never Too Late
I sound like I’m plugging post-secondary education here – and I guess I am – but what I want to make clear is if you are reading this post and wishing that you could go back to school, whether it’s to finish high school or to get a college diploma or a university degree, it’s never too late. I was 40 when I completed my bachelor’s degree and 50 when I completed my masters.
Even if you’re currently part of an organization or family that’s holding you back or doesn’t support your goals – you may need to patiently wait until the time is right for you.
And patiently waiting doesn’t imply inaction. While you’re waiting, you can be researching schools and programs and perhaps funding options such as bursaries, scholarships, and student loans to help you with your tuition and living expenses.
You will also want to get your hands on a copy of any of your existing transcripts, and perhaps your English language certificate if you have one, which you’ll need for your application.
Bottom line, just know that it’s never too late to go back to school. When you’re ready, the school you choose will be ready to sign you up.
Be prepared to develop resilience by working really hard, perhaps suffering a little, maybe even being broke and tired, but you’ll learn so much about yourself, and you’ll gain the confidence and skills to take you into the next phase of your life’s narrative.
Thanks for reading. B Positive!
Is resilience the same thing as not quitting? Would people who don’t quit be classified as resilient people?
Recently, I was organizing the files on my computer, and I came across a document I created with notes from the book The Dip by Seth Godin. I recall reading and rereading this book – well, actually repeatedly listening to the audiobook – at a time when I was trying to decide whether or not to quit my master’s program.
Why on earth was I entertaining the possibility of quitting my masters? Well, what it really came down to was that I couldn’t afford the tuition. I had already completed all of the coursework and had completed the research for my thesis – I was just beginning to write the chapters at that point. But, I didn’t have the money to pay for my tuition. So, before hunkering down to write the thesis, I had to make a decision, and the points from this book really helped.
The Dip introduces three curves we can consider when making a decision to quit an endeavour or stick it out.
One of the curves is called The Cliff. Sometimes, the only logical decision a person can make is to quit – especially in cases where the likely outcome of continuing on a course of action will be falling off a cliff – when you stand to lose everything. The example he uses is choosing whether to quit smoking or not.
Another curve is called The Culdesac. This is a curve where you go round and round but don’t make any progress – don’t make any forward momentum. Sometimes, we stay stuck in culdesac endeavours instead of quitting out of fear of the unknown or even out of pride – or even complacency. An example of this is staying in a dead-end job or relationship. Something tells us that we’re not making progress, but maybe fear holds us back from making a change.
The third curve is The Dip. The dip represents the tough times people go through during an endeavour. This is where the hard work and effort live. He highlights how common it is for people to quit at this stage of the endeavour because the project has stopped being fun and exciting.
So when we start a project or relationship, and at one point or another, we are faced with these three curves: the cliff – our endeavour is heading for a crash landing; the culdesac – our endeavour is just taking us in circles; or the dip – the new car smell of our endeavour has worn off and now we’re just stuck with the maintenance and gas expenses.
In each of these situations, we may want to quit what we’re doing. Seth Godin presents us with three questions to ask ourselves before deciding to quit.
Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Quitting
- Am I panicking? We may be experiencing pressure so quitting may relieve that pressure, but is it the right thing to do?
- One point he made here really resonated with me. He said, “When the pressure is greatest to compromise, to drop out or to settle, your desire to quit should be at its lowest.” This applied to me. I really didn’t want to quit. My desire to quit was at its lowest.
- Who am I trying to influence? Are you trying to influence a person or industry or market?
- If you’re unsuccessfully trying to influence one person – maybe you’re persistent romantic efforts have gone unreciprocated – quitting those efforts may be the only logical choice. On the other hand, if you’re, say, seeking employment and have experienced a lot of rejection, expanding your efforts might be a better choice than quitting. It may just be a matter of time before your resume comes across the desk of the right person – a person who has no idea who you are right now.
- What type of measurable progress am I making? Before quitting your endeavour, ask yourself, are you in fact making progress – even if the progress is small.
If you find yourself in a dip, you’re trudging through the weight of an endeavour, he suggests asking yourself the question:
Is the pain of the dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel?
For example, if the light at the end of the tunnel is receiving your college diploma, is the pain of attending classes and doing your assignments worth it?
And when it comes to quitting, he suggests:
Never quit something with long term potential just because you can’t cope with the stress of the moment.
And while you may quit trying to influence one person, don’t quit trying to influence a market or strategy or niche
Have You Reached a Deadend?
On the other hand, recognize when there isn’t actually any light at the end of the tunnel.
If you realize your efforts have reached a dead-end, compared to what you could be investing your time in, quitting is smart.
He even introduces the concept of strategic quitting – having a quitting plan. Before you start a project, decide at which point you’ll call it quits if you’re not making progress.
So to answer the question – is resilience the same thing as not quitting? The answer is, no. Sometimes quitting something is the only logical choice. Perhaps facing the adversity of having to make such a choice could imply that in some cases, it takes resilience to quit, and in other cases, it takes resilience to stick with something.
Ultimately, I stuck with my masters and happily completed it. How was I able to make that decision? After sharing my dilemma with a dear old friend of mine, he offered to help me out with my tuition. In fact, I ended up dedicating my thesis to him as a thank you.
So, perhaps if you’re struggling to make a decision right now, talking it out with a trusted friend may help you find the answer you’re looking for.
If you don’t have someone to confide in, consider getting your hands on the book, The Dip by Seth Godin.