Why???

At first this pic was just an example of my weird sense of humor when I was trying to think about a visual representation of “Why???”, but I’m guessing in a few weeks it will pretty closely reflect my emotions about taking this class haha.

I wanted to write about why I decided to take the leap in quitting my job, moving to Houston, and joining The Iron Yard to learn web development. I wish I could say I was drawn to Ruby and webdev out of my sense of pure creativity and “following my bliss.” Now that I’m here, I’m loving the chance to build things and even the smallest satisfaction of making the easiest method work is a totally addicting feeling.

But I had a few thousand reasons to be on the lookout for a new career in the form of my student loans. I stand before you as a cautionary tale for the way contemporary higher education works. My BA is in History and my MA is in Cross-cultural Studies, and although I loved the information and even wisdom I amassed getting those degrees, I was putting myself on an unsustainable path when it came to student loans.

I plead ignorance mixed with hubris in this case. Last week on one of the NFL pregame shows the comment was made that the three deadliest words for any team to say are, “We Got This!” I don’t know that I had exactly that kind of misguided pride going into my MA degree, but I was certain that higher education would look great on my resume, no matter what I wanted to do.

It doesn’t. My first goal was to teach at the collegiate level. Basically everything about me indicates I should have a tweed jacket and pipe within arm’s reach at all times. But when circumstances intervened and I couldn’t transition immediately from my MA to a PhD, the train broke down. I found myself looking for jobs in “the real world” where it isn’t degrees or “education”, but skills everyone cares about.

I got a job as an accountant at a college-focused apartment complex because I’m good with numbers, but found that the job was mostly arguing with parents trying to put their kids through school in the middle of an economic downturn. This was a bit of shock because when I went to college, my parents would have given me a blank stare or lol’d (that wasn’t a thing in the 90s) if I told them the mean apartment management was demanding I actually pay rent this month.

And in all of this, I was still nowhere near paying off my loans.

I toyed with going back to school, but after doing the actual math of what an English/History/etc professor would make starting out became a little depressed. I was already making more at the apartments. There was a little hazy period following this, but eventually I ended up as an Account Executive at a local Louisiana bank working with companies to extend daily funding based on their receivables. Sounds pretty snazzy, right?

It was a good job and really helped stabilize me financially, but I was still nowhere near paying off my loans.

I will talk a lot in the next few weeks about how much I love what I’m doing. I have only been at this a week, but I love all the learning and problem solving we’re doing. There’s a real “blue collar” ethos to back-end engineering that I really love as well. I want to build things and I want them to work well and be as stable as any physical structure you would set foot in.

I want people who read this to be encouraged and not bummed out, but I also want to share this part of my journey because I know so many people who have (or soon will have) the debt burdens of your average surgeon without the SKILLS to ever actually get out of that hole. I want to tell everyone to “Do what makes you happy,” but I think people misunderstand that phrase all too easily.

I would amend “Do what makes you happy,” to “Find a job you can use as a tool to create happiness and satisfaction in your life.” I’m pretty sure nothing will feel better than the freedom of having no more debt, or even just knowing that I can eventually pay it off. In Web Development, I’ve found a job where I can literally solve puzzles all day. Not only that, I can hone those puzzles over and over until they are the most elegant and pure expression of what I want to express.

This makes me incredibly happy, and that feeling will push me through some valleys to come. But the knowledge that I’m acquiring skills that are transferrable and marketable will push me through even more. So this is what I’m pursuing, not just a new job (I’ve had plenty of those), but a new life. As someone very smart once said, “To find yourself at the very end and finally BEGIN, not just begin again.” (I think that’s loosely from Nietzsche, but it might have been on that NFL pregame show, too.)

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