“Is it worth it?”

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Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

Something interesting happened near the end of Auburn University’s fall semester, 2019. I searched my story archive to find I had not written on the subject yet. While I was eating lunch at a panini place in downtown Auburn, a student said to me, “Excuse me, sir, may I ask you your age?” I said “Yes, it is 63.” Then he startled me by posing the question, “Is it worth it?”

That was a loaded question, as I feared he was referring to life itself; my work experience included fielding that question sometimes. But it wasn’t that hideous, self-killing question. (Please call the National Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-8255 hotline if you need help.) The AU student was referring to final exams and generally, the struggle to earn a degree.

My answer to his tough time with exams and papers was to refer him to two articles I wrote. One was “Are you neglecting your class paper or essay,” from Dec. 4, 2019 and “Test taking tips for smart but nervous students,” Dec. 18, 2019. Both are available at (opelikaobserver.com/markley).

I also told him that chasing perfection is laudable but not always necessary. Make time to relax with families and friends. Exercise daily and spend time in the woods or at a beach. Remember that a low A (such as 91%) carries the same weight as a 98% in the gradebook. Don’t fret over the small stuff.

I realize this is not true in the most competitive majors, such as engineering. The difference between a 91% average and a 98% average may mean that the higher “A” (98%) lands you in a more esteemed graduate school. But even then, other factors come into play, such as references by professors and your biography letter sent to the graduate officials.

“Workaholics are out of balance,” said Bryan E. Robinson, a nationally known therapist in Asheville, North Carolina. “They don’t have many friends. They don’t take care of themselves. They don’t have any hobbies outside of the office. A hard worker will be at his desk, thinking about the ski slopes. A workaholic will be on the ski slopes thinking about his desk.”

Robinson was quoted in Psychology Today’s May 2006 issue. He added, “On a scale from one to five, with five being most satisfied, rate your satisfaction with your family life, friendships, health and hobbies. If your total is less than 10 points, it might be time to cut back on work.” Correspondingly, this applies to students. Overworking is a lifestyle that can force a person to ask, “Is it worth it?” of strangers.

The student who asked me “Is it worth it?” needs to know that a college degree, in any subject, is financially wise. Study.com, an online learning warehouse, found that in 2019, a person with a bachelor’s typically earned $1,281 a week while someone with only a high school diploma made just $749 weekly.

Among practical benefits of a college degree is that you might get promoted quickly in your current job, you could land your “dream” job, and you would be more competitive for higher-rung positions. With a degree, your chances of securing a job that suits your passions increases. Many of your classmates focus too much on pay. Many people hate their jobs because they are less interesting than their hobbies and don’t match their degrees.

My cousin earned a bachelor’s in history and English. He spent decades in Information Technology. A former coworker of mine whose major was geography has been a photographer since the ‘90s. My bachelor’s degree is in political science, but I have mainly been a news and features writer. Since 1996 I have been a political reporter. Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian author, said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” I certainly agree.

To the student who asked, “Is it worth it?” I say, “Of course.” Getting a bachelor’s degree is a major accomplishment. Your first five years after commencement will probably be tough, as your “dream” job will be temporarily out of reach. Only a few ex-students tell me they regret the money and sweat and tears their degree pursuit created.

Having a bachelor’s puts you in a group just 33% of American adults belong to.  Work hard. Have fun. Aim beyond the 33% to that elusive 10% or even 1%. You might not please socialists, but that’s good. Doesn’t anybody chant “Three Cheers for Capitalism” anymore?

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