This morning, on the morning show that my clock radio was spewing out in an effort to convince me to leave my comfortable pillow and wage war with the mess that is my house, there was a call-in discussion about people’s degrees and the jobs they were actually doing. I laid there and listened to it for a while before whacking the alarm clock in my standard fashion. Turning it off, however, didn’t get the tone of the conversation out of my head.

In the short time I listened, the half dozen or so calls went something like this:

“I have a major in electrical engineering, and I’m working as a secretary for a pharmaceutical company.”

“I’m a graduate of XYZ with a degree in pharmacy, and I’m a fitness trainer.”

Some of them weren’t as far out as others, but they all followed a distinct pattern: a degree in one thing, a job in something that appears completely unrelated.

The conclusion I was sensing (I admit I didn’t stick around for the whole thing) was that there’s just no point to that college degree. I mean, hey, all these people have degrees in history, English, arts, you name it, and they’re working in unrelated fields. What’s the point?

It’s not like I have a lot of room to talk. I have a bachelor of science in agricultural education (production minor), and a master of science in marketing and communication, and I work as a church secretary (or parish administrator, but let’s not get technical).

Yeah, I could stretch it. I do, after all, live on a farm. So that ag degree seems to be handy…except that, just like the guy who learned it all in kindergarten, I have learned more “on the job” around here than I ever did in the classroom (not that I discount the classroom…because it gave me the curiosity to get off my duff and get out to the field!). And I do blog, which is communication if nothing else. I often tell people that I never imagined how handy that master’s degree would be at a church.

And, as you might have guessed, I would have been the person to call in and challenge the whole thing, if I was up to snuff and drinking my coffee. Because, in the face of the “so what’d you do with your life?” line of questioning, which always seems to point out the inevitable discrepancies, I can’t help but think of what I got out of my education.

I learned to trust myself. I gained the confidence to quit a job and leave an industry, thanks to studying more about it. I learned about where my academic strengths are. And by golly, I learned how to learn. I learned how to read four books at the same time and pay attention to them all. I learned how to juggle five things in my brain while writing a paper and preparing a proposal for work and balancing my checkbook. I also learned how important it is to like what you’re doing, whatever it pays.

That’s not to say that you have to have a college education to learn these things. Nope. Not at all. But I do know that I learned these lessons a lot faster thanks to my college education than I would have on-the-job. I married the man who didn’t have the paper (and was raised by some people without paper too, I might add), so nothing against you. The School of Hard Knocks is a fine teacher too. It’s just a different teacher. They’re different paths, really, and I think some of it depends on the choices you have and the person you are.

Even so, I think the whole discussion is a little…off. Maybe it’s because we’re really making sacrifices so my Prince Charming can pursue that dream of a college education. (But he’s doing it differently than most of those who called in, isn’t he? He’s been working in an industry for nearly 20 years and he’s pursuing an interest he’s fostered within it…which is different than just guessing at age 18 what you think you’ll like.) Maybe it’s because I can’t get past the fact that, really, no education is wasted. Even when I read a book that makes me want to hurl it across the room (which, thankfully, isn’t often), even when I learn a fact that makes me gag, even when I struggle through scads of learning-curve pain before I catch on…it’s not wasted. I may not ever have to apply some of the chemistry concepts I learned in Chemistry 121 at Ohio State (and then again…), but that doesn’t make them wasted. In that chemistry class I gained an appreciation for the power of a woman’s discipline over her hardship and her dedication to her teaching (my high school chemistry teacher was amazing AND she had MS).

So you majored in art and you’re working at McDonald’s. There are worse things. (But then, my head’s always been in the clouds…)