You can almost recognize it when you see it, can’t you? It’s that look in someone’s eye. The way they carry themselves. The determination that they seem to ooze. It’s that person who has a chip on their shoulder…something to prove.
I grew up attending a very academically challenging private school from 6th grade to 12th grade. The school like to boast that if we could graduate from there, we could graduate from any university in the world. When I started college, I saw first-hand how this was true. My high school was much more difficult that the college I attended. I was going to a small, private college and studying music (what was I thinking). I was a double music major and attending on a full vocal scholarship. I was singing 5 hours a day every day, including weekends. I knew that I was going into ministry as my vocation, so music seemed to be a great decision at the time.
In my second year, I began to have some trouble with my voice from the strain that I was putting on it. I had shredded my vocal chords and could only sing for less than an hour before my voice would be gone and I could taste the blood in my throat. Obviously, this was a serious concern for someone who was attending on a vocal scholarship. I had already auditioned at a much larger and prestigious university where I planned to attend my final two years, but now that was in doubt as well. A scholarship was offered there, but ethically – should I accept it knowing that I would not be able to physically meet the demands of my scholarship? For me, the answer was no.
I left college after two years with no degree and entered the workforce full-time. Because I didn’t finish my degree, and I had no previous work experience in ministry, I took a job at a bank and volunteered or did part-time ministry work for several years. No matter what job I applied for, everyone expected a degree. Very quickly, a big chip began to appear on my shoulder as I had to out-work, out-think, and prove lots of people wrong in order to move forward in my career. I knew that I was just as smart or smarter than most of the people in an organization. I knew that I could do the job. None of that mattered though…they wanted me to have a little sheet of paper nicely framed that verified it in some way.
After 18 years in ministry, I entered the corporate world. Again, regardless of what position I applied for, a degree was required (or at least highly sought after). As a minister, I would propose to you that I had developed strong customer service skills as I dealt with people all different walks of life. I could tell you about the large numbers of people that I managed. We could discuss the budgets that I had to develop and adhere to. I certainly had a significant amount of experience with public speaking, presentation skills, and leading training efforts. I had one potential employer interview me and ask, “Do you have any sales experience?” I quickly replied with, “Absolutely! For the past 18 years I sold people on the idea of having a relationship with someone that they couldn’t see, hear, feel, or smell (God).” Despite all of these areas where I had real experience, the only company that would hire me was a restaurant chain to enter their management training program. There is nothing wrong with that line of work, it just wasn’t for me. Instead, I started my own graphic design business and it became one of the fastest growing in the southwest.
Eventually, I had an acquaintance who owned a recruiting firm here in Austin who asked me to come learn his industry and believed in the skills and abilities that I had developed over the years. He hired me and gave me a shot. I quickly rose within the ranks of the company and did very well in recruiting. Again, I had this chip on my shoulder that I knew I could do the job well and I would do whatever it took to prove it to everyone else. I worked really long hours. I asked tons of questions and became a student of my industry. I’ve been in recruiting for about 10 years now. I’m now seen as an expert and have thousands of recruiters and HR leaders from around the world who want to hear my thoughts on modern day and next generation recruiting. It’s funny…HR leaders have to earn credits towards their PHR, SPHR, etc. certifications and now they listen to me to earn some of those credits. Me! The guy that none of them would give a shot when he was looking for a job because I wasn’t well educated.
I’ve had people ask me before if I could do it all over again, would I go back and finish my degree. Hypothetically speaking…I don’t believe that I would. See, I don’t think I would be the same person without that chip on my shoulder. It drives me. It reminds me that I have something to prove every time I walk into a new environment. It prods me to out-work others around me. I don’t believe college is the best route for every person. I also don’t believe that a degree should be required for the majority of jobs. A Customer Service Rep answers the phones and provides information on a product or a service – and a degree is required to do that why? A Recruiter finds people who can fill a need within a company – and I’ve been doing that for 10 years without a degree. Tell me again why I’m not qualified? I wholeheartedly agree that there are some positions (a very short list by comparison) that DO require a degree…my doctor being one.
I don’t believe that I’m unique. I believe, and have seen, other very successful people who also never received their degrees. What I have seen in all of them that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, is that they all have that chip…just like me. We all had something to prove. We all wanted to work hard. We all wanted to succeed because of the effort and passion that we placed on our work. You can share your statistics of how people with degrees are more employable and make more money…no argument here! That’s the way the system is set up…they should be getting more jobs if every position out there requires a degree. They should be making more if we declare that only those who went to class (or didn’t) are worthy of this job or that job. You show me your statistics, and I’ll show you people who are driven to the point that they will out-work and out-produce everyone around them if just given the opportunity.
Prefer a degree all you want, just don’t require it unless it is absolutely necessary. In shrinking talent pools for some segments of our workforce, by requiring a degree, you have eliminated half of your talent pool. Not wise. Give some without degrees a chance…just look for the ones who have that look in their eye. You’ll recognize it.