Recently I was asked if I would consider going to college, and told I should look into it. This is something I’ve heard repeatedly over the years. I knew when I was in high school that I didn’t want to go to college. I don’t deal well with social situations anyway, typically, but I especially didn’t want to spend so much of my time with people I didn’t know, in a culture I didn’t care for, to get a degree in something I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue. I had been accepted to an art school when I was sixteen, but due to family finances and my parents telling me that I would have trouble making money as an artist, I had to turn that down.
As a high school freshman, I began working in a retail store locally. I was pretty good at my job, but it was an easy job to be good at. I was placed at the service desk often where I really enjoyed helping people. I was lucky to have that job, even if it was only a tiny bit above minimum wage, but eventually I started feeling disconnected from it. I knew that this job was just filler, not a career. A year and a half or so after high school graduation, I saw a listing for a part time kennel worker at the Humane Society, and thought that I would really like to try it. When I was told that I had been chosen for the job, my heart sang. I really wanted to try this. It seemed like a dream job. I worked morning shifts and some weekends at the shelter and continued working at the retail store part time.
I discovered pretty quickly that working at a shelter really isn’t a dream job. Some days it’s a nightmare. What it is, though, is fulfilling. Even on the sad days, you know you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of animals- and often people- that need you. This isn’t enough for some folks, and shelters have a high turnover rate because of that. I couldn’t imagine not working with the animals, though. I loved my job, even though I was underpaid, stressed out and had to say goodbye to animals that I loved and cherished. I realized something then: for better or worse, this is what I want to do with my life. I’m good at it. Maybe it’s my calling, if you believe in things like that. From the moment I cleaned the first cat cage at that shelter in 2003 until present day, I have been completely immersed in my work, helping homeless animals. I was only 22 when I founded my animal rescue. In different paid shelter positions as well as my position in STAR, I have spent a lot of time educating pet owners and even other rescuers because of the knowledge and experience I’ve obtained over the years- much of which couldn’t have been learned from a professor. If I had gone to college, would I have taken the path that I am on? Would it be better if I wasn’t? I sort of get the feeling sometimes that it’s what people think- that I could be something different, better, had I chosen another route.
I realize that business classes might make me more efficient at what I do, or that having any career would help me earn money to take care of myself and the pets here so my husband wouldn’t have to support us- but our financial situation is our business, no one else’s. At the end of the day, does my level of education or the wages I earn (or rather, don’t earn) really make me less of a person?
So have I “thought about going to college?” Sure, and I’ve decided it’s not something I want to do. I know that questions like this are meant to be thoughtful and caring, and that people that ask them are doing so because to them, there is significant value attached to going to college and that it could help me to “do more,” somehow. My husband has a college degree in a field that he didn’t pursue. Five years of schooling, thousands of dollars that we’re still paying off and probably will be for years, and he found a job he enjoys that his degree has no bearing on. No, I didn’t go to college, and I don’t plan on it. You don’t have to believe that I took the right path. I will continue to grow and hope that if I become successful, it is in doing something that I love and that makes a difference.
And though I may not know the answers,
I can finally say I’m free.
And if the questions lead me here, then
I am who I was born to be.
–Susan Boyle, Who I was Born to Be