Roads Less Traveled

I’m not putting together a recruitment drive for the military, but I think people may not know alternatives.  I’m speaking of college, college loans, and trying to start a career.

I’m a Millennial.  I was born in 1982, and I graduated high school in 2000.  How millennial is that?  I graduate high school, and have to pursue a career at the turn of a new millennium.

I was at a crossroads.  A lot of people in my class didn’t go the previous routes that our parents did.  Some got crap jobs in the local area, and many others stayed at home with their parents.  Some went off to college, but none turned 18, got married, and started a benefit rich career at some huge company that you could retire from like our grandparents did.

I didn’t know what to do, or where to go.  I could have stayed with my parents as long as I was in school or had a job.  I graduated high school at 17.  I had a huge case of senioritis.  I was done!  I didn’t even consider college.  As soon as my senior year started, I wanted to graduate and be done.  I had little to no thought about after high school.  I was done, and high school was finishing soon.  That’s Millennial thinking right there.  I didn’t consider life after school.

Since I didn’t have a job, or wasn’t heading off to college I was faced with the prospect of finding a new home.  My parents are great, and were great back then.  My siblings and I were just out of control, and needed that push to start life.  Without that push?  We would have stayed at home, wouldn’t have worked, and kept on doing all the crazy bad things that kids in Southern California do.  My parents didn’t want us to be perpetual children, and didn’t want us to be partied out while living at home with their parents.

My sister was given her push a year after graduation.  She was handed a bus ticket, and 100 dollars.  She had the option of getting a job, or go to be with the person she wanted to marry across the country.  She spent a year after high school partying, and I was next.  My father asked me if I was looking for a job, or taking the SAT’s or the ACT’s.  He asked me if I was applying to colleges.  I said no, and I didn’t want too.  He said I couldn’t stay at home without a job or without being in college.  He asked me where I wanted me bus ticket to, and that he’d have my 100 dollars ready for me.

This sounds way more harsh than it really is when you learn the fact that my father was in the military.  We were living on a military base, and you literally couldn’t be on base anymore as an adult.  As soon as you graduated at 18, and you weren’t in college?  You would no longer be considered a military dependent, and would lose your ID card.  Without that ID card, you couldn’t live on base.  Yes my parents were fed up with our wild ways, but they also couldn’t have us on base if we weren’t in school even if they wanted too.  We couldn’t be forced to get jobs or go to school either.  I wanted nothing to do with either of those options.

I was 4 when I started kindergarten, so I graduated at 17.  I was 16 at the start of my senior year.  Knowing that I didn’t have a plan, and couldn’t live on base?  I had to make some decisions.  I could move to LA (specifically the Long Beach area) with my cousins.  I could get a job, and share an apartment with someone in the High Deseret (we lived in the Mojave Desert in California.  Near Yucca valley and Joshua Tree.  Not too far from Palm Springs).  I didn’t want to live in that area though.  So I thought about the other roads less traveled.

A lot of my friends had low opinions about community college.  They thought it was beneath them, and that real colleges were the only way to go.  Looking back at it, I realize now that it’s just another option to get you where you want to be.  There’s nothing wrong with going to a community college for your first two years and getting your Associate’s degree.  Then you can transfer into a four year university and get your Bachelor’s degree.  It will save tons of money.

You could also get a specialized two year degree, and land a good job with just that.  Or you could go to the community college’s continuing education program and get a bunch of certifications.  I did this recently (my early 30’s).  I paid a hundred bucks per course, and ended up with my Basic Life Support for Health Care Providers (AHA) certification, my Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) license, and became a Notary Public in my State.  It opens up my job prospects, and lets me pursue different careers.  I am actually looking through the catalog, and there’s a bunch of certification courses that will lead to promising careers.  For around 300 dollars (certification exam and course cost), my wife is taking a Certified Nursing Assistant/Aide I course, and looking to take the Medication Aide, and CNA II course when she’s done.  That will lead to a good paying career.

People may not like that idea though.  It’s one thing to get your Associates.  It’s another to take a non credit hour certification course.  Look at your local community college’s catalog and tell me if you don’t see one course that could give you a certification and lead to a promising career.

There’s a stigma about going to a Community College, but no stigma about being an adult child living with your parents with no job and not enrolled in school.  That should be a problem.  A lot of people think that there’s certain kinds of jobs out there that are beneath them as well.  They should walk right into a 50,000 dollar a year job right out of high school or college.  I don’t see why that is.  There is nothing wrong with honest hard work.  I washed dishes in high school at a restaurant.  It wasn’t a career for me, but a stepping stone.  It gave me job experience, and the determination to get a better job.  I could step up to busing tables, or becoming a waiter.  Or tend bar.  I could even take a course or two, and become a supervisor.  Then head up to management.  I didn’t see the most basic, menial job as a career that should be paying me more than minimum wage though.  I saw it as part of career development.

So community college for two years, and then transferring over a four year university is one route.  Getting certifications, or a specialized two year degree only is another route.  Another route in that same vein is going to a technical school or course.  Mechanics, welders, sheet rock installers, carpenters, plumbers, medical billing specialists, truck drivers, etc are all good paying careers that you can find at technical schools.  Computer/IT schools are good as well.

I chose a way less traveled route.  Since I was 17 with no prospects, I had fewer options.  I didn’t want to go to school, and wanted to get a better job than menial labor.  So I talked to an Air Force recruiter.  They had a waiting list back in 1999/2000, and they had the luxury of being picky.  Not wanting to wait, or jump through hoops, I got in touch with the Marine Corps recruiter.  He was actively searching recruits out, and had contacted me many times.  It was easy because we were military kids in a military town.  A large percentage of military dependents or people around military bases join the military.  They see the benefits, and decide that it’s a good route to go.

I took the ASVAB in my junior year to get out of class.  I blew it off, and didn’t try all that hard, but still scored high enough to get very technical jobs.  I told the recruiter that I’d like to join the Infantry or be a tank gunner.  He told me that they had plenty of people to fill those job slots.  An over abundance.  Most people join the Marines to fight.  What he needed was people to fill slots in the harder to fill categories.  Who joins the Marines for the non fighting jobs?  People join the other services to learn a trade, or to get a technical job.  We had to be convinced to get a technical job, and not be front line infantry.  I spent many long conversations with him, and decided sure why not.  I could still be a Marine and possibly fight if war ever happened, but I’d get a hard to fill job.  My ASVAB scores were high enough, so I should put it to good use.

I remember that my dad started off as a plumber’s apprentice before he joined the military, and always told me how those types of jobs are always in demand, and always high paying.  Mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.  I decided that I’d join for 4 years, and learn a trade.  I could get out, and get a good job with the trade I learned.  I wanted to be an electrician, and also wanted to fix fridges and air conditioners.  That seemed like a good life long career.

I signed up for the Electrician/Communications combined job fields.  I didn’t know what my specific job would be, but I was excited.  In Marine Combat Training Battalion at the School of Infantry, I learned that I was an 2531 (then the MOS changed to 0621).  A field radio operator.  The guys you see in war movies with a radio on their back, and the antenna sticking out.  This wasn’t what I wanted, but it was still something technical.  It could lead to a technical job later on in life.

I went to the Marine Corps Communication Electronics School, and learned how to operate field radios.  I was lucky to be in a feeder class, and chosen to go to the Microwave/Multichannel Equipment Operators Course.  My radio wouldn’t be on my back.  It would be mounted in a Humvee, and it was very technical.  Think of TV News Van (TRC-170) or Line of Sight Radio Towers (MRC-142).  I would deploy with Infantry Regiments or Battalions, and give them a data link through my communication equipment.  Pretty cool right?

It was peace time, and war wasn’t on anyone’s mind.  I was looking at a 4 year pleasure cruise.  I would be a Marine, do Marine things in training, and get paid for it.  I would get paid to work out, get food in a chow hall, and live in a barracks.  I would have medical and dental, as well as promotions, and the GI Bill.  I would get to travel to other countries, and wear an awesome uniform.

Then the war happened, and I fought in Iraq during the 2003 Invasion.  Yeah that probably scares a lot of people off from joining the military.  But….  Let’s look at when you get out…  Yes you may have to go to a war, and do things that you didn’t like (which shouldn’t have bothered you really because why else would you have joined a combat arms military branch?!)….

I got to On the Job Train on a satellite telecommunication terminal that was mounted on a vehicle during the war.  I got to use that MOS as a secondary MOS.  After the war, I was hurt and had to get out.  I was facing the same prospect as I did when I graduated high school.  Now what do I do?!  I didn’t want to get out of the military, but here I was.  21 and a disabled combat veteran.  The civilian world was unknown to me, and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Since I had no prospect, but knew what real life was like, I decided to use my GI Bill.  I enrolled in a community college to get my Associate’s degree.  Then I transferred into a four year university, and earned my Bachelor’s degree.  I was 25?  I still had high school friends living at home with their parents, and not doing much in life.

Me?  I got a technical job working with satellite telecommunication equipment overseas.  I stepped into a high paying job working in Iraq, Oman, and Qatar.  My military training, and military job training gave me tools for my trade.  I also got the GI Bill and got more training.  I paid off everything.  I traveled with my family all over the world.  My wife and kids got to live in several countries, and visit many others.  I was done working overseas when I was 32, and life was easier when I needed to pursue a new career at home.

Yes I feel like a lazy Millennial at heart, but I took an alternative route.  There was no way anybody could convince me to take on student loan debt to get a liberal arts type of degree.  I didn’t want to go to college in the first place, and a big part of that was I knew I couldn’t afford it.  My parents couldn’t afford it either.  So I didn’t even want to bother.  I had to find an alternative route.

Even with the GI Bill, I still had to work.  While I was in college I got a job at a gas station/convenience store as a store worker.  I stocked shelves, received shipments from vendors, took out the trash, swept, and mopped the place.  I got another job as a work study student with the VA at the school.  I even applied to, and got a paid internship one summer.

I didn’t want to take out a loan, and didn’t expect anything to be given to me.  I’m not saying that I want things to be hard.  I don’t think tuition or degrees should cost so much.  I don’t see why we can’t use our taxes to make colleges more affordable…  But I’m not living in a world that doesn’t exist.  College is expensive.  No one is handing us anything.  Our taxes we put into the system isn’t helping us get affordable health care or cheap college like in other countries I visited or lived in.  I can’t change that.  I can’t wish it away, or imagine that our society is different.  I had to accept reality.

I’m like others in my generation.  I don’t think we should head off into life with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  I have kids, and don’t want them to have so much debt just to get an education either.  I am a realist though.  The game is stacked against us, and it is a game.  You have to play their game to win.  If you don’t?  Then you’ll never succeed.  You’ll be screaming for minimum wage summer jobs that kids in high school do should be as high paying as jobs people with huge debt and degrees get after years or training.

A four year, highly expensive non technical degree shouldn’t be your only option.  Certification courses, technical schools, community colleges, apprenticeships, and the military should be as sought after as a four year liberal arts degree is.  I don’t know why a general four year liberal arts degree would be held in higher esteem than 7 different IT certifications from a community college continuing education department are.  I can tell you right now who will end up making more in life.  It’s the person with A+, Security +, Network+, Interconnecting Networking Cisco Devices, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certifications.  Even at 300 per course because of course cost, exam, and materials they’ll only be spending 2100 dollars or so.  The person with the general degree will have to go on and take additional courses or certifications.  English or History major?  If you want to teach you would still have to go through a multi year certification course to teach.  You won’t be walking onto a job with just a general degree.  It will take a more specialized track after your undergrad is done.

I received a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice and minored in Psychology.  I could have pursued a career in law enforcement (only after completing a Basic Law Enforcement Training course, and then police academy…  So why go with the 4 year degree in the first place?  A small bump in your entry level pay?).   Same thing went for Probation Officer, Corrections, State Police, etc.  College wasn’t a prereq.  Only the BLET and the academy would get me into those jobs.  Social work?  I’d still have to get certified in Social work!  I could have went to Law School, and take on tens of thousands in student loan debt.  Then have to work forever to pay that debt off at low paying public defender/ambulance chasing jobs…  I guess my degree would help me in career advancement if I wanted to climb the ladder.  But I doubt that it would help much when anyone can test for Sergeant or Lieutenant when their time is up for it.

Parents should sit their kids down, and see what kind of careers their kids would be interested in.  Then see what options they have without taking on massive debt.  Unless you want to major in Literature but work selling coffee, you probably won’t need to go to college.  If you want to be a doctor or lawyer?  Go to college.  If you want to teach?  Get into a teaching certification degree path in college right away.  You will land in careers that will provide a comfortable living.

For everyone else?  If you like building, then go to a technical school or continuing education course.  Learn the trade on the job.  Go to technical schools that teach you a much needed skill, or get some cert’s.  Check out the military.  See if you can get an apprenticeship.  I know someone who went to a cert course for laying tile, and makes good money fixing houses as a contractor.

We live in a world that is stacked against us.  Tuition will not drop, and debt will continue to rise.  You have to play their game to win in life.  Play it.  Give yourself the best tools to win.  A debt ridden citizen will rely more on the system than one with financial independence.

Imagine a life with no student loan debt, while you have a degree or certifications.  You have a good paying job.  Imagine not having a huge mansion, but an affordable scaled down home.  Imagine having a cheap used car, and no credit card debt.  Your home isn’t as nice as others, and your car isn’t the best looking.  But you’re not trapped by your bank or your job.  Your employer and bank can’t take advantage of you.  You won’t fear losing your job, house, car, and livelihood.

Look at this snapshot, and put yourself in it.  No school debt, but you and your significant other have specialized certifications that led to great paying jobs.  You live in a mobile home, and it’s paid off.  Or in a cheap apartment.  You have a used car, and it’s paid off.  You have little to no credit card debt, and no loans.  You have one TV, and a few luxuries like a gaming console and a new game every few months.  You have an older model smart phone.  You have good looking clothes that aren’t top brand names.

Imagine yourself in that situation.  How good would life be?  If you have an employer trying to take advantage of you?  You could get a new job, and not worry about losing everything.  They can’t use your debt and needing to keep a bad job as leverage against you.  You won’t need to worry about a bank foreclosing on a huge home you don’t really need in the first place.  Who says you need a 5 bedroom mini mansion?  Banks, lenders, home builders, and others in that industry who are profiting off of you love that idea.  Especially when you don’t really make that much in the first place.  Tally up the utilities, mortgage, loans, and other payments and see how much money you have left over at the end of the day…  It’s not much.  Who profits off of that nice car you have?  Not you.

Scaling back on luxuries, and living modestly while debt free?  You are now able to pursue past times, hobbies, and passions.  You could use that money that you’d be spending on expensive clothes to travel.  That money you would have been spending on a mortgage, or school loan can go towards so many other things you would actually enjoy.

For many, it’s too late.  You have debt, and stuck in a low end job.  But you may know others who are getting to the point of graduation or are younger.  Try to guide them to the roads less traveled.

Help them drop this stupid idea that we are fed that you must have a degree from the “elite” schools to live a good life.  Show them the other paths that exist.  Show them that having the newest phone, device, shoes, or game isn’t whats important.  Being financially independent is.  People judge you by your school name, brand of clothes, and other superficial things because thats how life is marketed to us.  Who wins in that situation?  The corporation selling the shoes, purse, console, or device; the board who raises the price of tuition?  Or the person who has the nicest shoes or a degree but is up to their eyes in debt and can’t afford to pay their bills?

This has been a long blog rant I guess.  But there was a purpose for it.  Until we live in the society we want, we are stuck in the one we got.  We won’t win by pretending their rules don’t apply to us.  We won’t be successful unless we beat them at their own game.  One day we’ll be older, and we can run the government and reconfigure the rules.  Let’s think about what really is important in life for the future generations.  Scale down on luxuries, and items you don’t need.  Lower the price for education, and health care.  Do away with the idea that the consumer mentality is the only path to happiness.

Take the roads less traveled to set yourself up in life.  Stop caring what others think about you, or what others perceive as cool.  Focus on your financial future, and that will lead you to the actual roads that you want to travel on in person!

 

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