The Value Of An Education

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I lay sprawled arms stretched on the carpeted floor that could do with a good vacuum with the ceiling fan sluggishly moving the air around. Saathi with his day old beard sat at the study table paying bills and checking items off his to-do list. A list that had considerably grown since our two week west coast sojourn.

Sleep threatened me when his energetic voice brought me back to the land of the living. “Let’s get started on cleaning this room.” I considered feigning sleep but reluctantly roused myself and looked around. A corner of the room had various piles. Picture albums, bags of DVDs, audio cassettes and a bag of gag gifts from my birthday two years ago.

We started with the book case that housed an amalgamation of books, keepsakes, flower vases and framed pictures. He stood with a dirt rag in his hand while I methodically pulled each book, turned it over, hefted it and decided its fate. Some made its way to the donation pile. A few got returned to the shelf, a few lay undecided by my feet.

What I was not prepared for was the rush of emotions. Each book, some fading, the age showing, represented a part of my history. Some stood for hours of conversation in the terrace at work on love, life and the future. Some were stand-ins for the eight months post marriage I sat at home paralyzed by the lack of things to do. A few were brand new, the dust jackets shiny and the new book smell still intact, a casualty of my discovering the huge book stores of the west. The range was eclectic, Manil Suri, David Davidar, Vassanji, Patchett, Divakaruni, Sebold, Coetzee, Eugenides, Shamshie, McCall Smith.

The piles grew as I worked my way down one shelf and then another. The lowest and largest of the shelves housed my MBA text books, huge volumes pontificating on Operations, Finances, Management, Leadership and Economics. I traced my fingers over the titles trying hard to figure out if I ever opened them. I snapped pictures and uploaded them to FB’s marketplace urging people to take them off my hands for free.

Hours later, after what can only be termed a super productive day, I sat in the newly cleaned out study browsing but my mind back in the classrooms of my Masters course. I remember the people. I remember a few professors. I remember going through each course thinking this is just common sense. I remember struggling with accounting with Saathi sitting by my side trying to simplify things for me. I remember the months after I graduated figuring out where I wanted to go armed with this new degree. The dreams of a corner office and a management role that propelled me to study as I worked in my mid thirties seemed to fade real quick.

As I weighed each option available to a newly minted MBA, I realized I really did not want to travel, to be away from my babies, the twins who had just found their way home to me. I did not want to shatter glass ceilings. All I wanted to do was excel at what I did at that time, ask for a promotion assertively and ensure I had a modicum of work life balance. So, I packed away the impressively framed degree, stacked my books neatly at the very bottom of my book shelf and put those dreams to rest.

Pulling out those books yesterday brought back with it the questions. What is the value of an education, the years spent poring over texts, writing exams, remembering details that one may or may not use to earn money? Could I have invested that money in a better pursuit? The questions are rhetorical. Perhaps, the only value I gained was the satisfaction in knowing that I could pursue dreams past its expiration date. That I could have the clarity of thought to decide some dreams were not worth pursuing despite the sunk cost. That sometimes, education is in learning to say no, in taking the fork in the road, in finding courage to do things that are not the norm. It is in learning to see the rainbow past the dark clouds, in hanging on to hope despite failures. It is in trying harder each time we fall. It is in finding reserves of patience, moving on past loss, in resilience when life throws a curveball.

It is in living life each day like it matters.

13 comments

  1. This resonates with me a lot. I have an M.A. In English and left teaching college writing and classical myth to become a firefighter, so there is a tendency for people to laughingly dismiss the worth of that master’s degree in terms of what I do now. But the education transcends the mere subject matter.

  2. Excellent post. It is refreshing to see that I am not the only one who questions the value of my education. I spent years toiling away toward that piece of paper that would allow me to be called Dr. Now I sit in anonymity and poverty wondering what could have been if I had taken another road. The title matters nothing when you cannot find a job. I may still get a job I can love and that will allow me to pay my student loans, but it is quite easy to look back and wonder if everything was really worth it. Thank you for sharing your insight.

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