I’d love to get my masters degree. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for close to 20 years. When I used to list the things I wanted out of life, I’d put that goal near the top. However after reading Stephen M. Pollan’s book Starting Over: How to Change Careers or Start Your Own Business I have a new way of looking at things.
Starting Over, a title I borrowed from the library, is about solving your most pressing problems first and then moving on to the rest. Two of my top career concerns are stability and a desire for greater earnings. While getting a masters degree has been a top goal, there’s no guarantee that going beyond an undergraduate education will get me either of the things that I want.
“Focus on the one or two major problems you have with your current job,” writes Pollan, “It’s pretty obvious that if you want to solve your problems, you should pick an option that will, in fact, solve it…If you’re going to go through all of the time and effort involved in truly starting over, you should have a guarantee that your pain will be eliminated.”
I know it seems like a common sense approach, but I never thought of it that way. For years I’d been thinking that getting a masters degree would be the answer to all that ailed me. But looking at the situation now when you consider that many graduate classes range from $1,500-3,000 per course, after dolling out that kind of cash I’d be even further from where I want to be financially. Also, I’ve read enough magazine articles to know that there are plenty of PhDs out there who are struggling to find work just like everyone else.
While it’s been a dream of mine, going back to school wouldn’t really solve any of my immediate concerns. There’s no direct correlation between the dissolution of my top problems and a graduate degree. So the grad school option can officially be backburnered for another solution that will in fact get me closer to where I want to be.
Pollan’s book provides a handy chart for matching your problem with possible options. The book stresses that it’s best to limit the options at our disposal. “…if you want to actually do something as opposed to just talk about doing something, you need to look at your options in a different way,” writes Pollan. He then narrows those options down to nine.
For example if your job is too stressful, Pollan’s chart indicates the following possible solutions: “go back to school and get a part time job” or “downshift.” The options that won’t help this particular situation, according to the chart, include options like “get another job in the same career in the same industry.”
The guidance offered in Starting Over can keep you from jumping out of the frying pan and right into the fire. “Framing your options in this manner makes it much easier to see exactly what such shifts would, might, or wouldn’t do for you,” Pollan writes. “And that makes it easier to pick a direction and actually pursue it.”