Getting Up and Out: How Education Spurred Two Life-Changing Decisions

HattieBy H.E. JamesHattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho.  She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism.  She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency.  She holds an MBA and enjoys local ciders. 



Education is a powerful tool.  It can open doors, widen horizons, and it can even close doors.  You might be inclined to think that education closing doors is a bad thing, but in some cases it’s not.

There is a proverb that states that when one door closes, another opens.  It sounds cliche, but proverbs are there for a reason: they’re usually right.  About two years ago, I made a decision about my education that closed the door on a huge part of my life.  Yet once that door started to close, another opened, and I know that the educational decision I made was the right one.


Two Glass Ceilings for the Price of One

My education decision mirrored one a friend and former coworker made handful of years before I did.  We became good friends while working for different divisions of the same department for one of our local municipalities.  Stephanie and I started at our former employer at nearly the same time.  She was a fire plans examiner, and I was the records technician, so we had to collaborate often.

Stephanie came to our employer because she had hit a glass ceiling in her profession: as a woman in the general field of electrical engineering and fire systems design, if she wanted to advance her career, she was going to have to advance her education.

What better way to do that than with a “cushy” government job that gave her stability and even tuition reimbursement?  She’d started her electrical engineering degree before coming to the municipality, but she was a single mom with two young kids when she started.

Finishing that degree took Stephanie nine years.  She could take just two to three classes a semester, fitting her schedule around work and her children.  This is one time I cannot empathize with Stephanie.  I am single and childless.  If I have to work around anything, it’s the plans I make with friends or a niece’s or nephew’s birthday party.

Once Stephanie finished her degree, a second glass ceiling appeared: she was now over-qualified for both her job and for the employer we had.  Though I was sad to see my friend, and one of the few fellow women with whom I had true camaraderie, leave our work, I knew Stephanie needed to do it.

To become a licensed Electrical Engineer in our state, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and then work for five years under the supervision of an engineer who has been licensed.  This opportunity was not available to Stephanie at our former employer.  Education was closing a door for her.


My Turn

I never thought I’d find myself in the same position as Stephanie, but about two years later, I started to grow unsatisfied.  I was bored with just about everything, especially my job.  I needed to add a challenge to it, so I decided it was time to get my MBA.

After I finished my degree and left our former employer, Stephanie and I talked about our experiences.  I got my degree online, and Stephanie admitted that her degree took so long because she didn’t do enough research into engineering programs before she picked one.

She told me that if she had to do it all over again, she’d do two things: she’d pick a school that specialized in engineering, and she’d pick one that offered programs for non-traditional students, like Arizona State University Online, which has been serving students like me and Stephanie for more than eight years.

Yet even though I chose my program with a little more insight than my friend admitted she did, I still fell into the trap of thinking that I could get to the next level in my former organization just by getting my MBA.  I was wrong.

Instead, just like Stephanie, I hit that second glass ceiling: my educational ambitions had now become a barrier to career development instead of a means to it.


Finding Our Niches

I followed in Stephanie’s footsteps about eight months ago: I let my education close a door.  Just as Stephanie’s education and her experience closed one door and opened another, mine did as well.  Stephanie now works as an Electrical Control Engineer at a huge Idaho engineering firm.  I now work a day job for a local tech startup.

During my MBA experiences, I was asked to pick a dream job.  Months before I let my education close one door and open another, I stated that I would love to work at a local tech startup and help it grow.  Stephanie and I both have found our places, and we couldn’t be happier.

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