Sunday, March 06, 2011

Find the North Star for Your Life

Going back to school. Again.

Longtime readers will remember when I attended Blue Ridge Community College. My classes there were a joy, even the ones I’d hated (namely biology) as a teenager in high school.

As an adult, I’ve always been able to get the jobs I wanted without a college degree.

We are all born with natural talents, proclivities for being able to do certain things well. One friend, as a child, took apart car engines and put them back together. He continued to work on cars as a teenager, displaying a gift for diagnosing problems. Thus, as an adult, he was able to move into a career as an auto mechanic.

Lots of people succeed without going to college.

Bill Gates, a college dropout, has been named the richest person in the world by Forbes magazine 27 times. Gates was 10 points away from a perfect score on the SAT, enrolled at Harvard College in 1973, then two years later took a leave of absence to form a partnership with classmate Paul Allen. The partnership became known as Microsoft.

Steven Spielberg, the movie director and producer, was denied acceptance to film school and dropped out of California State University in Long Beach. He co-founded DreamWorks, a major film studio that’s produced several of the highest grossing movie hits and Academy award-winning films.

Julie Andrews, the Oscar-winning actress and singer, dropped out of high school.

Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, dropped out of high school.

I’m not saying you should not go to college, just that you don’t have to go to college to succeed. It’s certainly not for everyone, as a recent study showed. The world has need of carpenters, hair stylists, plumbers, housekeepers, mechanics, waitresses and electricians.
The long list I found of successful people who did not attend college included mostly people in the fields of entertainment or business. Of course, many professions are impossible to enter without college study, like law, medicine and teaching.

I’d always been a writer, since the first time I put pencil to paper. I spent my young adult life raising my children, so when they were in high school, I applied for a job at the Daily News-Record. I got a job there based on the results of my writing test. But believe me, though I knew how to write, I still had much to learn about reporting news.

What with working at the paper, babysitting grandkids and otherwise living my life, it took five years to earn an associate’s degree at BRCC. When the e-mail came early this week that I’d been accepted at JMU, I was thrilled.

When you feel that good about something, you should follow it, says Martha Beck. In her book, “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live,” she advises readers to follow what gives them joy, energy, health.

Me? I love reading, listening, studying, writing papers, lively discussion … of almost anything. But writing is my first love.

So what will I study? Should I get a degree in a field that will make me more money?

Listen, I’m in my mid-50s. It’s going to take a few years to get a bachelor’s degree, so I’ll be close to 60 when that happens. Life is getting shorter as each day passes.

My hope is that I can study what I love and that it will be enough.

“The North Star—Stella Polaris—is a fixed point that can always be used to figure out which way you’re headed,” writes Beck. “Explorers and mariners can depend on Polaris when there are no other landmarks in sight. The same relationship exists between you and your right life, the ultimate realization of your potential for happiness. I believe that a knowledge of that perfect life sits inside you just as the North Star sits in its unaltering spot. You may think you're utterly lost, but brush away the leaves, wait for the clouds to clear, and you’ll see your destiny shining as brightly as ever; the fixed point in the constantly changing constellations of your life.”

It’s worked so far, so I’ll just keep following.

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