About the Author

Honey's main interests are online dating, long distance dating, and long term relationships. She met her boyfriend on MySpace and they have been exclusive since their first date over three years ago. Currently they live in Tempe, Arizona. Honey graduated with her PhD in Composition and Rhetoric in May 2009. You can contact Honey via email here or online here.

What I Want vs. What I Want

All righty, peeps – I am about to ask your advice about something which has me genuinely torn, and while it doesn’t directly affect my relationship, it certainly has all sorts of possibilities to do so.  The reason I’m torn is because I feel like there are two things I want more or less equally, and in some ways they are intertwined and in others they are in direct competition with each other.

Ready to weigh in on my life?  Here goes…

Choice #1: Going Back to School

As most of you know, I work for a large state university as a staff member.  One of the benefits of my employment is that I can take up to 9 credit hours (graduate or undergraduate) for $25 per semester.  That’s right, $25 per semester. Since this is so inexpensive, on the one hand I feel almost guilty if I am not taking classes.  It means that – in this terrible economy – I can pick up a new skill in any area I’d like, practically for free.  This is very attractive for a couple of reasons:

  • The BF and I are looking to leave the state in the next 1-3 years, and while we’ll be following his (more lucrative) career, if I can pick up something else useful then I can a) greatly increase my odds of finding a more lucrative job than I currently have, and b) find a job more quickly if I add something else to my repertoire.
  • I have a PhD – I’ve been in school continuously since I started kindergarten.  If I pick up some classes, I will almost certainly be extremely successful and derive great satisfaction from it.  Rarely do you get to do both of those things in one fell swoop.

However, there are certainly some cons to this.  The first is that if I were to pick up something else, I should pick it purely strategically and to increase my employable skill set.  This would be very difficult for me because every degree that I have – two in creative writing and one in composition and rhetoric – I have chosen purely because I was interested in them.  I have never thought strategically about school and am not quite sure how to go about it.

The second con is that if I were to enter a degree program (rather than taking courses here and there) it would almost certainly take me several years, since I work full time and probably cannot reasonably take more than one graduate-level course per semester and meet my own standards simultaneously for the course and for my job.  This would definitely impede the mobility that the BF and I quite desperately desire at this stage in our lives.

Finally – and this isn’t really a con, although it’s something to think about – I have a PhD and 10 years’ employment experience in my field.  How the fuck more employable do I need to be?  Although there is a useful certificate program that is tangentially enough related to my degrees and experience that I know I’d do well, yet different enough to increase my skill set, I have to admit that the course that has caught my eye for the fall semester is one that is offered from a different type of department than my degree, but basically on my exact dissertation topic.

I am sure that I could contact the professor for this course and say, “I already have a PhD in X with a dissertation topic of Y.  I am interested in taking your course and guarantee that I would have a lot to offer the other students in it.  I don’t want to write an original research paper; instead I want to adapt one of my dissertation chapters for submission to an academic journal” and this would be agreed to very quickly.  But aside from pride, if I don’t ever anticipate going tenure track, what good does it do me to get published in an academic journal?

Choice #2: Picking Up Freelance Work

Dudes, let’s face it. I’m hardly in desperate need of additional education.  What I do need to do is pay off my debts as fast as possible, open a Roth IRA, save for a wedding, and maintain my mobility so that I can follow the BF when he makes a lateral move in a year or so.  Getting additional education will not necessarily help me achieve these goals, and if the BF is successful in making a lateral move to another state, his salary will probably go up at least $30K.  This means it won’t be imperative for me to find another job right away anyway – I mean, I’ll want to work, but we definitely won’t be under the gun as far as me having to find that work by any particular deadline.  But the faster I can pay off my debt and save for these goals, the sooner that we can do all the other things we are interested in.

So,  it seems that where I should really be expending my efforts is in increasing my income now so that we can achieve all these goals faster.  I’m an alumnae of a large sorority with a huge alum club in the city, so I am sure that it would be relatively simple to start picking up contract work in editing and/or writing, and my reputation would grow relatively quickly and I could make lots of cash.  And I would still be doing something that I love and potentially increasing my network so that I could pretty seamlessly pick up contract work in a new city if we did move, which would certainly tide me over until I could find something full-time.

The Dilemma

The dilemma, of course, is that there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t do both.  So what should it be?  Should I continue to follow my passions – an especially attractive option since it is practically free?  Or should I finally be a grownup and focus on my future – especially since it almost certainly means I will continue to get to do what I enjoy?

Let me know what you think!  And once you’ve done that, check out the following posts:

  • Katrijn

    Honey – I love your (and Lances) blog. Thank you for brightening my weeks.

    My opinion is based solely on my own thinking and experiences, which, since they are European, could well be very different and not adaptable to US life and work.

    Having said that, obviously I do think they’re worthwile, otherwise I’d not be commenting. So here goes.

    Is it possible to work less hours? That way, you could slowly start up a freelance business and still take the university courses you like or maybe even could use. This would be a way of having your cake and eating it.

    Then, along the way, you could decide if working freelance is something that you really want – it’s a lonely business, unless you rent an office with other people. But even then, ultimately it’s just you and the job you have to do.

    If you do want to be a freelancer, you could slowly reduce your hours even more over the course of maybe one or two years. This way you burn no bridges, get time to adjust and a feel of what life would be like.

    I am a freelance journalist, but definitely prefer the jobs that let me work “onsite”. This is the way I did it – in my case out of fear of not having income. It worked beautifully though.

    Good luck with whatever you decide!

  • http://ptlawmom.com PT-LawMom

    I think there is a season for everything. Sounds like you’ve had the “follow your bliss season” so perhaps it’s time to do the grownup thing for a while as you prepare for your wedding. That’s not to say that you can’t return to your bliss later. Sounds like a hard decision, but lots of good options. :-)

    PT-LawMom´s last blog post…How’s Yours?

  • Jessica

    Hi there,

    Just read your post on Brazen Careerist and enjoyed it! I am finishing a PhD myself, and trying to figure out where to take it – the academy, a research or advocacy position in an NGO, or policy work with the federal government. The challenge for me, and I wonder if it is the same for you, is getting out of the comfort zone of taking classes. Reading your two options, I know I would lean toward taking more classes. But it seems to me, given what you describe, that you would be better served by doing freelance work. If it were me, that would be more challenging, because school is where we PhDs excel, and so is the easier choice. But is the easier choice the better one? Not usually, unless mitigating circumstances require it. And you know, as a PhD, that if you approach freelance work in the manner of planning a dissertation, you can do it! Draft a hypothesis (what you want to accomplish), write your proposal (outline the steps you will take), then write it chapter by chapter (start with step one, then step two…). Then you are sure to succeed!

  • fallgirly

    Where can you be more useful? It sounds to me as if the education is a great deal however you’re dreams and goals at this point are elsewhere, you’ve already accomplished so much as a student. I think it’s time to spread your wings and go after other avenues in life!

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    @Katrijn, thanks for visiting! I have furlough this year so there is some free time that I could put towards these things, but I’m not sure if I can work fewer hours. Flex time might be possible, though – I’ll have to look into that!

    @PTLawMom, what you say definintely makes sense. In addition to contract work I am sure I can pick up teaching some online courses either at the university where I work or one of the community colleges…beefing up my savings is definitely very important right now.

    @Jessica, welcome! Glad you clicked over this way. One of the reasons that I am so torn is because you are EXACTLY right…academics is something I am very good at and comfortable doing. It’s hard for me to tell if I want to take more classes now because it will be better…or whether I am just choosing something that is easier for me. I am deeply suspicious of myself!

    @fallgirly, yes I also feel like I can only intensely concentrate on academics for so long…perhaps I am tapped out and should concentrate on new things.

    I talked it over with the BF last night after showing him my post, and he leans toward school…with the caveat that I do something I have never done before, like business, mathematics, or the sciences. He also said that if we moved to another state and I didn’t have a job he’d be fine supporting us both on his salary for up to a year as long as it was clear that I was trying to find a job (so I guess he’s no sugar daddy!). I did tell him that we might want to be married before moving if that was the case, since I don’t want to be without health insurance.

    Honey´s last blog post…What I Want vs. What I Want

  • http://honeyandlance.com Lance

    For me this is a no-brainer, go with choice #2. I’ve found that the more formally educated I am, the further away I get from real world experience and actual money-making skill and ability. Basically, all the business sense I’ve learned happened after graduate school, which is to say, in the last 3 years. I would only take free classes to enrich myself and enhance my social networks. This is in my industry, which is technology, so could be different for you.

    The one degree I would consider is an MBA, mostly for the networking opportunities, but even there I’m hesitant. I’d much rather get a part-time internship or form a relationship with a business-savvy individual to increase my business acumen.

    I’ve worked for Universities for years also, been in this position, and never took advantage of free classes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • http://simonandcole.com simon

    I think Cole and I might split ways on this, so I’ve decided to make my own comment. I’m way too young to comment on this seriously but don’t you think it’s kind of silly to be putting money aside for one day (although I suppose I understand that it may be the ‘most important of your life’) when you could be putting money down for a mortgage on a house or for YOUR kids to go to college? I would say school all the way. Then again, let’s remember I’m a child in comparison……and I’m trying to find money myself to go to my first year of grad school. Good luck, trust in yourself. You’re an intelligent, rational human being. You can do it :)

    simon´s last blog post…Handjobs by Cole

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    Well I am actually thinking of taking computer courses because I work with Access and Excel quite a bit in my job…which is to say, I delegate that stuff to my graduate student assistant. It’d be nice to be able to know what I was doing on my own.

    Honey´s last blog post…What I Want vs. What I Want

  • http://www.thedateabledork.com The Dateable Dork

    Honey – I am totally biased here, but I’ll give you my skewed opinion anyway:

    I think that the opportunity to take practically-free graduate-level classes at a university you are already at everyday anyway is pretty much the most amazing opportunity I can think of. If I had that option, I would take it in a heartbeat! Then again, I am in a completely different life situation than you right now, so I can’t say if that would really be the best option for you and your life/career goals.

    There is something to be said for saving money, increasing your skill set, being marketable, etc…. but then again, there is something to be said for learning new things simply because they make you happy. And $25/semester is a pretty damn amazing price for happiness. : )

    Good luck!

    The Dateable Dork´s last blog post…I think I need help

  • http://20-forty.com lisaq

    I’m completely with Dateable Dork. I could never pass up the opportunity to take almost free classes. The thing is, for me, doing so would completely fit in with my career goals which include opening up the subjects/classes I am certified to teach, so obviously it’s a completely biased opinion. Then again, I just think you can never have too much education and would probably be a professional student if I could get away with it!

    lisaq´s last blog post…5 Dating Rules You Should Never Break

  • Offwinger

    I think it is a mistake to say that taking the classes is “free” or “near free” when you are not factoring in the opportunity cost.

    If you can either freelance OR take classes (to use the choices you’ve presented – obviously, there are many other things you could do with that time/energy instead & maybe one of those options is even better), then the opportunity cost of taking the classes is the money (and experience and networking) that you would have received had you chosen to freelance.

    Option #1 sounds like it is “free and fun.” DD even calls it a $25 price for happiness. This is a false presentation of the choice (and to be fair, DD did admit bias).

    It may be more interesting to take classes. It may enhance your job related skills in some way, though I’m struggling to see how this opportunity relates to that.

    More education in your chosen field or an interesting tangential one is unlikely to make much of a difference for career advancement.

    Community college, community adult education, or the local Y often offer courses that could teach you the same computer skills you’re currently delegating and shying away from.

    [As an aside: I agree with Lance that an MBA might be the only type of degree program that would be career advancing and skills enhancing for you at this point, though I’d imagine you would really need to want to do this to commit to what amounts to a full time 2 year program.]

    This is a choice between doing what’s more fun for you versus doing real work (even work that interests you). You’re tossing around ideas to maybe make the fun/interesting sound more connected to real work, career advancement, etc., but I just don’t see it, and I think you know this deep down.

    That’s why you’re asking: do I follow my passions and what is exciting or do I ignore that to do the grown-up job?

    I’ve lurked for a long while, but I’m chiming in here because you’ve asked for outside advice, and it looks like you’re getting the rationalizations in the comments that help you argue that by choosing fun, passion and excitement, you’re not “shirking” the important career/grown-up stuff. I can’t tell you what to pick or what makes more sense for you. But I can tell you that to the extent you’re trying to reason this out, the arguments for taking classes are suspect other than “it will be more interesting and fun.”

    And for what it’s worth, I’m an academic. This is my career. I enjoy what I do, love some of it, like almost all of it. Nonetheless, I’m constantly faced with choices about when I want to do the fun/exciting stuff versus “real work.” I have found that because when I was a bit younger I chose the real work option more often (not all the time, though!), I now have the financial and job security to choose to follow my passions far more of the time.

  • http://honeyandlance.com Honey

    Hi, Simon! The BF and I are COMPLETELY against home ownership and never plan to have children. So both of those goals are not at all important to us…personally, I don’t really care about the wedding, either, but the BF wants a huge formal affair, so since I don’t care, we’re doing what he wants.

    Though he has said some things lately that lead me to believe he might come around to my view a little more if I just wait…and there’s no harm in saving in the meantime. I only have a 2 month cushion in my savings account and would like to have 3-6 months’ worth of expenses saved, especially if we plan to move to a new city eventually.

    Honey´s last blog post…What I Want vs. What I Want

  • http://singlemomseeking.com/blog/ Single Mom Seeking

    You seem to be right on the ball here, Honey.

    See if you can get flex time at work — and then, as you (and Lance) pointed out, take some super-practical classes that will really add to your skills set in the workforce.

    Sounds like a GREAT “dilemma,” darling!

    Single Mom Seeking´s last blog post…First time home buyer?

  • http://casualencounters.com/blog/ Janak