Is the glass half full or half empty? Why did the chicken cross the road? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? An English professor wrote the words, “A woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly. The men wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” The women wrote: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” (Funny Jokes, 2004). All of these examples serve to illuminate one fundamental truth; namely, that perspective is the mechanism by which one person’s truth can become another person’s shortfall.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of perspective. Indeed perspective is at the same time the vehicle which can allow us to overcome substantial obstacles and the roadblock which can trip up even our best intentions. Since we have been studying the links between motivation, striving, and our college degree I think that I will continue along that line of thinking. I have found it necessary to maintain perspective while completing my course work for my degree. Perspective acts as a map, a roadmap that keeps me on track and moving in the right direction. First, let’s look at my current perspective and then contrast that perspective with the viewpoint of some other people in my life.
When I dropped out of school in 10th grade I wanted to prove that I was more than a piece of paper; meaning that I wanted to prove that I could “make it” without a high school diploma or a college degree. I wanted to show that a degree was just a piece of paper that did not mean anything. I had met several people who were no smarter than I was who had achieved master’s degrees in various subjects. So I went to work. I was a hard charger from the beginning. I advanced quickly and just as quickly found the ceiling. I have heard countless civil rights activists claim that there was a glass ceiling for which no minority can overcome. I always thought they were full of hot air until I hit it. Now I understand the necessity for the “glass” part in “glass ceiling”. You cannot see it until you hit it yourself. I was quickly informed at many of my jobs that the only way to move up in the company would be to obtain a degree. I quit two jobs after 5 years a piece before I realized that I was simply wrong. I had to change my perspective on college. The only way I was going to achieve the goals I had set out in life to accomplish was to get a college degree. Now that I am almost two years into my degree I have realized that it was not the piece of paper that meant so much but rather the experience and knowledge gained while in college that made all of the difference. As a result, I have learned to encode my college experience as a life-changing rather than a life-inhibiting process. I thrive on accomplishment. I feel good about doing something when I know that I am accomplishing something. That is just one of my personality traits. I have had to learn to break college down into small accomplishments rather than one big accomplishment. By doing this I feel I am accomplishing something on an assignment-by-assignment basis. Through making these changes in my perspective I had successfully overcome my negative attitude about college and appeased my personality.
On the other hand, my family holds mixed feelings about my college experience. My mother completed her bachelor’s degree after 10 years of difficulties and obstacles. She was a single mother. She worked a part-time job, went to college, and took care of me and my brother. She wanted something better than we had and she knew that a degree was the only way that she was going to get there. However, while completing her degree she racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which she still has not paid off completely. That is why my father sees my college education as a waste of time. He did not complete high school either, but when he turned 18 he immediately got his G.E.D. and went into the navy. When he got out of the armed services he worked at Lockheed Martin for a number of years and then retired. From his perspective, a degree is a waste of time and too much money. My mother, however, understands why I am doing this because she went through a similar experience when getting her degree. She is able to see the earning potential for someone with a degree in the workforce today. My father, on the other hand, is from a generation past when high paying manufacturing jobs were where the money was at. Conversely, my brother has a completely different viewpoint on the matter. We are living with my mother while I am completing my degree, partly for financial help and partly for help with the children. One person just cannot make enough money on a low-paying job to support a family anymore. Anyway, my brother sees me as a moocher, like I am taking advantage of my parents. He does not have a degree and he does alright, but I think that has a lot to do with his low standards. He lives in a terrible apartment, drives an old beat-up pickup, and works from time to time. From his point of view, a degree is not important in order to enjoy life. One of his favorite sayings is, “Money can’t buy everything”. He holds much the same perspective that I did before I started pursuing my degree. “What is the point in working so hard just to get a piece of paper and a raise?” I would say. I can empathize with his position. Between my mother, father, and brother they all hold a different perspective on my college education than I do. These differences of opinion appear to be driven mostly by environmental factors and social issues. My mother was forced to go to college and therefore treated college like a job. It was required. My father, on the other hand, worked during a time when a college degree was not necessary to “make it” in the United States. I understand best my brother’s point of view. However, I am sure there will come a time when he wants more than he has. He will then face the same choice that I did. He can use his perspective as a crutch or reformulate his perspective to better mirror his goals.
In conclusion, there is a wonderful story in our text (Bold, 2004) that perfectly illustrates the point that I am trying to make. It is about a businessman who is in another country talking to a fisherman. The fisherman lives a surreal life of leisure and happiness. The businessman asks him why he doesn’t strive for more. The fisherman inquires as to why he would want more. The businessman explains that he should strive for more in order to eventually obtain the life that the fisherman already has. Likewise, in my opinion, the question of why is always so much more important than what or how. If the end goal is to simply accomplish something for monetary or social gain, then I agree it is a waste of time. However if I can maintain the perspective that I am completing my degree in order to better my life and the life of my family I will succeed, how can I not?
Funny jokes: Perspective. (2004). Retrieved April 19, 2008, from Basic Jokes Web site: http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=161
Bolt, M. (2004). Pursuing human strengths: A positive psychology guide. New York, NY: Worth