Quote of the Day, July 3, 2014: “The philosophy of the rich versus the poor is this: The rich invest their money and then spend what is left; The poor spend their money and then invest what is left.”

I’m going to avoid the obvious meaning of the saying, that is money, and I’m going to offer an alternative view, albeit a parallel one.

I play piano. Better than some, and worse than others. I’ll leave it at that. Without going into my long history with the instrument, which included lessons while I was a young boy that I loathed at times, I will say that I fell in love and got the bug during my time at university.

There I met many pianists, guitarists, bassoonists, and all types of musicians of varying skill levels. Some were professionals already hoping to hone their skills under the tutelage of those even more advanced than they. Some may as well have been beginners, seemingly having had decided to make music their major at the last minute while registering for classes. I would have fallen in the latter category, with the exception that music was not my major at all, just a newfound love.

Though I started out behind most pianists I met, my deep desire aroused in me a rare type of discipline. The kind one usually notices in a man trying to woo a woman. I had a goal and a drive to attain it that surpassed my desires for anything else at the time, women included. I found myself “borrowing” any sheet music I could get my hands on. I found myself ditching class in order to practice. I may have ‘allowed’ the secretary at the music department to believe I was a music major so as to have access to pianos to practice on. It was so bad that I even distinctly remember blowing of an incredibly attractive blonde cheerleader (whom I had a pretty sizable crush on at the time) for a party that she really wanted me to attend with her, so that I could solidify a piece of music that I had been working on all week. So instead of partying with her, which would have been the “logical” college thing to do at the time, I instead was running my fingers over the smooth ivory keys of a baby grand deep into the night on a sultry Friday evening.first steps pic

To put it short. What I wanted above all things at that time was proficiency at the piano. I asked questions about the piano. I dreamt about the piano. I played air piano on my binder in class. And most importantly I spend my time and energy on my goal, the piano. Looking back, until my father’s death, which deadened my drive for some time, I practiced piano for an average of 4 hours a day. When my fingers hurt, or when the practice rooms were closed for a holiday, and I had some free time, then I’d go to the party or hang out with the guys. They understood though. They had drives too.

There were those who didn’t understand though. They said they wanted to be good at the piano or perhaps another instrument, but every time there was a party you’d be sure to see them there. Any time there was a cute girl to be distracted by they were ready to give her their undivided attention. On the occasional Wednesday leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend you’d see them in the practice rooms, mostly because everyone else had gone home and they were getting some practicing in to stave off boredom.

Now years later, my close friends, the ones who understood when I wasn’t at the party every Friday night, mostly because they were also ditching the party, and in the practice room down the hall from me, gig all the time. Many have become professionals and live completely off their instrument, or the royalties from music they write or perform. They have become rich beyond their wildest dreams when it comes to opportunities to use the musical talents they have spent a lifetime developing. Our other friends look at us and say, “Well you’re just a lot more talented than I am. I wish I was born with as much rhythm as you,” always thinking that it was some sort of luck of the draw or a genetic disposition that created such a gap in the wealth of musical ability. At this point there is not much to say that they will believe or understand. After all, way back, when we only had two pennies of musical ability to rub together between the whole lot of us, they didn’t understand why we would spend so much time in the practice rooms, giving the piano the first and best hours of our day, and saving the left overs for the parties and the hanging out. They did exactly the opposite and gave the most to the women and the good times, and filled in the gaps with cultivating their skills.

But in the end both got what they desired. They truly wanted the women and the parties and they got them at that time, but now they do not have the musicality because they invested only the left-overs. We at the time, invested only our left overs in women and parties, and often felt left out when people forgot to invite us to get together, being accustomed to us not showing up in the first place. But we gave our best to the piano, and it is what has born fruit for us and continues to grow to this day, for after all, once you’re rich you tend to get richer.

So one gets a frat group of drinking buddies that extends deep into their 20s and perhaps 30s. The other gets a skill that if nurtured, keeps growing and satisfies both them and those around them. Each to his own philosophy, investing first one way, then spending the rest another, or visa versa. The thing is, by the time you’re this age, the musician is the party and always gets an invite, where the guy who’s got no skills but is merely a good time often gets forgotten. Oddly enough the old adage is true, that when it comes to the poor, no matter what type of commodity of currency you’re speaking of, it does seem that even what he has is taken from him. Invest wisely.

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Quote of the Day, September 10, 2013: “The easy road often becomes hard, but the hard road often becomes easy.”

Pretty sure this is a variation on one of the quotes from the past but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite sayings because as I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of adulthood it seems to prove itself over and over and over again in almost every way.

 

Today it comes from an encounter I had with a plastic surgeon. It was outpatient surgery using a local anesthetic so to keep my mind off of the tugging and strange sound of cutting that I could hear because he was working near my ear, the physician talked with me. We talked about the weather (rain), what we like to do for fun; you know the usual at first. But then said he was listening to public radio the other day and heard an interesting story.

 

They were doing some research on jobs and college degrees and they were on an unnamed college interviewing students about their coursework decisions. According to the radio program the last few years the most common degree by far has been psychology. The problem is that when we get out of school, psychology degrees end up earning near the bottom when it comes to entry (and long term) income. That’s because of three common misconceptions, and I’ll let you decide which one today’s quote of the day is referring to.

 

Misconception #1: Most students tend to think of a psychology degree and then envision themselves graduating and working in their own private office where people walk in, lay on the couch, look up at the fancy Kandinsky artwork on the ceiling and say, “well Doc, it all started in my childhood…” We see ourselves charging $100 and hour to talk to someone about how their mom not buying them a Lego set when they were 7 led them to their mid-life crisis now 50 years later. What we don’t realize is that we are actually thinking of a psychiatrist not a psychology. The basic difference there is that the psychiatrist is able to administer drugs and the psychologist cannot. And that apparently is where the money is, however it takes a lot more schooling and a lot better understanding of anatomy and neurology.

 

Misconception #2: Most students don’t realize that the vast majority of psychology degree-type jobs are in social work, which is usually government work. Now there is of course nothing wrong with working for the government, and it is actually really worth while and helpful work, however the government is not really known for its high paying entry level positions.

 

Misconception #3: According to the radio program most of the students interviewed picked psychology as their major because the coursework itself was said to not be very difficult. And in our Cs (and sometimes Ds) get degrees culture, that can be what a lot of students opt for. The problem is that it’s relatively easy compared to say engineering, but only for about 4 years, or a little longer if you go on to graduate work. Then you are out and the easy wears off fast.

 

Apparently the highest entry level pay these days if for a Petroleum Engineering Degree; around $120k a year. Who’da thunk? I hear it’s pretty tough coursework though.

Degrees are A Lot Like Credit Scores

Forget what they taught you in school (or what they taught you in homeschool). Degrees are like credit scores, just another way for those who are too lazy and scared to really invest in you as a person, to assess risk.

As I’ve grown I’ve found that there are really two competing schools of thought when it comes to, well, schooling. You see, growing up I always took for granted that it was very desirable to go to college and get a degree in a profession of your choice. Having a mother with a degree who made good money, and a father without even a high school diploma, who made even more money, I realized that college doesn’t make or break you. But even still I grew up assuming that if you could, you would and should. A university is where you went to learn more in depth about a certain subject and where you would rub elbows against other sharp minds and talents in that field. I often have a stubborn, or prideful side, that tends toward wanting to reinvent the wheel because being told how to do something was somehow some sort of weakness. But I had to admit that wheels had been invented before and that going to school was, in theory, joining the global conversation of what works and what hasn’t worked in the past. By being taught what the world has already discovered in this field or that, you skip having to come up wit it yourself and instead you get to be brought up to speed and put in a position to add to that collective knowledge. Not only does this enable you to skip having to make all those discoveries others have already done, but it allows you to be brought up to speed with the rest of the world in that field, who you would assume, have also been schooled in the triumphs and defeats of the past.

Later on in life I found myself around a group of people who thought almost completely the opposite. Schooling, especially higher education was a place where future drones go to deaden their creativity and ingenuity. Not much value was placed on the collective understanding of a field because the odds are, that field has been so politicized and watered down by the changing whims of society as it devolves over the years that most of the information gained in a classroom setting is less than useless, more detrimental. Instead of being seen as someone who was willing to forgo the instant gratification of a job right out of high school for the investment in their future, someone with a college degree was seen as someone who wanted to delay the inevitability of adulthood for four more years of drunken parties and a sense of entitlement once it was all over and done with. Personal experience is the only true teacher and any other is a liar and a fraud.

Both sides can get pretty obnoxious. Let’s face it. We’ve all met that girl who thinks her master’s degree in Dead Elvish Languages with a minor in Ancient Arctic Feminist Psychology makes her better and smarter than everyone around her, and if a guy doesn’t have a Ph.D. then he’s a waste of her time. Meanwhile she’s 29 and still struggles to understand why her credit cards are eating her alive between her bi-weekly trips to the salon and her addiction to collecting Gilmore Girls paraphernalia.

In turn we’ve also all met that guy who dropped out of school in the 11th grade and is a self-made man who’s constantly bringing up the fact that he never went to college and doesn’t have some fancy pants degree on the wall in his office and he’s doing just fine, and then you pause and say, “Ya that’s great John, I’m just wondering why you managed to slip that in in the middle of our conversation about how my tennis elbow is really hindering my backhand.” It often seems more out of insecurity than out of confidence.

The thing about degrees is in this world of ours where we are all either too lazy or too busy to get to know one another, a degree behaves much like a credit score does. I mean seriously, what if I showed up at a bank and acted like a snotty nosed brat because I had a 750. They would say, “Great, want a cookie?” So in the same respect, why would we go around with our noses in the air if we have a degree. While only 25% of adults in the US have degrees, there’s also a sense in which, great you have a degree, who doesn’t? But at the same time, not having a degree is hardly a bragging point. “Look at me! I managed to buy this huge house and I didn’t even have a good credit score or anything!” Well that deserves a mild, “good for you.” And then after that not much more than a shrug and a, “who cares?”

What I mean is this. With all the political chatter, and emotional hype around education and what it means and what it should mean, let’s just admit it. Once you get out into the world of bills and jobs and money lenders and 401ks degrees act a lot like a credit score, not much more, and not much less. And while having a good credit score is a good thing and can often open a few doors that otherwise would have been closed, aside from their utilitarian value, they deserve neither glorification nor demonization

  • Sure in theory a degree means you have undergone years of study and are probably a lot more informed, current, and possibly even intelligent for it. – By the same token, having a good credit score, in theory means you’ve been lent money or services, and have diligently and timely paid back those who lent you them on a consistent basis. (Key phrase: in theory)
  • Because you have this degree in business, in theory, you are probably pretty good at business and therefore I feel comfortable giving you a job in my business firm, seeing as you are probably more likely to succeed than someone who does not have a business degree. – Likewise if you have a 764, in theory, you have probably paid your bills on time for a long time, and I feel very comfortable lending you money because someone with the history of bill-paying that you have, means you are very likely to pay me back this money in the future. At least a lot more likely to pay me back than someone with a 500. (Key phrase: in theory)
  • You can be the most experienced person in the world, and actually sit down and demonstrate how much understanding and knowledge you have in a field, but a large company is tied by its own policies to not hire you, while they are able to hire someone who demonstrates less ability, simply because they have a degree. This is because our society is so large and so statistically and formulaically driven, we do not have the time nor the desire to get our hands dirty to really know the person. This time and annoyance saved is actually worth the potential money lost apparently. To replace getting to know the person and their abilities, regardless of where those abilities were derived, we lazily put our trust in certifications and diplomas, reluctantly giving in to the assumption that because the degree exists, that person simply must have the desired qualities for the position. – Once again you can be the most reliable and trust worthy ‘yes means yes and no means no’ kind of person around, and you could even know the individual loans officer personally, but a bank will give more money at a better interest rate (code for they trust them more) to an obviously more sleazy person with a great credit score. That’s because while they may ask you different questions about your life and your past they really don’t care to get to know you all that well, and just rely on that score to tell them what they can assume about the odds of you paying them back.

Basically it comes down to this. A credit score is used by lending institutions, rental housing, and sometimes even jobs to assess the probability of lending you something, or giving you a responsibility, and getting that money back, or having you live up to that responsibility. There are tons of factors that go into what really makes a person reliable or trustworthy at any given point in their life, and while lending institutions do take some of these factors into account, they rely heavily on this abstract number that is a very sterile and impersonal way of determining how dependable you really are. A degree behaves in the same manner. An employer with multiple applicants certainly takes time to sit and talk with them and look at a variety of other factors, but many employers rely heavily on a simple piece of paper that has no intrinsic value or definitive meaning in itself. It allows them to reasonably assume that you’ve have some sort of background in the field they want you to be knowledgeable in and they are willing to take a chance on you because of it.

So just take them for face value. These things are good to have because they make people assume that their risk is diminished by their presence. They are certainly nothing to brag about though. And also nothing to jeer at. I’m always a fan of having more options than less myself.