To degree or not degree? That is the question.

I have been thinking about starting a degree for a few years now.  It’s one of those things that niggles at me, sometimes my feelings are strong, and other times I forget about it entirely, but of late, I’m getting those urges again.  I can while away countless hours looking at options and working out if it’s financially viable (it’s not). 

Taking a step back to my time at school.  Family life was normal I would say.  My Dad was the main breadwinner, my Mum worked part time so that she could take me and my brother to and from school.  In fact, that’s not 100% true, I remember Mum working 2 jobs, she’d work 9:30-2:30pm around school hours and at one point she also worked in a local chip shop, so she was full time working.  We weren’t exactly rich, I know Mum needed to work 2 jobs to allow us to have the odd treat.  All my friends would have birthday parties at McDonalds in the Boat (who remembers that?), but I would have friends round for a tea party, it was fine, and I never expected more.  I didn’t have branded clothes, most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my cousins.  I loved getting a big bag of their clothes, I’d keep everything and to say my style was ‘funky’ is an understatement.  I remember my Mum buying me a new school cardigan, I was so proud and happy to have it, and very grateful.  It felt like such a treat.  Primary school came and went, and I have fond memories of it.  I don’t remember excelling at anything, but I enjoyed being there. 

When it was time to choose a high school, I only had one option.  I was destined to follow in the footsteps of my brother and attend the local high school, the one that everybody chose as a last resort if I’m being honest, back in 1995-1999 this school didn’t have a good reputation locally, but it was Ok, and most of my primary school friends were going.  As we all know, as children reach puberty they start to be far more conscious of themselves, and that extends beyond their bodies, it’s goes for their clothes too.  I remember a friend offering me some of her old school shoes when she got new ones.  I was very proud of these shoes.  They were ‘Pods’, they were all the rage, along with ‘Kickers’, I was so desperate to own these shoes and wear them, that I squeezed my feet into them despite my feet being too big, I didn’t care, I looked cool.

By the time I got to Year 10, I had a part time job working at the local market on a Saturday.  It was a fresh, and cooked meats stall.  I worked there for around a year, earning £20 each Saturday.  I’d spend my money wisely, usually on clothes…  When the time came to go on work experience at school, I was sent to a trainer shop in town, to work as a retail assistant for 2 weeks.  It was fun, and they paid me (pitifully in comparison to a normal wage)!  I was able to buy my first pair of branded trainers (Reebok Classics), it was such an important thing for me back then, I felt fantastic.

So as you can see, money was important to me, and this was because we didn’t have a lot of it.

I did ok at school, just about average.  I didn’t have any close family members that had attended college or university, I never spoke to my mum or dad about my aspirations for the future, and honestly, it felt like we couldn’t afford for me to go to college.  Looking back, I think we would have made it work, but just getting money for bus fares for school was a struggle, and I didn’t want to make Mum feel the pressure of scrimping it together for me, I know she struggled, it was obvious.

When I finished school I applied for jobs that involved admin work, and after 6 weeks or so I found a job at a paint company.  I stayed there for about 18 months, my time there was good.  I got on well with everybody.  I would walk to and from work each day and got a huge sense of pride when I got paid.  I asked for a pay rise after I was established, and was met with a firm ‘No’, I was an admin assistant, they could get another whenever they wanted, is what I was told.  Charming! I felt that I had earned it, but I realise now that the turnover of admin assistants there was high, and it was never going to happen.  So, I left. 

My next job was a trade counter assistant at an electronics distribution company, I started there when I was 18, after simply asking the counter manager for a job, and starting a few days later.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get!  This company was to be my employer for over 17 years.  I meandered through different departments and enjoyed each one.  I was always looking for the next challenge, and that’s when I set my sights on the Buying department.  I felt out of my depth, but I just went for it.  My manager Alison was fierce, she was not a lady to be messed with.  She stood up for our team and I spent 8 years in that department.  Sadly, Alison passed away 2 years ago to Cancer. 

I ended my time at this company as a Business Development Manager and a Product Manager.  It was a unique role, and something that hadn’t been done before. 

Working for the same company for so long meant that I was always promoted from within, and the experience was worth more than a qualification, and I suppose that’s true as we get older generally. 

Now, I’m sure a lot of people might think ‘Why does not having a degree bother her, she has a job that she loves, and she is getting on in life just fine’, which I am, but I have these niggles, and I know why.  They stem from me thinking that I didn’t have the option of further education when I was younger, it was more important for me to be earning money, but now it’s much more than that.  It’s wanting to lead by example for my children, I need my children to make their own decisions on whether they go to university, but if it’s talked about openly, and they see it as a path to take without any obstacles (which it should be for everybody), then I’m really hoping they’ll take it.  Plus, I really want to get a degree before my children, I’m competitive like that.

Further education should be an option for all young adults, I was lucky that I found a place of work where I was able to grow and gain experience, but I do feel my communication and thinking skills are not as effective as my peers, and I would really like to brush up on those.  A degree takes time and a lot of hard work, so it requires some serious thought.  Do I need one? No.  Do I want that sense of fulfilment, and do I want to set that example for my children? Yes!  Decisions, Decisions.

Webinars

As with most things at the moment, COVID 19 is having an impact on our daily lives, and it’s making us think about how we carry out our day to day activities.  I normally spend a considerable chunk of my time travelling for work.  Mainly visiting education trade shows and conferences as well as customers, and the occasional celebratory event.  When WHO (World Health Organisation) declared a global pandemic, all things ‘travel’ stopped for me.  What are we going to do!?  It’s not a common occurrence.  We didn’t have a back up plan. 

I’ll admit that I was worried.  Worried that the health of my children and family would be affected, worried that friends would become ill, worried that work would no longer need me, worried that people weren’t taking it seriously!!

Word came that all non-essential travel had been stopped, shows/conferences and the like started to get cancelled.  This was a huge relief for me.  I was faced with the prospect of home schooling my two children and I didn’t know how that was going to work.  Nobody did.

A few weeks in, and with a very supportive workplace it meant that I was starting to get a handle on what the new norm looks like in our house.  We had a rota.  PE with Joe, schoolwork, walk the dog, lunch, schoolwork, finish.  I’d squeeze in as much work as I could.  Probably half of what I’d normally do, but it was a start.  Rather inconveniently… we had a half term after 2 weeks of us being at home which was badly timed really, as we’d just gotten into a good habit and then it felt like we had to start all over again.

‘Unprecedented’ and ‘Pivot’ became the new buzz words.  At work the Education team produced some activities name ‘home learning series’ and my colleague (but also a good friend) Katie and I were asked if we’d be interested in running a webinar series to compliment the new resources.  We didn’t need to think about it for long, we’d obviously love to do this!  Most of our time prior to Covid was spent talking to educators and customers, this was a new way to reach them.  We had to do it.

It took us a few weeks to work through a plan, and we also needed to upgrade our Zoom plan so we could host a webinar.  100 people max, with the intention of live streaming to YouTube.  It’s amazing the amount of time and effort it takes to host a 30-minute webinar.  Getting up to speed with the registration process, communication channels, live streaming and the format for the session itself was fun.  It’s good to learn new things, and Katie and I make a great team.

We decided on a slow and steady start, so we didn’t advertise too much, and we didn’t live stream to start.  We needed to build confidence in ourselves, and this was the best approach.  The first webinar came ‘My Micro:bit’, it was soo much fun! We had a format that we’d talked through several times, we stuck to that, and it worked.  Katie and I were feeling great, so we immediately planned the following weeks.

As we went through the webinars we started uploading content to YouTube, then we started the live streaming.  Our numbers have been increasing each week, and we’re reaching new people.  This is exactly what we’d hoped to achieve.  We had a good flow.  Katie and I talked about who would show each project on the webinar, and by choosing the ones that excited us the most we covered them all.  Great teamwork!

Here we are, preparing for the last webinar in the Home Learning Series which goes live next week. 

I had been saying for a while that 2020 was the year to do more stuff that makes me feel scared.  I want to get better at speaking in public.  These webinars have given me more confidence, and now I’m writing a blog… It’s no coincidence!

Sometimes you have to dive in, keep your eyes closed if you have too…. but try to keep them open.  It’s a beautiful and scary world out there and experiencing that with friends makes the journey better.