Question: I am currently in school and working full time. I'm trying to decide if I should just finish my associate degree or continue to a four-year degree to get a better job. I enjoy school but am not sure if it's the right investment vs. saving for retirement. I would be in my late 60s when I graduate. Your thoughts?
ANSWER: Follow your heart -- with a dose of practicality.
THE INNER GAME: The first step you need to take is to know your vision for the next stage of your life. Carve out some time from work and school to pause and reflect. Focus on your breathing, releasing any anxiety about the future and any sense of what you should do. This is your chance to let your inner voice be heard.
Think about what motivates you. When you consider having a "better" job, what do you envision? A greater challenge or more compensation? Working in a certain type of organization? Notice if you're trying to get away from where you are now vs. having a proactive view of where you'd like to be -- that's never a recipe for success.
What is it about school that you enjoy? You're probably a person who values ongoing learning; how important is the structure, feedback and social interaction of a formal classroom setting? Also consider if you have gained similar personal satisfaction through other activities or in other settings.
How long do you expect to work? While many people are deferring retirement out of necessity or preference, you'd be finishing school at a common retirement age. As you figure out the best plan, you'll want to factor in a realistic perspective on the number of years you'll want to -- or be able to -- work post-graduation.
THE OUTER GAME: Now that you've developed a vision, focus on feasibility and next steps. I strongly recommend consulting a financial planner. If you don't have one, find one. The trade-offs between retirement savings, tuition payments, student loans and other financial implications are not to be made lightly, and it is not an area on which I am qualified to comment.
Talk to people at your school's career office and your state or county workforce development centers. They'll have tools to help determine the job market and reasonable salary expectations for an associate or bachelor's degree and may also be able to help you find resources to fund an ongoing education.
It's also very important to get some direct information from potential new employers. Tap into your network to set up interviews to get more information on what they look for. You may find that your associate degree and years of experience get you farther than you thought or that a four-year degree is, in fact, essential. Either way, you'll be making a more fact-based decision.
If you decide that pursuing a four-year degree isn't for you, don't neglect your clear need for ongoing growth and development. There are many ways to engage, including auditing classes at local colleges or universities or finding organizations that are focused on your interests.
THE LAST WORD: Make a choice that will serve you the best long-term by building on your life vision.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.