I have been reading J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy about his life growing up in Middletown, Ohio with his family of relocated Kentucky hillbillies. His family was dysfunctional, poverty-stricken, and had a negative culture that bred more dysfunction. I also had an opportunity to attend a series of lectures over the Holocaust at the University of Texas-Dallas, where I learned of the struggles, forced poverty, and recovery of the Jewish people. One of the speakers was a professor named Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsvath who lived in Budapest, Hungary as a child during the German occupation. She witnessed the struggles of the Jewish people from systematic anti Semitism in the local laws, the attitudes of the people both Jewish and non Jewish, and eventually the genocide along the Danube as her family went into hiding.
Both of these people had nothing to start their adult lives with. Vance only had a simple High School education and a Mamaw pushing him to use his brain, and Dr. Ozsvath had about a middle school education and decided from her experiences that education is the one tool no one can take from you. Vance eventually went on to Yale and became a successful lawyer and writer, and Dr. Ozsvath made her way into Germany after the war to study in the universities and later made her way to the University of Texas- Austin. Where her husband taught and they lived lives of successful academics, writers, and scholars.
I found these two figures incredible and inspirational examples of people who pulled themselves out of poverty when all the odds were stacked against them. Both should not have made it to where they are today in life. Both are lucky to be alive, and to be functioning in a normal manner after their childhoods. But, they are successful on a whole other level and both attribute their attaining of their education as their key to getting to live a new better life.
We have all heard that in America and other successful countries that higher education usually leads to more successful options in your life later. Usually, these opportunities also pay more than the average salary out there. But, we don’t hear those stories where someone has nothing, but some motivation, and a plan to move up the ladder and they achieve it. Those are the stories that are so rare they make movies and write books about them. So, the question is why don’t more people use education to gain more successful opportunities?
Vance says it is a matter of hillbilly culture that kept his family back. They talked of their poverty with pride, and just could not see their lives any other way. So you find many hillbilly’s are fine with their level of poverty and lack of opportunities. Vance was an exception to the culture and this is largely due to his Mamaw preaching education to him in high school as he lived with her away from his struggling mother.
Dr. Ozsvath said the atrocities of the Holocaust made her evaluate her way in life before the war. She knew anti Semitism still existed in the world, and their persecution could happen again, so she invested in something that could not be taken from her. Education became a huge part of Jewish culture after the war, and it is a culture still being passed down today. You also find from this culture that the Jewish religion is doing economically better than most major world denominations.
You can find, in the financial blogging world, that most of the people who have successfully retired early usually have multiple degrees, are engineers, or have used education to create a niche or opportunity for themselves. You can look at most wealthy people and find that higher education and wealth go hand in hand. I have a Master’s degree, Jacob Lund Fisker, Root of Good, and Mr. Money Mustache are retired engineers, and Ed Mills and his wife have a Master’s degrees. We have used our education as a tool for a better life and more financial opportunities.
There is something that has to be said about student debt though. It is a terrible burden if you have too much of it hanging around your neck. It is nice to get an education and invest in yourself, but if you don’t have the money to invest, you shouldn’t borrow it all. You should do everything in your power to not pick up student debt. Use your AP and IB classes in high school to get credits, use the local community college or cheaper online options to get your basics done, and work the entire time paying every bit you can into not taking out any student debt. Taking 15 hours a semester means you are in class and studying for about 30 hours a week. So work for another 20-30 hours a week and invest the money back into you. Try to live at home for as much as possible during your college years and learn to cook. Too many people come out with $30-$40K or more of debt and never worked, lived in dorms, had meal plans, and partied. Lets be smarter on our education plan and see the long-term goals. Stay out of debt.
If you are older and want to go back; then go for it. You can work and go to school in many non traditional programs. Online degrees are at most colleges and certifications can be earned to boost your pay in a matter of months, and are offered after work for you. I attended classes from at 6:30-9:30pm once a week for my Master’s degree and paid in cash also. I took a few online classes in the summer, so I could travel with my family and enjoy my teacher perks of not having to go to school. I still go to conferences, trainings, and read a ton of books every year to further my education. Most of those are free from university endowments and your public libraries. Education for a working adult can be done much easier today than any other time in our history.
So, education has a huge factor on a person’s success and wealth. It has the power to lift people out of poverty and show them another life that can be achieved. It can shape and change generations of a family, if it is preached and shown to be important at home. Education is a great investment you can take with you anywhere and it is next to impossible to have it taken away from you. So, continue to invest in you education and allow your children to see the importance of it in your families lives. Use this tool to free yourself from forced labor by accumulating some wealth, and use it to create and do what you truly love.