Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Beware of those who downgrade a college education

A recent letter to the editor of the newspaper that employs me noted that, among the very many failures of our “socialist” education system, there is the idea that every student should go to college.

Whenever there is a shortage of a particular kind of blue-collar worker, one of the first institutions to be blamed is education because of the belief that teachers are inculcating children with the idea that factory labor is bad, and office work is good. When you consider how much American manufacturing has gone overseas, some might think it’s a good idea to direct students to education for career fields that have nothing to do with the factory floor, but there are many who are nostalgic for the old days when America was a manufacturing behemoth and believe that if we just had enough available workers we’d have factories humming again.

What most people who advocate these views fail to realize is that there is something in our nation called personal choice. Many, many students want to attend college for the very reason that they want to be employed in fields that will provide work, pay and benefits. Training youths for jobs that no longer exist may make people feel good about their own past careers, but it won’t put food on the table.

Many people say college doesn’t teach any practical skills. Well, I say that you have to start somewhere, and the skills that college teaches go beyond just the bare minimum. For me, for example, completing my degree opened so many doors that I could see why so many people I knew were opposed to me pursuing college.

Need vs. want
According to many people whose bad advice I fortunately ignored. I didn’t “need” to go to college. I had a job at the post office, and could spend the rest of my work life there, make a good, blue-collar wage doing work that was dull, repetitive and seemingly guaranteed to last forever.

But I was dying of boredom. There had to be more out there than what I was seeing, and the vehemence of the denials I encountered were, oddly, convincing me that I was being lied to by a lot of people. Some people – and I’m not naming names here, but you know who you are – deliberately gave me bad advice.

I’m glad that I learned the most important lesson you can learn when managing your life: Some people want you to not achieve because of their own lack of achievement. And they will advise you into the worst decisions of your life.

I dipped my toe into the water of college in the summer of 1988, against the advice of some who I realized had nothing to say to me.

Many of these people had never tried to do anything or take a risk. I looked like a whacko at the time. Look, at the postal facility I worked at, I was one of only two blue-collar workers actually pursuing a college degree. My thinking was that the organization had told me multiple times that I would never advance within it, so I would have to take the bull by the horns and take charge of my own career and my own development.

I did that, though many people told me that my pursuit of a college degree was more of a “want” than a “need.”

It wasn’t easy. It took me nearly six years to get a four-year degree. And I did some college beyond my degree.

But I want to point out that the college degree I worked so hard to attain began to pay off soon after I walked across that stage.

Take that job and leave it
I had decided that at some point after my graduation from Florida Atlantic University, I’d have to make a serious move. The post office was a sea anchor that was dragging me down and keeping me from achieving. I was job-hunting without much success and I realized that my current employment was preventing me from really chasing hard for a new job.

I had passed up opportunities before based on bad advice but now I needed to put myself into a situation where I had to find a job, so I decided that I needed to make a clean break.

I decided to quit the post office outright, then make a job search my full-time job.

Was it risky? Yes. Was it crazy? A little, maybe. Did it work? Damn right it did.

Soon after quitting the post office in June 1994, I landed a job at an Internet service provider. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Soon, I also had a part-time job at a newspaper. Then a full-time job at a newspaper. And the rest is history.

There have been bumps along the way, I’ll confess.

But I have never regretted that decision in 1994 to quit my brainless job and basically roll the dice on something new.

College was the difference between me and failure. I have never forgotten that.


September 29, 2015 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , | 1 Comment

Life without cable TV is pretty livable

There was a time when people who dumped cable TV were seen as the kind of folks who were looking to live “off the grid” and possibly hunted their own meat, but it’s become a mainstream idea of late, and I recently joined the club.

Back in the day, life was pretty simple. You bought a TV, hooked up an outside antenna and the world came through to you. Cable TV was for mountainous areas and other remote places where the over-the-air signals were just too weak for good reception. Sometimes in the city, you could pick up distant stations, especially on the UHF channels, but mostly you stuck to your local tried and true stations.

The rise of CNN and other stations on cable made cable service almost a necessity, though, and the advent of “must carry” rules meant that local stations were on the system, too. I still remember that at the Boca Raton News we had cable on the TV in the sports department, but had to pick up the local channels, including the Super Bowl, on rabbit ears. It was fuzzy, but it worked.

Everywhere you moved to, job one was getting cable hooked up. You had to pay their price and take their packages, bringing in a ton of channels you didn’t plan on watching just to get your favorites.

With a VCR, you could time shift and record shows for later viewing. In 2005, I bought a TiVo and found a much better way to get my favorite shows. Since I worked nights and weekends, it was a lifesaver and I could follow shows easily and without worrying that I might have forgotten to set the VCR or had run out of tapes.

An effort to cut costs was behind my recent decision to cut the (cable) cord. I was also going to get rid of my telephone landline, a “package” deal, but was advised that to do so and still get Internet, I needed to buy a cable modem for “just” $80. I decided to keep the landline for two more months and continue to use the company’s modem.

Still, I cut $80 off my budget, though I’ll miss some shows.

The thing is, I can still see some of them because they are streamed through the Internet. And the stuff I missed, well, someday I’ll have the money to buy the DVDs.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot more reading. Losing cable TV was a sacrifice, but I feel I’ve gained a lot more.

January 3, 2012 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting ready for the ordeal of ordeals

On Thursday, Dec. 29, I am planning big changes in my life. But first, I have to participate in a ritual that can turn the average person into a quivering hunk of terrified jelly.

Sure, I will find out my future job status, but I am also planning to grab change by the horns, and with luck I won’t end up in the hospital with puncture wounds. What awesome challenge am I, the man who survived Parris Island, the post office and four adoring felines, about to face?

I am going to change my cable service by cutting out TV and telephone, and eliminate my TiVo service.

Downgrading my cable service from TV-Phone-Internet to Internet guarantees me a trip to the section of phone hell called “customer retention.” See, you can increase your services with relative ease, since the cable company gets more of your money. But if you attempt to reduce your services, I know from experience that they will do everything short of threats to first-borns to stop you from committing this terrible offense.

I am girding my loins for the arguments about the terrors of not having even basic cable. How it’s just wrong for me to cancel my landline, even though I can get the same services – and more – for less from a cellphone. And how Internet alone is just wrong, wrong, wrong, though it’s offered.

The folks in retention are trained to act as if they’re financial advisers, warning you of the terrible economic consequences of your plan to cut your service. I will be strong. I will be strong. I WILL BE STRONG.

I will also miss terribly my favorite shows, but can catch some of them on Hulu or other sites. And someday, when my economic status improves, I may be able to again afford the whole magilla, and that will be a glorious day.

Ending TiVo is a bit harder, but must also be done. I feel bad about it. It’s been a part of my life since 2005, and has made watching TV so much better, and time-shifting – an essential part of life when you work nights – a snap. But without cable, there’s no need for TiVo. I can save even more money by dumping it, and can just play back what I’ve recorded already.

There’s a lot of talk about change in the world, but the people in charge like change when they can impose it on those below them. I am imposing change on my betters here, and they had better get used to it.

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , | Leave a comment