“Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.” That was Seth Godin’s recent closing line from his email “Never Eat Sushi at the Airport.” He was talking about choosing what’s closest rather than choosing based on who has the expertise to prepare sushi, who to ask for entertainment or restaurant tips, or who will give advice based on their own interests instead of your best interests.
I thought about it overnight, and the next morning thought about how the advice applied to the work I do with veterans. There were two specific areas that this clearly applies to – the first is where to go to college or get a university degree, and the second is where to seek a career. Sure, many veterans pick where they return to based on where they came from, where their families are, or a myriad of other geographic variables. That’s fine. But where this breaks down is when a veteran chooses a college based on what’s local or accessible. Or when a veteran or family member chooses a career based on what’s locally available. Sure, sometimes we have to make short term choices based on geography. Even then we should make our best choices, knowing they are short term, but understanding the long term implications of the choice. It’s one thing to take a short-term job while considering what’s next, another to limit your life’s choices to what’s nearby without considering why you’re making these choices and what their implications are for the life course.
When making choices about education, it’s even more important to think about what the long-term implications are for short-term choices. High cost options for short-term ease of access might have long-term repercussions. Student loans might limit career mobility, geographic relocation opportunity, choices on how to support family members in their own educations, or more. High cost options might return less value than low cost options, like community colleges, or even free options like MOOCs. There’s a difference between credentialing and knowledge acquisition.
Godin understood this – if you make a short-term meal choice based on availability you might merely end up with food poisoning. If you make a short-term, proximity-based choice on education or career you might end up with a lifetime of debt, fewer career options, and limited education. Take a little time, consider what you want to do, pick your educational program based on what is in your own best, long-term interests. The same for careers – consider what makes the most sense, make the short-term choices where they are appropriate, but plan for the long term. That might mean learning a little bit about labor markets – where is unemployment low? Where are wages high? Where is the cost of living reasonable? What industry sectors are present in a given geography? How do these impact family career opportunities? Not every career is possible in every geography, and not every veteran understands how to assess this information. But, there is good advice available. Sort of like the signs in an airport – they’ll point the way to all the choices. You just have to pick the right choice!