The following was originally written in 2004, although unfortunately still feels relevant 9 years later.
“Had a PhD, an MBA, but now he's waitin' tables 'cause
there's rent to pay.” – Everlast.
That is taken from the song “Ends” on the album Whitey
Ford Sings The Blues. I’ve been a fan of Everlast for years and as I sit
here organizing my thoughts that song seems to be playing on repeat in my
I know lots of people with PhDs and MBAs and many of them
are underemployed. I don’t think any of them wait tables for a living, but I
bet a few wish they earned as much as a waiter in a busy restaurant.
I will admit that some of them, despite their educational
achievements, are not very talented or knowledgeable. A few others may have
gotten degrees from second-rate or non-accredited universities and some
received their degrees in relatively easy subjects. Finally, a tiny few pursued
such obscure and highly specialized areas of study that they have developed
skills for which there simply is no market. Whatever the reason, I know far too
many people holding advanced degrees and struggling to make ends meet.
And that just ain’t right.
I love living in, and being a citizen of, the United States.
I would rather be poor in the U.S. than middle-class in most other countries.
Even our lowest demographics have access to luxuries and a standard of living
that surpasses of most other societies. This is a point that simply cannot be
Sure, there is room for improvement and there may be a few
places that do certain things better, but not many. The vast majority of
American citizens have all of their needs met in abundance. We have so much
food that we are becoming a nation of lard-asses, we live safely in huge homes,
and enjoy the best entertainment while amassing such vast wardrobes that we can
afford to let our clothing go out of style. In the Third World, there is no
such thing as “out of style.” If you are lucky enough to own a shirt then you
wear that shirt as long as it covers you. Only the privileged can afford to
shop for goods they do not need.
One negative side effect to our privileged society is that
our personal needs are met so well that we have to create artificial needs to
keep the majority of us from being completely useless.
All a society really requires are people to produce and distribute
food, build shelter, make clothes, treat illnesses, and protect the society at
large. Society doesn’t need artists, musicians, actors, and the like. We enjoy
them and are often willing to pay them to be entertained by their talents, but
we don’t need them. Similarly, we don’t need philosophers, theologians,
economists, and other abstract thinkers. We don’t need astronomers,
paleontologists, botanists, zoologists, neuroscientists, physicists,
biologists, or other scientists. I will not deny that members of these
professions have contributed a great deal to our understanding of the world and
our collective intellectual growth, but I will argue that society needs ditch
diggers far more than it needs esoteric theories of ditch digging.
I personally hold a doctorate in one of the most useless
sciences ever created by man: psychology. I love psychology and I have the
highest level of respect for my field of study but I will be the first person
to point out that almost no one truly needs a psychologist. Many can and have
benefited from psychology but only an extremely minute portion of society has a
real need for our services. Unfortunately for these people, psychology often
Only a fool would get a degree in psychology in the Third
World, if such a doctoral program could be found. Psychology and psychologists
are a luxury only privileged societies can afford.
Unfortunately for many new college students in the U.S.,
these “useless” occupations can seem just as valid and appealing as more practical
ones, sometimes even more so. For instance, early in my college career a friend
asked for my advice on whether he should enroll in a two-year program to be
trained as an X-ray technician or pursue a four-year degree at a college.
At the time I suggested that, although the X-ray training
would be shorter, in the end the only skills he would have acquired would
pertain to taking X-rays. On the other hand, the general knowledge and skills
he would acquire by immersing himself in a more traditional academic setting
could translate to a variety of topics. He saw my point and went to college and
finished four years later with a degree in anthropology and no job.
Educated, but with no marketable skills, he worked various
low-paying positions for a year (ironically including several months serving
coffee in a hospital café) until deciding to do what a lot of us useless degree
holders typically do: he went back to school.
I had a very similar experience in college with my
psychology major. Although I knew I wasn’t going to get rich with a degree in
psychology, I still anticipated being able to find a decent job after so many
years of study.
I had no idea.
During my senior year I became aware that no doors were to
be opening for someone with a four-year degree in psychology. This realization,
along with the impending end of my time as a student, led me to write a novel
called Frozen Coffee Melting about a student facing similar
circumstances. The novel was not autobiographical but it did contain a lot of
the frustration I was feeling with having a useless college education. However,
unlike the character Vince in my book, at least one door opened for me after my
undergrad years: graduate school. I continued my education and ultimately
received my PhD in psychology.
However, graduate school was less opportunity and more a
repeat of the previous college dilemma. Most scientists work as university
professors and this was the path that my new colleagues and I were preparing to
We devoted long and painful hours to our studies, lived in
poverty-stricken conditions, and dealt with unimaginable stress. This was all
done while gaining an increasing awareness that the ultimate prize we sought, a
professorship, would only be obtained after we first graduated and then worked
a few years as a post-doctoral researcher or associate professor making about
the same salary as a fast-food manager. Then, after close to twelve years of
hard work we’d finally be making the salaries that friends with degrees in
business and finance were making after only four years in college. There is a
classic irony in the fact that some of the positions in a society that require
the most training are among the least valued.
But it’s not to say that jobs that require little or no training
are always well paid, either. I assume that ditch diggers don’t earn a lot and
given a choice I’d rather be an underemployed scientist than a manual laborer.
Seeing that I haven’t spotted any of my friends by the side of the road with a
shovel in hand, they probably share this preference, too.
In the end, I gave up the world of academia for a corporate
consultant position that has given me the chance to make a decent living in a
difficult economy. With some luck and a little ladder climbing, I may someday
find myself making the same salary of someone with a more useful education.
Who am I? I'm a relatively unknown comedian. But I have a magic power. Meet me, and you'll get a TV show on Comedy Central. I can't stress this enough, simply SHAKING MY HAND will bring good fortune to anyone seeking a career in comedy.
Meet me. You want to meet me.
Here are a few of the people who took this advice last year:
Jeffrey Ross. A comedian's comedian, meaning that he's funny but pretty obscure. He was most known for doing the Comedy Central Roasts. That is, UNTIL HE MET ME.
Jeffrey Ross was just another loser hustling the circuit. Then his life changed on May 12th, 2012 because he met me. Now, he's the host of Comedy Central's "The Burn"
These two are Anthony Jeselnik and Amy Schumer, two names YOU WOULD HAVE NEVER HEARD OF if it hadn't had been for an encounter with yours truly.
Jeselnik, was just a goofy dude from Pittsburgh with an unpronounceable name who's only real asset was insanely awesome hair.
Schumer, besides occupying a huge section of every comedian's spank bank, was basically known as Jeselnik's chick.
UNTIL THEY MET ME.