I really did learn something new today. Not in the life-lesson sense that I usually normally write about. I found out that the unconventional way I started and completed my career is actually a thing. More on that later. First, some background. 

When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t afford the university tuition that was needed for my desired career path (I wanted to be a TV meteorologist!), so I ended up going to my local community college. It was a good school, but after a couple of years, I realized that I was just taking classes for the sake of taking classes. And as I began transitioning into real-adulthood, the need to earn an income outweighed the need to take classes, so I got a full-time job. 

I was a teller at a local savings and loan. Not a great-paying job, but better than I was making in retail or food-service during my school years. And it offered opportunities to learn and grow. That was a special key, that I didn’t realize that was handed to me all those years ago.

Fast forward almost 40 years, I am a few weeks short of 60, and I’ve been “re-tired” for more than 4½ years. I never finished a degree – not even the right credits to get a two-year degree. But contrary to the societal “trajectory” that demands a four-year degree in order to get a decent job, I managed pretty well without it.

I worked hard. I learned. I explored. I followed other people’s examples. I thought outside “the box.” I paid attention to things no one else even noticed. With what is commonly known as on-the-job training, I ended up the number two person at a small bank, in charge of operations, security and compliance. I then moved over to financial technology and was even more successful in product sales support. More successful than I ever imagined.

After becoming a teller oh-so-long-ago, virtually every position I held over 35 years was one that “required” a four year degree that I didn’t have. But that wasn’t part of my personal rule-book, so I steadily pushed ahead toward what I wanted, despite the job market’s expectations. It wasn’t easy, but my hard work and enthusiasm outweighed that special piece of paper that no one ever asked to see. The one I didn’t have. 

Maybe I’m lucky. Maybe I just had a good ethic that people appreciated. Maybe…well, I could spend all day guessing. The important thing is here I am, and now, what I experienced has become a thing: a STAR. 

STAR stands for “Skilled Through Alternative Routes.” You couldn’t describe my career any more concisely. I got the skills I needed without college or any formal training. That’s part of why I was able to leave the work force earlier than most people. The lack of college debt gave me a head start on saving for the future. And it worked.

I found out about STAR workers in an editorial in today’s issue of The Washington Post. This article talks about how outgoing governor Larry Hogan removed the college degree requirements from half of its 38,000 state jobs. He followed the lead of others who have professed that a college degree (and the huge investment it takes to complete) does not necessarily translate into marketable skills. There’s no doubt that having college experience makes a person more well-rounded. I got plenty of rounding in my attempt at college. Just not anything that translates into a career. Apparently there are a lot of other folks in the same boat, and now employers are recognizing that maybe they have spent years overlooking a much larger gene-pool of talent. 

Even with a degree, some amount of training and orientation are required. Some of the worst managers I have ever known were people who thought they knew exactly how to do their job, and came in and turned everything upside down without understanding what they working with, or what they were destroying in the process. I saw a job posting yesterday for a second-in-command position at a local bank, not unlike the job I once held. The job description enumerated the responsibilities, and then specified that training would be required. Training for an executive position? Unthinkable. And priceless. (And no, I do not want the job!)

So the lesson? It doesn’t matter what training someone expects of you. If there is something you want to achieve, there is a way to do it, even if it doesn’t follow conventional expectations. Your desire, your enthusiasm, and your will to make it happen will take you much farther than an expensive piece of paper with your name on it. Every. time.