Is Higher Education Worth It?

This post was just shared yesterday on my blog at Patheos. I’ll provide it here as my normal Monday post as well since it seems to be gaining significant attention.  …

Graduation season is upon us. I celebrated with a friend at his graduation last week. In the coming week my university begins its marathon of multiple commencement services. And, by the end of the month I will be completing a third graduate degree.

As I think about the importance of these events and the value of education in general, I’m reminded of several realities.

Education Is a Good Investment

First, education is a good investment of time and money. This is not the case for all people, but for most, education represents an investment that appreciates rather than decreases in value over time. In other words, it is more like investing in a house (that tends to appreciate in value) rather than investing in a car (that tends to depreciate in value).

Education Improves Earnings and Marketablity

Second, education tends to improve capacity for future earning and lower rates of unemployment. Again, this is not the case for all people, but generally speaking, earnings increase and unemployment rates decrease as higher levels of education are attained.

Here is a helpful table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that illustrates this point.


Table Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (

Education Provides More Effective Approaches to Work

Third, education enables us to do better what we already must do. In most cases, employment is a necessary part of life. It is the way people are able to make a living and provide for themselves and their family. This logic might not work for everyone, but for me it does. If I’m going to be engaged in a job, I want to do it well. Education  helps me to do the work I already need to do in a more effective manner.

Education Provides A Pathway for Lifelong Learning

Fourth, education provides a natural pathway for lifelong learning. I view learning as intrinsically valuable. I also believe we are hardwired and created by God as learners. While learning can happen independently, engaging in a structured learning process allows us to benefit from those who have gone before us in a particular field of knowledge.

In my particular field of leadership studies, I’m convinced that leadership involves a deep commitment to learning (see my previous thoughts on this here). But learning is not just the work of leaders. There is both intrinsic and utilitarian value in learning for any field. Formal education is not the only path by which lifelong learning can take place. However, it is a key pathway that has helped many people.

While there are certainly examples that would not support the above, these four benefits of higher education are true for most. As you celebrate with the graduates in your life this season, be reminded that their investments and labors have not been in vain.

17 Lessons from 17 Years of Marriage (Lessons 13 – ­17)

Love Coffee, by Ahmed Rabea, Flickr

Love Coffee, by Ahmed Rabea, Flickr

Tasha and I recently celebrated 17 Years of Marriage! Part of this year’s anniversary celebration included some time for Tasha and I to reflect on lessons from our first 17 years of marriage.

I provided an overview of the first 12 lessons in the past three posts (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3). I’ll take a look at lessons 13-17 in this final reflection on the topic. Before I do so, here is a quick overview of our 17 Lessons again:

  1. Prioritize Time Together
  2. Keep Short Accounts
  3. Laugh Often
  4. Learn and Speak One Another’s Love Language
  5. Appreciate, Don’t Expect
  6. Celebrate One Another, Including the Differences
  7. The Kids Are #2
  8. Ride the Waves like a Pro with the Ups and Downs of Life
  9. Keep the Friendship, and the Romance, Alive
  10. Give Tech a Timeout
  11. The Grass is Greenest Here
  12. Enjoy the Mountaintops and the Mundane
  13. Dream and Grow Together
  14. Change Yourself, Not Each Other
  15. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
  16. Listen and Learn
  17. Stay Connected to the Vine

Here we go with this final post on the topic: Lessons 13 – 17 with a bit more detail.

13. Dream and Grow Together

Part of doing life together as a couple involves sharing in one another’s dreams and being one another’s biggest fan as we pursue new opportunities and adventures. Some of these dreams have been shared dreams, like the desire both Tasha and I shared for adoption even before we were married. This dream came to fulfillment in our delightful daughter who is now five.

Other dreams are more individual in nature. But in a marriage, individual dreams are still fulfilled as a couple. For Tasha, this has included dreams like going back to school for a master’s degree and engaging in travel that has helped her connect with her love for both art history and biblical history. For me, this has often included dreams in the academic realm. One of the most expensive and challenging of these dreams was pursuing and completing a Ph.D. process. In both of our cases, Tasha and I would say that we could not have made these journeys without the support and celebration of the other along the way.

Seventeen years into marriage, we are still dreaming. Just last night as we were out on a date Tasha asked: “So what would you like to be celebrating a year from now?” As we shared our dreams for the next 12 months, I found myself once again thankful to have such a dear friend with whom to share life. What a great question to help each other keep dreaming and growing together!

14. Change Yourself, Not Each Other

As we dream and grow together, it is important to approach growth in a positive manner. Although both Tasha and I have areas of our life that frustrate one another, we need to be careful that we are not focused on changing each other. When there are areas of growth in a relationship, the best way to pursue this is not by aiming to change each other, but by aiming to change ourselves.

Tasha and I have found that when we are starting to feel empty (spiritually, emotionally, physically), we begin to project our emptiness through frustration with the people and circumstances around us. In other words, we try to inappropriately gain fullness in our lives by changing other people or each other. As you can imagine, this approach rarely ends well.

One key to a healthy marriage is learning to love and serve one another out of fullness (wholeness) rather than focusing on getting from one another in an attempt to fill our emptiness. Although the gospel reminds us that we are needy people who bring our emptiness to Jesus to be filled, constantly bringing our emptiness to the people around us leads to drained and broken relationships rather than ones that are healthy and vibrant.

In our final lesson, I will spend a bit more time on where we can go with our emptiness, but here I will end with emphasizing that Tasha and I are learning that when change is needed, the focus should be on changing ourselves rather than one another. When one of us becomes short and irritable, the problem is almost never with the other person. In these moments it is time to look in the mirror and consider how we may change so that we can return to one another with a posture of giving rather than taking.

15. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

As we live life together in our marriage, there are issues that come up between Tasha and me on a regular basis. One of the keys for us has been learning when to let things go and learning when to press into important conversations.

I have heard it said that there are two important rules for life. Rule #1: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Rule #2: “It’s All Small Stuff.”

Although Tasha and I mostly agree with these principles, we would modify it a bit. It is also important to not trivialize what is a big deal for our spouse by treating it as a small deal.

The reality is that 99% of the issues that come up in our lives on a day-to-day basis are “small stuff.” For these items we need to graciously overlook our concerns and frustrations. Proverbs 19:11 puts it this way: “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” We see this as being relationally gracious with one another as we let the small stuff go.

But there are a few items that are a big deal, at least from one of our perspectives. For Tasha, one of her “big stuff” items is time together. When life gets too full and we are struggling to have time together, this qualifies as a “sweat the big stuff” conversation. It is right and helpful for Tasha to raise her concerns. For me, one of my “big stuff” items is making sure we stay on track with our personal family finances. For me, this qualifies as a “sweat the big stuff” conversation.

In the case of both of these items, the criterion for becoming a “big stuff” issue is that it is something that can significantly impact the health and well-being of our family and our relationship. So, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, AND keep your “big stuff” issues to a minimum.

16. Listen and Learn

When it comes to a healthy marriage relationship, communication is key. While this certainly includes talking, we find that it is vital to emphasize listening and learning. In James 1:19 we are reminded that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

In our relationship, Tasha and I want to keep our curiosity for one another at a peak level. Although I’m sure others might find some of our conversations boring (I know, that is hard to believe!), for us these conversations are of high importance. Because there is no one else with whom we are more interested in this world, listening to the important thoughts and feelings we share about our day or something that has been on our mind is fascinating.

We want this to be the case fifty years from now as well—maintaining a posture of eager listening and learning toward one another and what matters most in our lives.

17. Stay Connected to the Vine

This brings us to the final lesson: Stay Connected to the Vine. In John 15:5 we read the following words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this principle for us.

In discussing lesson 14, I highlighted the need to come one another with fullness, wholeness and a posture of giving rather than emptiness and a posture of taking. But this raises a key question: where do we find fullness and wholeness when we really are broken and empty people?

The answer we find in John 15 is that we are to stay connected to the vine — we are to stay connected to Jesus. While this verse points us to the reality that apart from Jesus we can do nothing, we can also speak to this reality from our experience.

When we are not daily drawing near to Jesus through trusting His work on our behalf, celebrating Him in our hearts through worship, talking with Him in prayer, and reflecting on what He wants to speak to us in His Word the Bible, Tasha and I experientially relate to one another differently.

When we are not intentionally drawing on the grace of God found in Jesus, we become short with one another and more selfish in how we relate with one another. Conversely, when we are drawing on the grace of God in Jesus—that is, when we are staying connected to the Vine—we are able to keep the small stuff in perspective, we are able to gracious with one another, and we are able to focus on serving rather than taking from one another in our relationship.


And so our final lesson is a reminder for us to stay connected to Jesus, for He is the one who ultimately is able to bind our marriage together for a lifetime. Although Tasha and I are only at year 17, we look forward to catching up with the 72 years of marriage my grandparents enjoyed together before their passing earlier this year.

God’s grace to each of you as you live out these 17 lessons in your own lives and relationships. Take some time to share your lessons below!


Here Are the Links for The Entire Series:

A Syllabus for Personal Learning

Learn Sign, philosophygeek, Flickr

Photo Credit: Learn Sign, philosophygeek, Flickr

A Syllabus for Personal Learning

I am a professor, so syllabi are a regular part of my life. As we move toward the start of fall semester classes, syllabi are in place and I’m getting ready for the start of a new year.

I was in a faculty workshop today that referenced “the power of the syllabus” for personal learning.

What is the purpose of a course syllabus? A well-formatted course syllabus provides an overview of several key learning features such Learning Goals, Learning Resources, and Learning Assignments.

These features may also be helpful for our personal learning.

As you look to the next 6-12 months in your personal learning and development, perhaps it’s time to explore a Personal Learning Syllabus.

Here are a few recommendations as you consider whether a syllabus for life-learning may be helpful for you.

1.  Learning Goals

As you think about your personal desires for learning, what are your goals for the next 6-12 months? Goals are often shaped by topics we are interested in pursuing.

Are you interested in learning more about change? Are you interested in learning more about effective leadership practice? Are you interested in focusing on your personal or spiritual formation as a leader?

Whatever these topics are, consider 2-3 learning goals you have for your personal leadership development in the coming 6-12 months. Write these goals down. Keep them in a place that will trigger your learning around these goals.

2.  Learning Resources

Based on the goals you identify, what are the tools and learning resources that will assist you? These resources may be books, magazines, journals, key mentoring relationships, relevant blogs, or other learning tools.

As you scan a diverse set of learning resources, what are the 3-5 key learning resources that will best facilitate your engagement around your goals?

3.  Learning Assignments and Activities

Finally, in addition to learning goals and learning resources, what learning assignments or activities may contribute toward your learning goals? This may include:

  • attending conferences, classes, workshops
  • taking a personal assessment
  • organizing your thinking into relevant blog posts
  • journaling or other writing exercises
  • visiting key people or organizations that provide models of excellence around the leadership or learning themes you are pursuing.

The key is to not leave learning at the level of goals and reading. It includes bringing this reflection to a place of action and implementation. Creative learning assignments and activities provide a context for synthesizing personal learning.


So, what are your goals for learning in the coming months? What learning resources and activities will help facilitate progress toward our learning goals?

Perhaps a Personal Learning Syllabus will help to organize your thinking in this area and help you make tangible progress around these goals.

If you end up implementing this idea, please share how it worked for you!


Leadership: A Commitment to Learning

Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

The Cry for Leadership…

In an essay entitled “The Cry for Leadership,” John Gardner notes the following:

“Most men and women go through their lives using no more than a fraction—usually a rather small fraction—of the potentialities within them. The reservoir of unused human talent and energy is vast, and learning to tap that reservoir more effectively is one of the exciting tasks ahead for humankind.”

As someone who is at a mid-career point in my life, leadership, and work, such observations press the question of whether I will:

(1) simply rest on the skills/knowledge I’ve already developed (using the fraction Gardner notes), or will I

(2) aim to continue learning in the second half of my life and professional service of others?

Such a question motivates me as a practitioner-learner. In service of others, I want to commit myself to ongoing learning. Leadership = A Commitment to Learning. If I am committed to the servant leadership values I hold, this commitment leads me to a path of life-long learning. A commitment to leadership translates into a commitment to learning.

As a leader, how are you committing yourself to learning in service  of others?