I’ve always loved school. I was one of those people that could get straight A’s without really trying. In grade school, I would take an encyclopedia to my parent’s softball games and study different subjects and then write papers about them. NERD ALERT!
From about the age of 5, I had it all planned out. I wanted to be a doctor. I graduated high school in 1993 with Honors and had enrolled to go to The Ohio State University as a pre-med Biology major that fall. In 12 more years, I’d be a doctor. I would achieve what had been my lifelong dream.
Then reality happened.
I am the eldest of three children. I have two younger brothers. My parents were going through a divorce and I remember sitting in the kitchen with my mom and brothers trying to figure out how we were going to keep the house without my dad’s income. I remember like yesterday, one of my brother’s saying, “If Karie is here, we’ll be fine.” In that instant, I felt like I went from a 17-year old, to an adult with a lot of responsibility.
I unenrolled from OSU and got three jobs because we were not going to lose the house that we moved into only a few years prior. I was going to work and help my family because that was more important than anything else. My mom and brothers needed me.
Fast-forward a few years. I’m now 21, recently engaged and have a job interview at Cardinal Health for an HR Mainframe position. I wasn’t selected for that position because I didn’t have Mainframe experience, but they did think I’d be a great fit for another role. I dry-cleaned the only suit jacket I owned and went to another interview. I got the job. I was going to be an Administrative Assistant in an IT department.
I didn’t even have much computer experience. I didn’t even know how to use Excel; I didn’t even know what the manager meant when he said, “just copy and paste.” I physically just typed all the data twice. I learned. I absorbed everything like a sponge.
One of my co-workers was out on medical leave and she did all the Billing for our department. I asked if I could step in and fill that void while maintaining my other responsibilities. I was given that opportunity. I found ways to improve processes and save money for our department. When my co-worker couldn’t return to work, I was promoted into her position.
For the next ten years, I took on larger roles with increasing areas of responsibility. By the time I left Cardinal Health for the next phase of my career, I was a Supervisor in IT; with no degree.
In 2007, I got a call from JPMorgan Chase to come in for an interview. They had an IT opening as a Business Analyst Lead. By the time I got to the interview (just a couple days later), that position had been filled. There was an opening for a Business Analyst Manager (higher-level role) for which I was going to interview. I looked at my resume and homed in on the Education section. There wasn’t much to say there. I had only taken a couple of classes at Franklin University. I had no degree, I wasn’t even close to obtaining one. Why in the world would the hiring manager, an Executive at that, want to hire me when he could have his pick of highly-educated applicants? Sure, I had a lot of experience as a Business Analyst and People Leader, but would that be enough? The self-doubt was overwhelming.
I nailed the interview and got offered the job on the spot. I was so excited and proud. I was going to be an IT Manager in a huge company managing 20+ Business Analysts. They would look up to me as their leader. I wanted to set a good example, inspire, support, drive and succeed. In the back of my mind, I still carried around self-doubt, primarily since I was lacking that all-important certificate stating I had a college degree in Medicine, Psychology, Under-water Basket Weaving or ANYTHING for that matter. I still wasn’t good enough.
For the next decade, I got to build systems from the ground up, be part of some cool technology, lead large transformations and learn, learn, learn. I succeeded and I failed. I picked myself up and I tried again. I was happy. I was successful. Finally, I was good enough.
I have been an IT professional for over 20 years and am currently an IT Director at Nationwide. I’m still learning. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. There’s always going to be someone who knows more than me about a technology or area, or is better than me at something. But they aren’t ME. This time, when I interviewed, I wasn’t plagued by self-doubt because I didn’t have a degree. I had done some great things in my career, I was a high performer, I was a rock star. I realized that a degree didn’t define me. I defined me. And guess what? When I interviewed for my current role, the ‘degree thing’ didn’t even come up.
I’m not saying that a degree isn’t important. It is. I want all four of my kids to go to college. I want them to get degrees in whatever they are passionate about and go forth and conquer. For those of you that have college degrees, way to go! You should be so proud of yourselves. It’s a great accomplishment.
For those of you that don’t have a degree and are trying to make your way into the Corporate world or up the proverbial Corporate Ladder, I’m here to tell you that you can do it! A degree is a great achievement, but it does not define YOU or the unique talents and skills only YOU can bring to the table. Don’t let anything deter or limit you from trying to achieve your goals. You can do anything you set your mind to. I’m living proof.
Karie Gerald is a leader at a Fortune 100 company. She’s married to her husband Matt and they have four kids. Her family is active in taekwondo and are at the dojo several days a week. She loves reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, and riding roller coasters! You can reach her at email@example.com.