update from the reader whose coworkers were making fun of his masters degree

Remember the reader back in January whose coworkers were making fun of his masters degree? Here’s an update from him:

Thank you for posting my question to you. I read the comments and I think my post was somewhat controversial and the comments were very divided. I did not mean to come off as bragging or narcissist or whatever. I believed that due to the economy more people would be able to relate to me. I thought other people would perhaps be in my situation: unhappy at a low level, dead-end job due to the poor job market.

I now have a different job with a different company, and I can see why my post was misunderstood. At my current job, I could never imagine any of coworkers acting like my past coworkers. I see how it could be hard to relate.

I think more background information was needed in my original post to you…

I was living in an area with extremely high unemployment. I had my master’s degree from a public university and about three years of relevant work experience in my relevant field. I was and still am somewhat young in my career. I was unable to relocate to find better employment options.

I was laid off from a job I truly loved that was in the field of my studies. I went a few months with no job, no leads, no interviews, and the outlook seemed very poor. I decided to begin to apply for whatever I could find. I took a job as a customer service rep for an industrial supply company. My father did construction for a while, and I worked with him over the summers while I was in school so I had relevant experience.

I did what I had to do to pay the bills. The job was taking calls from commercial customers, processing their orders, and delivering supplies. I had moved from an office suit-and-tie setting to a blue jean and chewing tobacco setting. Nothing wrong with that; I’ve worked with all types, but I never planned at staying the job very long because I wanted to pursue a career in the field I studied and was passionate about. I did not want to make friends at my job because I was looking for another job every night. I think my coworkers found out about my education and they thought I was being snooty when really I was just frustrated by the situation. My quietness was misunderstood and they thought I had something against them or something.

There was a lot of tension, a lot of “college boy,” “you think you are so smart,” etc. This was not playful teasing or joking; this was sincere anger or tension. This was just the culture there.

It wasn’t until one of the welders was out for about two weeks that I fit in. They were short on the welder staff in the shop. When I told them I could weld and helped out in the shop, I finally fit in and the comments stopped and tension went away. I have a lot of respect for my old coworkers. They all worked very hard and were good at what they did.

A few months later, I found a different job in an office setting in my field of choice. I think the world is a more divided place than people believe it to be. Just look back at the original comments on my post. Now I can’t imagine any of my coworkers making fun of my education or background so I can see why people thought I was just being a sensitive weenie. I think I just had a moment of frustration, so I appreciate the reality check.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Ryan*

    Regarding your old co-workers…the word Schadenfreude comes to mind. Sometimes people take a little too much delight in the suffering of others when they’re not happy with their own lives.

    I think Allison’s advice to ignore it was correct. Though reading back… one person commented that you should “put on your big boy pants” which is advice I think I’d have given your co-workers…not you.

  2. Another Emily*

    It seems like the new job is a much better fit, you to it, and it to you. So good on ya. I’m glad you found a better opportunity.

  3. Anonymous*

    Congratulations on your new job!! And I’m sure you learned something useful at your previous job, even if it was just how to get along with people who are different from you.

  4. Sonata*

    I like how your welding gig turned the tables and earned their respect! Maybe the bottom line for every employee is to adapt to your workplace (like “knowing your audience”). In some workplaces, having a top degree earns the most respect from coworkers. In other workplaces, you earn more respect by showing brawn or by having fast, accurate output.

    Coworkers tend to be put off when they see how many religious orgs. I’ve worked with (they assume I’m going to try to convert them or that I’ll be Miss Goody Two Shoes), so I’ve tried to put them at ease with humor – and that’s seemed to work.

  5. BCW*

    I missed this post the first time, so I just went through the comments. Man, some people were really hard on you, which I didn’t think your post deserved. It sounded like a crappy situation you were trying to get help with and some of the jerks on this board made it crappier for you by attacking what they perceived you to be. I find it funny they wanted to judge you by some of the verbiage in your letter, but if I judged how they were at work by there response, I’d say they were judgmental a-holes.

    Glad everything worked out though

  6. Lana*

    I think that the previous job simply wasn’t your fit and you were overqualified for it. It doesn’t make sense to earn a Master’s and then work somewhere where a high-school diploma would do. You seem to have handled the situation gracefully and professionally and moved on. Good for you! I do believe in education and Master’s degrees. I believe that they make people more well-rounded, educated and intellectual, and there is nothing wrong in feeling uncomfortable in a workplace you’re overqualified with. Good luck!

    1. Anonymous*

      “It doesn’t make sense to earn a Master’s and then work somewhere where a high-school diploma would do. ”

      Generally true. But it also makes more sense then starving or losing your living situation.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    I missed your initial post but I am very happy to read your follow up.
    I am sorry people were so harsh. A while ago, I had a job where I KNEW I could not mention having any college under my belt. I would be pelted with comments/questions/judgements. So I tried to stay below the radar. Luckily, this worked out for me.
    It’s a tough situation, sometimes we fall into a pit and in order to climb out of that pit it takes all our energy/focus. That drive/push to climb up out of that hole (debt/bankruptcy/underemployment/etc) can be perceived by others as snooty or worse. That focus can become very consuming. It’s all trade offs, really. If we want something bad enough, we have to push to get it. You rolled with the punches and it paid off- congrats.

  8. Ivy*

    I’m happy things worked out for you OP! I think it’s easy to say “just suck it up and try to get along with everyone,” but it can be hard to get in the mind-frame when you’re vehemently trying to make it short-term.
    As for the replies of the previous post, I find the Internet likes to have harsh reactions. I think we’re all (me included) guilty of it at one point or another. People latch on to something that you meant to be really minor and all of a sudden you’re arguing about Chocolate Teapot making vs. Chocolate Teapot crafting. Still, I’m happy you were able to something out of it and didn’t take the defensive approach. :)

  9. Suzanne*

    I’m glad things worked out so well for the OP!

    I know what it’s like. I have a Master’s in Library Science but have struggled to find a permanent library job since the library network I worked for ceased to exist a few years ago. I pretty much had to cut ties with a few (what I thought were) friends who seemed to enjoy making snide comments about how I sure was putting that Master’s degree to good use doing data entry or something similar (yuk, yuk).

    But, as the OP said, you do what you gotta do to pay the bills.

  10. Anonymous*

    I worked at a call center due to the bad economy and it would come up that I had a degree from a big name private university I’d get so many questions like what was I doing there, etc. Over time, the job market didnt improve and the qualifications for the job because having a 4 year degree (to take a abuse over the phone???) so all the new people were college educated and it was finally just accepted that it was crap out there and the jokes stopped, but I always told people in majored in “call center representology”

    1. Jamie*

      You owe me a new freaking keyboard. This cracked me up so suddenly I just dumped a cup of dark roast everywhere!

        1. Jamie*

          Ha – actually some canned air (and yes, twenty, I have a can or two (or ten)) and alcohol swabs for the keyboard, Clorox wipes for my…what do you call the vinyl thing under my chair so the wheels don’t get stuck on the carpet? Well, Clorox wipes for that thing and Enddust electronic for the splash that hit all three monitors and I’m good as new!

  11. Anonymous*

    “Nothing wrong with that; I’ve worked with all types, but I never planned at staying the job very long because I wanted to pursue a career in the field I studied and was passionate about. I did not want to make friends at my job because I was looking for another job every night. I think my coworkers found out about my education and they thought I was being snooty when really I was just frustrated by the situation. My quietness was misunderstood and they thought I had something against them or something.”

    I think it’s nice you found a new position where you fit in better – but I think you may still be missing something about how you were coming off to people. I guess it doesn’t matter now.

    1. Ellie H.*

      I honestly still think this is a bit harsh. There’s absolutely no indication that the OP behaved rudely or had a bad attitude. Yes, I can understand that saying “I did not want to make friends at my job” seems a bit strong, but I really think that the OP meant it as a logistical explanation (“I was very busy with the job hunt and didn’t really have the time or inclination to focus on being social”) rather than indicating a policy of unfriendliness. I also can’t restrain myself from suggesting that maybe if the OP had written “My coworkers think I’m snooty and make fun of me because I am not social with them, but I’m so painfully shy that I can’t bear to interact with most people outside of a few close friends” nobody would be criticizing him for “aloof behavior.” I genuinely don’t understand the criticism of his attitude. He seems to me to have a good attitude. He took the job he was doing seriously and applied himself, tried to maintain cordial working relationship with his coworkers, and continued to look for a job more in line with his interests and background. I’m no expert but it seems to me like he conducted himself well.

      1. Jamie*

        ITA – I took it to mean as it was hopefully temporary he was just focused on what’s next and not getting emotionally invested in a place he hoped to leave soon.

        I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that sentiment – but then I never understood the point of making friends at camp unless they went to your school or lived nearby. I did it, just because you have to have someone to hang out with there, but that whole end of summer thing where people are hugging and promising to write and planning trips to each others homes? Even as I was going through the motions I knew I had no intention of writing and I would probably have a hard time remembering their names by next summer.

        So I totally understand the OP – which may or may not be a good thing.

  12. Minous*

    You might enjoy reading “Deer Hunting with Jesus” by Joe Bageant. He discusses these types of challenges concerning stereotypes of “working class, white collar, blue collar, pink collar”. I found it to be a very interesting read because I was the first person in my family to get a university degree and the backlash was pretty rough.

    Best wishes in your new job.

    1. Jessica*

      Backlash from your family? If so, I commiserate. I had the exact same issues and finally had to quit going to events with my mom’s side of the family, because the backlash was so severe. :(

      1. Minous*

        My sympathies Jessica, I have had to do the same. No contact is good contact. …but it’s an awful position to have to be in.

        1. Jessica*

          Sad, but true (on both counts). I truly can’t understand how my mom came out of that family. She’s not perfect, but she has nothing against people who read a book.

          I’m checking into the book you mentioned above. I recently picked up Limbo as mentioned by someone else (and suggested it to my father-in-law), but this one sounds just as interesting. Thanks!

    2. Miss Displaced*

      I also come from a blue collar background and get quite a lot of grief and backlash about my going back and completing my education, (I just finished my master’s degree) especially when I was unemployed for a time. To them, a “good” job is a factory job. Not that there is anything wrong with working in a factory, but I did it when I was younger and wanted out.

      I am the only one in my family to go to college and they simply cannot understand WHY.

      1. Minous*

        Congratulations on getting the MA!

        I think (?) that my father saw it as betraying the working class he was from and going to the “other side”. The “other side” being people who sat down all day and told everyone else what to do but didn’t really work. The rest of the family decided that I was too lazy to work for a living and so the long stint in school.

        I didn’t go to university until I was 28 and after over a decade of waitressing, bartending, cleaning houses, and factory work I decided that it wasn’t for me and so went to part-time work and full-time university. It was a good decision, but painful since I lost the respect of my family.

        1. Anonymous*

          This is off topic – I’ve got a couple masters degrees but worked manual labor in a small factory right after college and it was OK due to the place being small, nice and having a good business.

          If I could make as much money as I do know (just barely six figures in the $US), with the relative job security and freedom of hours I have now, I sometimes wish I still was doing the factory work. There was a lot of benefit to not having to stress about complexity in my job as I do now. Just bang out the work and go home. Nice.

          But that’s a pipe dream – no way could I make as much at that, plus much of the work in that company has moved offshore.

    3. Jen M.*

      You were related to him? Awesome!

      He was SUCH a brilliant writer! I have _Deer Hunting with Jesus_ at home and can’t wait to read it!

    4. Jen M.*

      Ugh. Please disgregard my last reply. My reading comprehension is broken today. :(

      I can’t imagine what it might have been like, dealing with backlash from your own family. Ouch!

  13. Anonymous*

    I got my Master’s degree a few months ago and I WISH my coworkers would call me “Master”! It’s a hilarious accreditation.

    1. Another Emily*

      If said humorously this would be pretty funny. It seemed like the tone of the OP’s coworkers was mean-spirited though, which always ruins a good joke.

  14. anon-2*

    Early in my career, I wound up being a college grad in, essentially, a shirtsleeve/blue-collar role in computers.

    But my degree did wonders for me — that, and a strong work ethic, separated me from my peers. I was able to help lead a unionization action – we never went through with it because the management accepted my presentation and actually changed the way they did things. I also could write and publish articles, I also could pick up on academic things (others could, too, but wouldn’t – unless they got paid for it).

    Lo and behold, who did they promote to the technical staff ?

    Don’t be ashamed of your education. That’s one thing NO ONE can take away from you. Some managers I’ve had, prayed for a “dumb pill” – to make the education go away — it can’t.

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