06/16/2014 10:09 am ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

The Power of a Piece of Paper

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Last month, I drove to Ohio to see my nephew graduate from college. As he crossed the stage and received his diploma, I felt so proud of him and all that he has accomplished over the last four years.

Last week, I received my diploma in the mail from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition school. Although I didn't sport a cap and gown or walk across a stage in front of thousands of people, I felt a sense of pride for having graduated.

I graduated from college many, many years ago with an Associate's Degree. For years I have contemplated going back to school for my Bachelor's Degree, but it never seemed to happen.

Lack of time and lack of money, usually the latter, has always kept me from moving forward. I've gone as far as to fill out the application and have my colleagues write my recommendation letters, but then I always put the brakes on.

Not having a degree has sometimes made things hard for me. Finding a job is sometimes a struggle. Even though I know my experience is invaluable in being able to perform a job successfully, prospective employers always get hung up on that "little piece of paper" that I don't have.

For years, I've taught a job training program to high school students, helping to prepare them for job searching. I've done this training in some areas where I know college is not an option, not because they aren't bright or academically capable students, but because there is no money for them to go.

Some of the kids I work with are working part-time jobs at fast food joints, not so they can buy cool shoes or hang out with their friends, but because they are trying to help feed their younger brothers and sisters.

When I work with students in my job training program I don't try to discourage them from going to school, but I do want them to know that they can still be successful, even without the piece of paper. I'm honest with them and I tell them that they may have to work a little harder to get ahead, but that it can be done!

I probably have the only parents in the free world that tried to talk their kid out of going to college. My parents were both blue collar workers that couldn't afford to send me to school. My dad never went to college and my mom didn't make it past the eighth grade. For them, they didn't see education as a means to anything, they just saw it as an expense.

They encouraged me to learn a trade, so I went to cooking school and earned my Associate's Degree. I enjoyed school, but I didn't really appreciate the value of education and learning. Now that I'm older, I have become a life-long learner on my own. I read everything I can get my hands on, and I study things that interest me, like business and entrepreneurship.

If I could, I would be a college student for life. I like that idea; my wallet does not!

I haven't completely abandoned my dream of getting my Bachelor's Degree, but now I think I'd like to do it because I'd enjoy the process of learning, and I'd appreciate the value of the education. It's no longer about the piece of paper, but about the simple joy of learning; and... the sense of pride.

Few things feel as good as reaching your goals and accomplishing something for yourself. I often imagine crossing the stage, like my nephew did, in my cap and gown and receiving my degree. I think about the pride that I'd feel in knowing that I worked hard and reached my goal.

Then, I'd finally be able to decide what to do with that little piece of paper, besides frame it, of course!