Depending on where you are on your life’s path, the things you value and that mean the most to you often change and evolve. As a teen on Christmas morning, you may have preferred to open an envelope filled with cash from your grandma versus a beautifully-wrapped box with a month’s supply of colorful socks. As a young adult, you may have dropped hints to your loved ones about the cool jacket you tried on at the local department store or the trendy new shoes that you just had to have in your wardrobe. In your 20s, you may have hoped for holiday presents that were the latest gizmos and gadgets for your lifestyle and your car. In your 30s with a beloved four-legged pet or perhaps with a spouse and wonderful young children of your own, your Christmas wish list may have transformed into quiet prayers for help with the bills and providing for those who depend upon you for safety and shelter.

Of all the tangible gifts that you embrace throughout your life, one of the most profound and everlasting ones that directly impacts the lives of those around you is the gift of education that you give to yourself. For many reasons and in many ways, a formal academic degree is the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s the gift that builds lifelong confidence.

As much as folks without a college degree may (try to) argue that a college degree isn’t necessary, is of no value, and is a waste of time and energy, everyone with a college degree knows that is not the case. Anyone who has completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree, instantly feels a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and confidence.  That well-earned feeling can’t be bought, gifted, or taken away. The confidence that naturally comes with having gone through the rigorous process of earning a formal academic degree then, in turn, helps that now-confident graduate to be a more evolved individual who is ever present in the moment with friends, family, and colleagues (and not constantly distracted with feelings of lacking or insecurity). Being in the company of people who are confident, optimistic, and joyful is inspiring and exciting. Positive people exponentially attract opportunities in their personal and professional lives that negative, insecure people never can.

It’s the gift that pays it forward.

The more you expand your circle of friends, associates, ideas, beliefs, and perspectives, the more you are able to embrace diversity in the world. The more you know and come to understand, the more you are able to implement ideas and solutions to potential roadblocks or problems where only discontent and disagreement may have festered. A college degree enables you to get outside of that proverbial box and to think outside the box. When you study different theories of educators and business gurus, when you research and explore new ways of inspiring and mentoring your employees, and when you discover how collaboration and teamwork play an integral role in the success of a company or school classroom, you are paying it forward to those people in your life.

By being a better, more-educated manager, teacher, administrator, or leader, you are directly affecting, influencing, and impacting the lives of those on your path. They, in turn, will remember how you made them feel by how you treated them, respected them, and showed your appreciation for them. What you learn, internalize, and implement in your life while obtaining your college degree (whether a bachelor’s or a master’s) will influence the lives of others.

It’s the gift that opens countless doors.

Even without a formal academic degree, no one can stop you from applying for a job that has “college degree required” as one of its non-negotiables. While the chances of you actually being contacted by the prospective employer for an interview are nil, you are still free to apply. You are still free to believe that your experiences, skills, and charismatic personality will be enough to open that closed door that stands before you and your ideal job. During the process of pursuing your degree, you are opening once-closed and once-never-before-noticed doors in your world. As you pursue your degree, you’re constantly communicating with and networking with each course’s peers and instructor. You are opening doors leading to endless possibilities and making connections with diverse people in various roles and industries you never would have been privy to had you not pursued that academic degree.

Of all the gifts you give yourself (and thus those on your life’s path) this holiday season, make the gift of a formal education the one you invest in first.

A four-year college degree alone will instantly launch you to a whole new level of respect, confidence, and opportunity; a master’s degree will catapult you even further in both your personal and professional lives. Of all the gifts you give yourself (and thus those on your life’s path) this holiday season, make the gift of a formal education the one you invest in first.

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