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  • Writer's pictureSusan Carr

You look good on paper...

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

I don’t have a squirrel, raccoon, or bird analogy to start this blog post. It's mainly because it’s 5 am, and they’re not awake yet. But stick with me, and it may be a nice before-sunrise stroll anyway.

I had a childhood memory surface at 4 am this morning. In 5th grade, I organized a contest for my peers. I offered a huge Hershey bar, the kind you buy at Cracker Barrel, to the person who came closest to guessing how many words were in a dictionary I owned.

I remember the dictionary well. It was from the Weekly Reader Book Club I belonged to and had a red hardcover with many pictures on the front and soft ivory pages. All the pictures were in a background of bright colors – green, yellow, orange.

I remember using it faithfully throughout my school years and still having it when my first daughter was born – in the fall of my junior year – of high school.

I started a family pretty young. I chose to forego college and instead headed right into the workforce to help provide a more stable life for us. This wasn’t a choice I ever regretted. The love for my daughters overtook any room for regret. I knew my most important role was to be their best mom possible.

But, as I grew older, and when the unexpected happened, I had to rethink my choices.

So, at age 39, a newly single mom, working full-time, and homeschooling The Youngest for her middle school years, I started working towards a degree at my local community college. I chose office administration and technology, combining my clerical work for 20 years with the hope of acquiring skills relevant to the workforce of the 21st century.

It took me four years to earn an Associate in Science and two College Credit Certificates (Human Resources Management and Office Support). I have to admit, May 4, 2018, was one of the proudest days of my life. I didn’t want to participate in the graduation ceremony; the center of attention was not the place for me. But my youngest older brother, who was my biggest encourager to start the journey, insisted. And who says no to Big Bro?

And so, I finally had a degree. At 43 years old, I was a college graduate. I worked hard and put in many hours to learn from professors, other students, and textbooks. I was given a piece of paper (currently in a file box) to prove I accomplished a good thing.

A piece of paper that is not serving me well nowadays.

As a freelance editor and writer, much of my focus is currently on securing jobs/gigs. Each day, I carve out a section of my time to filter through projects on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr. As I am learning how to be a business owner, optimizing my profiles, and trying to increase the chance that potential clients notice me, I’ve noticed something.

Most editors I’m competing with for these jobs have bachelor's degrees in English, Writing, Journalism, or Fermentation Studies. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Again, being a freelancer is tough because it’s a constant battle for position and income. “Feast or famine” is the typical phrase, and I’m still waiting for the next feast because the last one was six months ago; it’s pretty much been famine since then.

And so, during this learning time, of sometimes not being sure if freelancing is what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m still applying to companies I would like to work with as an employee.

I honestly couldn't tell you how many jobs I don’t apply for because they require a bachelor’s degree. And the ones that say it's not a requirement, I apply and still receive multiple rejections every week.

My point is, I’m up against people who have a bigger degree than I do. To be noticed by potential clients, to be deemed one who knows what they’re doing, or even to be considered qualified for a 9-to-5 position, I must possess a 4-year college degree.

So this must mean they have more knowledge than I do, right?

Not necessarily. Remember, I’m the 5th-grade kid who counted all the words in a Webster’s Dictionary. For fun. I may not have a quick recollection of even 75% of those words, but I have seen every single one.

And this has to count for something.

I was at massage therapy yesterday, and my friend said something that made me stop and think.

They may have a piece of paper, but I know how to make others’ pieces of paper look good.

And that really hit me.

I’m a top-rated freelancer on Upwork. Of my dozens of reviews on the platform, 98% are 5-star. (That other 2% reminds me of my “nobody’s perfect” mantra.) My portfolio includes:

I’ve done all of this without having a 4-year degree. And I’ve done it well. And this seems to have brought my early-morning memory around full circle.

My mom taught me to read at age three. She took me to the public library as often as she could. She bought me the entire set of Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. She encouraged me to read everything, even the labels on ketchup bottles at restaurants.

She supported my desire to write about what I read and create my own stories. She was thrilled when I helped in my school libraries and ecstatic when I was hired to work exclusively with books at

My world of words has been surrounded by my Mom my whole life.

And now her words are few, or "salad," or nonexistent. And it's hard. And sad. And it hurts that I can no longer share my small successes in editing or writing with her.

I think she would be proud that my self-proclaimed job title is

Editor and writer providing small businesses and start-ups with words that matter.

It seems like words have always mattered to me.

Thanks, Mom.

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