There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. —Solomon, Ecclesiastes

“Come in here, come in here. Feel that? You feel it? Do you remember when you last felt that sense of… peace, security, and well-being? The womb. That's when you last felt it. That's why I love adobe. It's like being in my mother's womb again. I remember. You laugh, but I'm telling you, I remember.”

I was laughing. The adobe building contractor named Bonafacio (beautiful face) stood before us with his arms outstretched, turning in a slow circle in the adobe room he had built for the four-million-dollar home on the Rio Grande.

I also love the mud brick walls, and so for a “date” my husband had taken me down the Rio Grande Boulevard where the million-dollar adobe homes on 4–10 acre estates stood with time-defying old and new beauty along the Rio Grande.

We saw two new adobe homes being built and stopped to watch the workers laying the 35-pound red-mud bricks one at a time, constructing the large and beautiful rancheros. A miniature horse farm spread out to the north and a lavender farm on the south. As we leaned against the fence to watch, a white pickup truck stopped behind us and a man with a long, thick, black braid and a broad smile stepped out of the truck.

And so we met Bonafacio, the job-boss of many of the Rio Grande million-dollar homes. He offered us a tour of his latest masterpiece and his enthusiasm and love for the art of adobe made the day special in our minds forever. As we stood in a round room, looking up at the mosaic of glazed pottery shards that lined the domed roof, I asked Bonafacio if he lived on the Rio Grande. He laughed.

“Close! I live in a little house in Corrales; lots of kids, chickens… lots of love. It's good, you know. It's good enough for me.”

“How did you get started building these houses on the Rio Grande?”

“Oh, you know, I'm not the architect. The guy that gets these contracts, he's a famous architect… really brilliant. I just build them. That's what I want to do anyway. I want to be in the adobe. I like to work with the guys.”

We were walking past a pile of adobe bricks, stacked carefully sideways to ensure dryness. A muscular, brown man appeared over the top of the wall with a trowel full of mud and grinned at us. He laid several bricks while we watched.

“That's Jesus,” said Bonafacio with a wink. “He works miracles—with adobe.” Jesus bowed magnificently in our direction, as magnificently as he could from behind the wall. We followed the outside wall, admiring the beautiful workmanship apparent in Jesus' work with the heavy adobe bricks. He had constructed a large, enclosed courtyard with multiple arched doorways and windows.

“I've loved adobe since I was this high,” said Bonafacio, putting his hand down by his knee. “All I wanted to do was play in the mud. I wanted to build adobe houses. I became a licensed contractor and made adobe my speciality.

“You know,” he said, “part of it is just knowing people—ethe people that make the bricks, the people that make the vigas and the carved doors. I know those people, the best people, so I have all the best materials. That makes me the best, you see?”

I saw. The ranchero Bonafacio was building was not just a home. It was truly like being inside of the earth, in a grand and beautiful underground hall, with sunlight shining through multiple oval openings, falling on the Saltillo tiles beneath my feet.

I also saw a very happy and satisfied man, doing exactly what he wanted to do. Bonafacio had defined his education and would continue to define it for years to come. He had what he wanted, and was doing what he wanted.

I was reminded of Granddad, my husband's grandfather, telling us about his college days.

Granddad loved the Southwest outdoors and he loved art. He didn't want to spend his life in an office where he could not pursue the things he loved. But he wanted to get a degree, so he chose to pursue wildlife management.

“There were only six of us in the class,” he said. “Five guys and one girl.”

“Did you get to spend much time in the field?” I asked.

“Oh, all the time. Every weekend. Sometimes we stayed out there a couple weeks. We explored the desert down near Yuma one week. That is the most barren, dry desert… nothing growing or living. But at one end of it are these rock cliffs with deep narrow canyons formed in them. Do you know there are palm trees growing in there? And ferns—looks like the Garden of Eden. When it does rain, which is hardly ever, the rock canyons catch it all and hidden down inside is this amazing oasis!”

I walked through Granddad's house, going to check on my sleeping baby in the back room. On the way I passed multiple paintings and bronze sculptures that Granddad had made; scenes of the Grand Canyon where he grew up and others of the surrounding Navajo and Zuni reservations.

I knew that Granddad had never used his degree to get a job in wildlife management, but he had used it his whole life to keep observing the Southwest that he loves. He opted to run a Navajo jewelry trading post where he could continue to immerse himself in Native American culture as his father had done.

Granddad can tell you how far the tarantulas walk in September and where the Navajos have built sweat lodges out in the middle of nowhere. He knows where you are likely to find ancient pottery shards, fossilized trees, Anasazi ruins, and bear or cougar tracks. Granddad chose an education that would not only allow him to continue being who he is, but also give him more opportunity to observe the Southwest that he loves.

I opted for Bible college and then later linguistics and ethnology. I used that training briefly, but today I continue doing what I did as a child, what I have always done: tell stories. In retrospect I might have been better served to pursue a degree in writing, since that is an education that might empower me to tell stories better. Or better stories. Or at least improve my grammar. Heh.

I know a man from Sweden who, while still in high school, was already working for large companies programming integrated circuits. He is very intelligent and really didn't need a college degree at all to get the jobs he wanted. But what he did want was a job in the U.S. So he decided to go to college here in order to make connections and potentially get citizenship. He could have probably gotten in at MIT or CalTech, but chose instead a full-ride scholarship to a small college. Why? Because he didn't need the “brand-name” degree or the education. He accomplished exactly what he wanted in short order. This man used structured education to get what he wanted: a U.S. passport.

We also know a man who wanted to be a lawyer and bring in a significant income. He discovered that many successful lawyers are Catholic. So he went to a classical liberal arts school that was endowed and attended primarily by Catholics. He didn't choose this school primarily for the education, but for the connections. This man was hired by a successful law firm before he finished his education.

The moral to these stories is simple: Don't let your education define you. Define your education. Think about who you are and what you want long-term.

If you love to cook, you could get a culinary arts degree or apprentice yourself to great chefs (think outside of the U.S.). Doing both may afford you better job opportunities, but maybe not. Find out if the great chefs you know have degrees and where they got their education.

Structured education can be very useful if you use it to reach a predetermined goal.

More often, structured education is billed as being Cinderella's godmother who, with a wave of her own magical PhD wand can turn the student into something sellable. It's a fairytale.

If you plan to be a mother and wife someday but are interested in medicine; think about what education will empower you to be a wife and mother and suffice your interest in medicine. Midwifery? Herbology? Pediatrics?

There are some degrees that, by nature, require selling out to the money. For instance; the pharma-chem companies own the medical industry, large corporations own the politicians, and religious institutions own the Bible colleges. Don't let it get you down; just keep your eyes open and your hands clean.

You can still benefit from bought-and-paid-for institutions if you walk carefully, realizing that a lot of what you will be required to “learn” will be propaganda. If you can accept this fact without being distressed by it, you'll be able to ace your exams without being morally conflicted over them. Get your degree and go on to do what you want with it.

Make everything you do a means to the end of seeing, hearing, and experiencing; including your education. And don't assume that the standard education is any of those three things.