But back then, I just felt lost."
So she decided to become a personal trainer.
"But I still felt lost. With all that education, I was counting to 12 in a gym all day. When people would ask what I did, I'd say, 'I used to be an agent in Hollywood.' I didn't give value to personal training because it was frowned upon," she said.
Experts say part of getting over the guilt of having nondegree jobs is understanding they're not just fun, easy, and carefree. Succeeding in them may not require a traditional degree, but they do require a certain amount of smarts and/or skill.
"Cosmetology requires an artistic background. You have to know people's face shapes and what colors work on them," Hamer says. "Aestheticians approach skin from a medical perspective; they nurture and heal people with bad skin. And not everyone can do it. To be good, you have to be articulate and speak well to sell your product."
Cosart, who has been an aesthetician for three years, says she is "just now getting to the point where I'm really proud of it, where I'm not a little ashamed that this is what I'm doing with my college degree."
At the same time, Cosart is realizing that if she ever does want to rejoin the career track, it'll take more than a BA to get her there. Since bachelor of arts degrees have become a dime a dozen, many twentysomethings feel pressure to get more advanced degrees to earn the prestige a BA might once have given them and to distinguish themselves from the bachelor's-holding lumpen. Cosart figures she'll eventually go back to school, though she's not sure what she'll focus on. But if she does, she knows she's learned a valuable lesson from this time outside the white-collar world.
"I'm grateful to have figured out early in life that in choosing a career, you must decide what you want your life to feel like, not what you want it to look like," she said. "Some people live for stress. I know because I listen their Blackberries buzz in their purses every 30 seconds even as I meticulously work the stress out of their pores and their shoulders. I'm not cut out for that, and I often wonder if they are."