At first the prospect of graduation was daunting. Daunting in the way a writhing sea monster might be. One that is only leagues away from the small, haphazardly crafted life raft that is my Preparedness for My Future Career. Equally imbibing me with bliss and utter terror, the date in which I receive my diploma has appeared, a blip on my calendar, and has grown closer and closer, kicking my survival instinct into overdrive.
But it’s not just the desire to not starve that has made me so nervous.
I consider myself an analytical and creative person. I don’t believe that being analytical and being creative are mutually exclusive skills that dichotomize themselves between the college majors. Following that, I’m interested in a job where I can combine comprehensive skills with creative thinking, where I can make connections and think of ideas. I’m not looking for a job to just feed myself with; it’s not just survival. I want to be stimulated by my job. I want to enjoy being there; I want to view my work as fulfilling.
It’s not uncommon, as an English major, for people to turn their nose up at your degree. Any liberal arts major experiences it. After all – millennials are seeking an expensive education in a poor job market. The most attractive college majors are STEM majors, and their job placement is higher than the undervalued humanities major. An article in Forbes, however, indicates that the “soft skills” that liberal arts majors cultivate – communication, empathy, critical thinking, and qualitative analysis—are crucial to connect technology with the people using it. Technology doesn’t sell itself and the practical application of it requires more than knowledge of coding – it also requires the ability to integrate it into the population.
As George Anders writes in the article, “Ride-sharing king Uber needs 427 more brand ambassadors, partner-support reps and other operations wranglers, compared with just 168 more engineers. Even Facebook–run by die-hard engineer Mark Zuckerberg–has 225 openings right now for sales and business development specialists, compared with just 146 for software developers.” The beauty of a liberal arts degree is that my “soft skills” allow me to squeeze myself in just about anywhere – and there are plenty of opportunities.
While I’ve been researching careers I’ve found that the three that sound most stimulating to me are editorial work within a publishing company, freelance fiction writing, or outreach work for a nonprofit agency. These careers are mostly aligned towards my degree since they require communication and writing skills.
In terms of editorial work, working for a major publication is ideal, and very difficult. If graduating is an angry sea monster, working for a major publication is more like Cthulhu, and by that I mean—it’s equally as scary if not scarier. Most of them are based in a few major cities, so relocating is an obvious and arduous factor. I found this website to be helpful in discussing different types of editorial jobs and giving an example of different types of publications you could work for.
One of the career help books titled Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads by Sheila Curran and Suzanne Greenwald, explores the journey of a woman named Sharon who achieved a job writing for a fashion column just by discussing herself and her interests to a lady on the subway who was working for a newspaper company. I’ve realized throughout reading these books that most people with a humanities degree explore several options until they find work they like – and most of it has to do with simply talking to others.
For freelance writing, the path seems obvious – write, write, write. And then submit it somewhere. I think what I’ve learned the most so far about pursuing freelance writing is that you have to have a job in another sector while you try to publish your work. It’s possible to find jobs where they pay you per article or per page but making money as a career is difficult. Author Rick Bass describes it as a mechanical rabbit – “the rabbit of Being Published Often”. It takes perseverance and time.
Overall, I found You Majored in What? By Katharine Brooks to be the most helpful career related guide in terms of conceptualizing how to get a career on a path that isn’t more linear to your specific degree. There’s a certain skill that liberal arts majors do lack (shocking, I know) and that is the ability to sell our strengths and interests. If this book taught me anything, it’s that this is a skill that is actually not that hard to develop for humanities majors. We have spent so much time cultivating good communication skills, now we just need to use them to convey our other skills so potential employers have the fullest representation of who we are.
For a job at a non-profit organization as an English major, I have to present my relevant interests to that organization and show an active interest in their principles. Most non-profit work that Liberal Arts majors can dig their hands into involves community outreach, fundraising, organizing volunteers, planning events, and many other activities involving marketing of the organization and sales – there are many opportunities for Liberal Arts majors in this area.
When feeling discouraged I like to read an article recently published by the Washington Post, “Why the tech world highly values a liberal arts degree”. Even if the “tech world” is a world you have no interest in joining or being a part of, writer Cecilia Gaposchkin makes a strong case as to the value of liberal arts majors in a way that is strongly relevant to anyone. In medieval times, when universities just began cropping up, Gaposchkin asserts that “[Universities] taught the basic intellectual skills needed before undertaking any of the “practical arts” (medicine, law, etc.), because the liberal arts were the training ground for intellectual competence that was the prerequisite for continuing on into the specialized disciplines (or professional practice) where there were actual stakes involved. “ A liberal arts degree is a stepping stone and a strong foundation on the path to success.
Now, my attitude towards graduation has begun to shift towards one of preparation and expectation rather than confused. I’m trying to see my future as one that is adventurous rather than fraught with peril.
All you really need to do to prepare for the storm ahead is adjust your sails.