Learning how to think can’t be quantified.
It took me two years into my college career to “come out” as an English major. I knew I wanted to study reading and writing since I was in middle school, and I knew since high school that that meant studying English. When college came, I avoided declaring an area of study for as long as possible, preferring to sheepishly shrug when asked what I wanted to do with my life, rather than be automatically pigeonholed into a career I knew I didn’t want. It embarrasses me now, remembering how impressionable and insecure I was, especially because I knew, and still know, what I want to do with my life: to spend it reading and writing and learning.
I still had to “come out” to myself, as well. Admit that I wanted to study Shakespeare over STEM. It sounds ridiculous, and in retrospect, it was. But after experiencing “coming out” in a variety of ways, including the literal, I still believe my fear of judgement about what others would say about my major and subsequently, my future, was real and valid at the time, however silly I feel about them now. Because now I do feel silly, and like I wasted two years when I could have been doing what I loved.
But I am now, and I absolutely love it. I love my majors because finally “coming out” as an English major during an advising session gave me an adrenaline rush and I added a philosophy major, just for kicks. No, I did it because I knew I would learn how to read and write, but I wanted to know and learn how to think. And I’m learning how to do all those things, and it’s incredible. A year ago I might have made a joke about serving fries with my degrees, but the fact is that I love what I’m learning, and I’m hopeful about my future. I’m secure in myself and what I’m studying. And I now know some of my strengths, thanks to a handy-dandy self-assessment.*
I’m going to be honest and admit that at first my results moderately horrified me, because I failed to see any sort of method of actualization in my strengths. What I saw was someone who thought a lot, which is great, but never gets things done. Then, I, um, thought about it and I realized the gift of thought is as deep as it is wide, and I intend to go and think through life, getting things done, being motivated by the future, and by my belief in that future. Plus, life doesn’t allow you to just Not Do Things. So I ended up seeing someone who was hopeful for what life may bring, who loved learning and thinking and creating and believed firmly in the power of those things.
I was farther comforted by the beginning section in a book titled You Majored in What? In the first chapter, the idea that your career path is linear starting with your major is completely debunked, which the author does using a chart that matches majors to their current careers. Hint: the English major doesn’t become an editor, and the Geography major doesn’t become a Geography teacher.
Instead, the author argues, your career path is one of Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect. It’s complex and entirely nonlinear and can be affected by numerous factors and variables. Your major doesn’t equal your career, and your career doesn’t equal your major. To say it does is narrow-mindedness, and plays into the false narrative that you must choose your life path before you receive your education.
Another narrative to reject is the idea that education exists for economic gain, and that following your dreams is only worthwhile if they’re profitable. If you choose a major based on the near-guarantee of financial stability, possibly based on a lack of that financial stability in your childhood, that is a personal choice, and I understand and respect your decision. But on the other hand, despite what you may believe, no degree comes stapled with a fast food application to it. Your education is what you make of it, and it is wholly possible to be financially stable, even affluent, with a Liberal Arts degree.
Skills gained from a liberal arts education are marketable and applicable in the business world. “And AAC&U’s employer surveys confirm, year after year, that the skills employers value most in the new graduates they hire are not technical, job-specific skills, but written and oral communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking—exactly the sort of “soft skills” humanities majors tend to excel in,” writes Wilson Peden in his Fortune article “Why critics are wrong about liberal arts degrees.”
Technical skills can be quantified and taught in a set time-frame, but learning how to read, write, think, and communicate? These make up an invaluable and timeless set of knowledge, and one that is needed for the job market and beyond. And that is why I’m learning what I’m learning, why I love it, and why I would “come out” ten times over as a Liberal Arts major.
*This post was not sponsored by StrengthsQuest.
Brooks, Katharine You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career. First Plume Printing: April 2010.
Peden, Wilson. “Why Critics Are Wrong about Liberal Arts Degrees.” Fortune.com, Fortune, 13 Nov. 2015, fortune.com/2015/11/13/liberal-arts-degrees-critics/.