Not an easy question to answer. Looking back, I’m not sure I would take this path again. At the same time, though, there is something to be said about the soft skills taught in the humanities. Below, I’ve reproduced a comment I found online. It is from an English major that found value in his degree.
The comment reinforces my personal belief that English majors can definitely find work in the real world. But it requires adapting and evolving your skill-set into the world of business and profit. While the context is different (the English major below started his career many years ago in a different economy), I think that most of what he says is true today.
Here is a story about a successful English major with some really excellent and timeless career advice . . .
The comment originally appeared here.
Do not listen to those people who say that a degree in English is a waste of time. They are knuckle-dragging halfwits without imagination. The problem isn’t the degree. Rather, it’s the English faculty who lack knowledge and experience on their part. They don’t realize that, because teaching is all that they know or understand, they cannot tell students such as you all the possibilities an English degree embraces. They simply don’t realize how many other options are out there in the real world.
I earned my degree in English. My plan was to continue on to graduate school, and was accepted to some very good ones. But shortly after graduating, my father dropped dead and left my mother in very bad financial shape. So I had to devise a Plan B in a hurry. To be sure, I struggled for a couple of years. However, I found that people who can write really well are in high demand in the world, whether in advertising, corporate communications, publishing or a host of other roles. Even now, as you read this, the traditional workings in all those industries are being turned on their ears. Rather that see that as an obstacle, view it as an opportunity for someone just like you. In fact, with the information explosion, there is more demand than ever for someone who can push subject and predicate together in unexpected and rewarding ways. As a matter of fact, I would argue that a traditional newspaper or a magazine would be the absolute last place you’d want to go, because they are pretty much sweatshops that pay coolie wages and are going under for the third time anyway.
The other thing about an English degree is that you have to assimilate large amounts of abstract information and coalesce it into a core idea. During my 30-year career, I have found this to be an incredibly valuable skill, one that has time and again been brought into strategic planning for my clients, chiefly because I saw the potential and the flaws of ideas before almost anyone else. The fundamentals of business are easy. A go-getter can understand any business in a matter of months, especially with enough outside reading. It takes a great deal more to synthesize new ideas and be able to articulate them in compelling ways.
Today? I’m fifty years old. I built a $5,000,000 business from scratch over a ten-year period and then sold it. I then turned around and began consulting for clients around the country as someone who specializes in helping mid-level companies hammer out strategies for new growth. I lecture to MBA programs around the country. I’ve been in the Wall Street Journal more than once, and a host of business publications multiple times. All because my degree gave me the necessary skills. All it takes is a little guts, a little imagination, and a lot of hard work. What’s more, I’ve done far, far better than the army of people who majored in accounting or business because it would get them a job, only to become total, unhappy burnouts by the time they reached 45. Even now, working part-time for a select number of clients, I outearn all those guys who majored in Banking, Business, Accounting, and Engineering and gave me crap about pursuing a liberal arts degree. Yeah, I earned less starting out, but I had reached parity by my late twenties.
So rather than squander all your hard work so far, what you need is a plan. I was fortunate that I worked my way through college at the local daily newspaper, and parlayed that into a small job straight out of college. So I’d start there. Get the part-time job doing something relevant to your major, learn everything you can, and network your ass off. Those actions will help you succeed no matter what your major might be.
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