Friday, May 24, 2019

A Literature Degree...oh...What are you going to do with THAT?

Ummm….All the Things?

I cannot count the number of times I’ve had an interaction like this one:

Random person: “You just graduated college? Congratulations! What was your degree in?”

Me: *with enthusiasm* “Literature!”

Random person: “.........”

Random person: “You know you’re never going to be able to get a job with that, right?”


Me: “I could get this job. The job I have. The one you’re standing here talking to me at. This one. I got this one.”

Random person: “Yeah but…”

Me *interrupting*: “I like this job because it pays my bills and leaves me with the mental bandwidth to pursue writing and possibly getting published one day.”

Random person: *Pitying look.*

Random person: *Stops short of telling me they don’t believe I’m ever going to get published.*

Me: *Stops short of telling them how much I don’t like being told by anyone, friends and strangers alike, that the thing I just dedicated the last six years of my life to achieving is completely useless, and also that I’m so unlikely to succeed at my dreams that it would just be better if I didn’t try at all.*

Here are all the things I’d like to say in these interactions, but generally don’t:

First of all, if I had wanted a job such as doctor, or engineer, or underwater basket weaver, for which I would need a particular degree, I would have gotten that degree. I always had the grades to do whatever. Not necessarily do it at Harvard, but do it, for sure. I chose literature because I knew I would be miserable as a lawyer or a therapist, or a drug lord. I chose literature because as a degree it opens up every single door I care to think about maybe someday walking through.

Let me unpack that last statement.

People seem to assume that if your degree is in literature or English the only thing you can possibly do with that degree is write books, which, they assume is out of the reach of mere mortals, thereby rendering the whole endeavor a useless and expensive pipe dream.

This is just not true. Publishing is done by mere mortals all the time to varying degrees of success. I will write as a hobby and hope for the best, but in the meantime I can do So Many Things. I can do what I am already doing: be an administrative assistant at an interior design company. If I take the time to learn the design side of this business more, I could be selling $$$ in by-Abby custom kitchens in a few years. Or not. *Shrugs*

If I want to go somewhere else, I could be an editor, a journalist, a, a researcher, a program reviewer, and that’s just using my degree with some sort of specificity. I could also do any of the myriad jobs that just require a degree in Literally Anything such as private school teaching (anywhere in the world), the FBI, dispatch, reception or administration Literally Anywhere, MOST NON-STEM GRADUATE PROGRAMS including law, library science, and much more. OR I could get a job that doesn’t happen to require a degree like just about any kind of sales, small business ownership, alpaca farming, hot-air balloon piloting, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Second of all, most jobs these days rest on certifications, licenses, previous experience, and on-the-job training more than any particular degree. As the higher education market continues to charge kids gold-plated yachts full of twenty-dollar bills for fancy pieces of paper and an entitlement mentality that says, “Now I’ll take my dream job at 50K a year (starting) please. I’ve got crippling student debt to pay. No, I don’t have any experience,” the job market is saying more and more, “We don’t care what you paid for or what that piece of paper says, we care what you can do.”

Third and last, unless someone’s path in life is one you genuinely and lovingly believe is going to damage them, let them have their hobbies, dreams, and weird obsessions. Failure can be just as rich a life experience as success. Let that happen, whether your friend/family member is trying to get into professional music, professional basketball, or serial killer profiling. If you see your loved one gunning for financial or psychological ruin, speak up. If you see them embarking on a life that will not earn them the same salary it was your aspiration to achieve, let them be. Their priorities may not be yours, but if they’re pursuing the gifts and passions God has given them with honest, hard work, there’s nothing wrong with that. They will find more joy than you might imagine.


  1. *applauds this post* I'll have to use that line, "If I wanted a job as doctor, etc, I would have gotten that degree." Like, just because I'm not choosing the career path you would have chosen does not mean that I did not do my research and that I'm not fully cognizant of the decision I'm making.