We've all been there, Sparklers. We're minding our own business, enjoying a family party/texting our little brother/trying to remember if it's "lacksadaisical" or "lackadaisical"...when a grownup buttonholes us and asks the question that, like a hungry zombie, will never die: "So, I hear you're planning to be a __ major. Interesting! But what will you DO with that?"
One Sparkler writes:
I ask you this question because I admire your opinion and advice on writing. Though my dilemma has more to do with the future and college, I was wondering if you could help me out. Since back in the days of middle school, doing well in order to get into college had been repeatedly emphasized. Now, years later, I am a junior in high school and the stress level and pressure to get into college is ten times worse. Anyway, my first issue has to do with the fact that I have been "undeclared" for a while. I always felt bad when other kids knew exactly what they wanted to do in life and I felt like I had no idea, or purpose. I am still somewhat unsure, but I realized that I have always had a passion for writing and it is my strongest subject in school. Here's the problem: now that I finally feel as though I am on the "right track" to finding a career and determining a major, many adults, teachers, and superiors have said that picking a major is merely half the battle. "It's great if you go to college for four years and earn a degree in english, " they say, "but what will you DO with that english degree? What jobs are available to you as a graduate with an english degree? Are you going to become an english teacher?" These types of questions frustrate and worry me. (Honestly I don't see myself becoming an english teacher, but what right do I have to be picky?) Not only am I not positive of what type of major I'm interested in, but even if I feel as though I want to major in english or writing, or pursue a career in writing and journalism (my dream is to write for a magazine or newspaper), now I'm told that there is nothing to do with that english or journalism major. Sorry for such a long question, but I'm totally lost. I'm afraid that even if I manage to get into college and study writing, there will be hardly any job opportunities available after I graduate. I know that if I work hard I can succeed, but I just don't know if spending so much time and money on college for english-related study will do any good? Is it worth it to spend four years in this learning field?
First things first: You do not need to freak out about your career right now. Easier said than done, I know. I can tell that you, like me, are inclined to worry. You're stressed about applying to colleges, and you're not even a senior yet; you're stressed about your career, and you're not even in college yet. But it's important to de-stress, for two reasons. First, it will make you feel happier. Second, you'll undermine yourself if you go into your English major thinking, "Oh God, this will never work, I know I won't get a job when I graduate, I'm doomed." If you think like that, you will doom yourself to failure, because you'll waste time better spent reading, and you'll attack your work with less verve and interest. Try not to spend even one moment feeling gloomy about your future job hunt. Instead, pursue your love of writing with energy and passion, and redirect the impulse to worry into brightening your career prospects.
And what do those career prospects include? Almost anything you can think of. Many, many jobs require excellent writing skills. As an English major, you'll be well positioned to become a...
* Public relations specialist
* Advertising copywriter
* Grant writer
* Human resources rep
* Ad salesperson
* TV producer
* Radio producer
And that's to say nothing of the more obviously English-related jobs, such as:
* Print journalist
* Magazine editor
* Online editor
* Book editor
* Literary agent
* TV writer
* Movie writer
* Script analyst
This is a very short, off-the-top-of-my-head list. There are literally thousands of careers English majors can pursue—especially In This Day and Age. People love to moan about the internet and texting and the death of the novel, but I think we writerly types are extremely lucky to live in a time when people are consuming words voraciously, on paper and on screens. The number of jobs for people who can write well will only increase as technology improves. There is no reason to think you won't wind up with an excellent job you love.
So why are you getting the old "what are you going to DO with that degree?" question? Because the grownups who ask it are either:
A) genuinely interested in you and your professional goals
B) insecure jerks who like making people feel bad about themselves
C) utterly clueless about how many jobs require writing skills
D) utterly clueless about what it means to be an editor or a journalist
E) trying (and failing) to make conversation
F) jealous of your youth and ambition (seriously)
G) some combination of A, B, C, D, E, and F
D) is the most relevant item on this list. As an adult, I've realized that unless you work in a certain field, you don't get what it's all about. Brilliant New Yorkers I know—bankers, lawyers, nonprofit advisors—have no idea what it means to be a blogger, just as I have no idea what it means to do what they do. Understand that the adults who are giving you a hard time don't have some secret knowledge about the world of journalism and editing that you lack. They just don't know what they're talking about. And yes, this means your English teacher. She's very nice, but she doesn't have the first clue what it means to be an editor at Vogue, or how one goes about getting such a job. When some well- or ill-meaning adult says, "What are you going to DO with that?" remind yourself that this person is a designer/stay-at-home mom/engineer/janitor and simply doesn't know how many thousands of options are open to English majors.
And while you're reminding yourself of that, say something like:
* "Ha, I guess we'll find out! Law schools love English majors, so I figure as a last resort, I could always sell out and make millions."
* "I'm just focusing on acing the SATs right now. Baby steps, you know?"
* "I have a bunch of ideas! I'm really interested in script analysis, but I'm also excited about blogging, and a professional blogger I know [that would be me, by the way] told me I have the chops for it. So we'll see!"
You ask, "What right do I have to be picky?" I say: EVERY RIGHT. You're clearly a smart person and, in my expert opinion, a very strong writer. You should shoot for the stars. Your dream is to write for a newspaper or magazine? That is a completely achievable goal for you. Start a blog in which you write about the topics you'd like to cover for a newspaper. When you get to college, check out your favorite magazines' websites in the early winter, and apply for the summer internships they advertise (I can't stress strongly enough how important internships are). Work at your college's newspaper. Email the editors at the sites owned by newspapers and magazines you love and say, "I read your website every day and think it's wonderful. I've written a post that I think would make a great fit for your site (please see attachment)."
Yes, you need talent to succeed in the writing world. But you have that! So make moxie, self-confidence, and ambition your bywords.
How do you respond to the question, "What are you planning to DO with that?"