Is My Kid’s “English Major” Code for “Future Cater Waiter?”

Hey Mom and Dad.

I’ve got something to say.  It’s not going to come as a shock, as I’m sure you’ve suspected this was true of me for some time. So I’m just gonna come out and say it, and I can only hope you will still love me and accept me for who I am.

Well, here it goes. Mom, Dad, I am…

…an English major.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the easiest path. It would be much easier going through life with a passion for cutting people’s brains open or suing people who cut people’s brains open badly. But that’s just not me. I’ve known this since I was eight and decided I was going to read every book in the library alphabetically. And, believe you me, if it hadn’t been for Louisa May Alcott’s fifth book about Jo teaching boarding school boys how to behave like proper gentleman I would have done it.

Seriously, that stuff was like 19th century Ambien.

liberal arts kid

But that’s beside the point. The reality is that when it comes to literature, I’m motivated. I will take public transport to the local museum to hear a visiting scholar talk about the representation of women in Greek Drama. On a Saturday.

Yes. I did that. And it was fabulous.

But when it comes to my Econ 101 class, well…I skip class. I have trouble motivating myself to really study for the tests. Not when there’s seven seasons of Doctor Who on Netflix. Yeah, I know that makes me a terrible person and it’s my own fault that I’m gonna starve in a cardboard box with only a gutter mouse for company and blah blah blah…but forcing myself to study a subject I truly hate will result in one really unhappy kid. That leads to dangerous things like drinking…drugs…prostitution…possible homicidal tendencies…okay I’m being a tad dramatic, but like I said, I’m an English major. I have a flair for it.

 Mother of an english major student
“Is it something we have done?” 

The basic truth is that if I don’t care about the class then I can’t force myself to learn the material. That’s just a fact of most people in the human race. I can basically recite the entirety of the play Hamlet because of my Shakespeare term paper (as you guys are painfully aware by now, I’m sure). My Econ class? Uh…I think there was something about butter.

So I have no choice. Like the wand chooses the wizard, the major chooses the student.  I am an English major. Now, I know your next question. Because it’s everybody’s next question.

Harry Potter/Warner Bros. Pictures

“Does that mean you want to be a teacher?”

No. No. No. I do not want to be a teacher.  

I do no want to be a teacherAvailable very soon at American Apparel

I’ve said this so many times that I think I’m going to have it monogrammed on a t-shirt. Not that teachers aren’t great; they’re invaluable and underappreciated members of society. But that profession stopped looking fun for me when they outlawed corporal punishment.

Those were the days…

So now comes your next question. “Then what do you want to do?”

Well…I don’t know.

Before you cancel my tuition check, hear me out. I’m not worried. And I don’t think you should be, either. No, I’m not learning a trade skill that will be directly applicable in the real world. But unless I want to be a computer science or engineering major, that’s not really an option in undergrad anymore. So what am I learning to do with my supposedly useless English major?

I’m learning how to learn. I’m learning how to think outside of the box, how to communicate, how to write effectively, how to frame an opinion and defend it passionately yet respectfully.  I’m learning how to question and answer. How to research and teach myself new skills without someone holding my hand the whole way. Sure, being able to apply Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra to the movie Wall-E (yes, that’s a paper I actually wrote) won’t help me in the real world. But forcing my brain to grapple with Baudrillard’s obscure theories and apply it to an entirely different media is a mental exercise that will train my brain for an ever evolving world.

 Wall E
Wall-E / Disney / Via

Because, man, our world is evolving at an alarmingly fast rate these days. Your other child’s job?  “Data storyteller?” He didn’t learn that trade in college…because it didn’t exist yet. There wasn’t anyone who could have taught it. So he had to teach himself through trial and error, as well as reading the latest articles online and finding books that were relevant to his topic. And he could do it because he had a passion for the subject and a liberal arts education that had taught him how to tackle new ideas.

Here’s a truly bizarre yet fascinating example. Remember those websites you kept yelling at me were a waste of my time and that I should get off them and do my friggin’ calculus homework already? Well, you lied.

Turns out knowing how to use these social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, etc.) are now desired skills. I’m not even joking. Here’s a listing of basic qualifications for a production internship with the Disney Company.

Job Position After English Major

Who knew that the ability to make a critical analysis of the series finale of Dexter in 140 characters or less would actually become a genuinely marketable skill?


Who knew my ability to write in a snarky fashion with complete disregard for traditional grammar would get me a gig on this website?

Sorry, it got a little meta in here for a second. I’ll bring it back now.

I’m certainly not saying that colleges should start teaching “Pinterest 101.” First of all, some of these sites are already losing popularity and giving way to the next big thing. Who knows what the next genius college drop-out is going to invent in his garage next week? In this day and age, the most valuable skill is the ability to learn new skills. The job market is re-inventing and re-innovating itself every day. Now is the time to teach yourself and to think outside of the box.

Deep breaths. I’m not saying that a college degree isn’t completely necessary; it still absolutely is. I’m saying that its purpose has changed. It’s now boot camp for your brain. But you don’t have any drill sergeants splashing cold water on you to wake you up at 5:30 AM  every day to go run up the mountain. You have to want to run up it all by yourself. And you’ll only want to do that if there’s something really great waiting for you at the top. Something worth running for.

So what am I going to do with my English major, Mom and Dad? I honestly don’t know.

But I’m going to be great at it.

Lord, I know what I am but know not what I may be*,

Your Loving Child

*Yes, that’s more Hamlet. Sorry, can’t help it.