I’ve spent my life living under the condition that I would never compromise life experiences for career or academic success. Although there is no exact way to define what a life experience is, when push comes to shove, I’ve known how to mitigate success and responsibility with experience.
That was until my sophomore year of college where I now find myself absolutely spiraling as the deadline for major declaration approaches. Suddenly what constitutes as a ‘life experience’ is not as black-and-white as it once was; where was that delicate balance between success and passion? Could my academic interests align with a feasible career path? And what happened if they didn’t?
When thinking about my academic interests, I’ve never correlated them with a career path.
I looked at college as a way to explore the inner-workings of life. At no other time in our lives will we be sleeping next to our classroom, nor will we spend endless hours in the early morning at the library surrounded by other students. And at no other points in our lives will we have not only the resources but the time to explore every question we’ve ever wanted answers to. I’d like to think that this line of thinking has brought me success. I’ve tried to take advantage of every opportunity and remained rigorously committed to my coursework purely out of curiosity and interest.
As helpful as it’s been, I’ve realized that romanticizing the college experience has ridden me with intense anxiety over trying to connect all of this passion to one career path. This feeling intensified as a number of my peers turned away from my interests in humanities to pre-professional degrees such as in law and medicine, or even to degrees such as in business administration or communications.
Naturally, I found myself starting to explore these other, more practical interests. I played around with the idea of consulting, found a brochure for an international business major, and even almost enrolled in a computer science course. By no means am I claiming that there is anything wrong with those majors; they’re incredible. There are people within those industries who are absolutely changing the operations of our world. And I wish that those fields gave me the same ‘butterflies’ that my philosophy and theology courses did. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having this dilemma.
It seemed as though I had to pick for the first time in my life between success and passion.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the last 10 years, despite an increase in college graduates…
- English majors declined by 22%
- Philosophy and religious by 15%
- Foreign language by 5%
- Health profession majors doubled (the largest increase in graduates for any major)
- Engineering saw a 60% increase
- Mathematics and statistics by 54%
The data was there; it seemed as though I wasn’t alone. My peers transitioned their majors to what may be considered by many to more practical interests. But what was even stranger in my research was that although every article I read expressed the importance of humanities in society, none spoke of why they were in such sharp decline.
Do we have it all wrong?
To interject my own voice into this larger dilemma, I think the downwards trend in humanities majors makes sense; my parents have sacrificed a lot for me to get the education I’m getting, and I am unbelievably indebted to them. Even further, as a young female in the world of academia, I have felt even further pressures to be successful: they call this the stereotype threat, or the over-aching fear of perpetuating. In this case, it’s the negative stereotypes of women in the professional world.
But what merits a career path as successful? Is it a one-size-fits-all label? Isn’t the whole point of education to question these confines and limits such as the boundaries for success and failure?
These questions circulated routinely through my brain until I accidentally stumbled upon an article written last year by the BBC. It emphasized the importance of humanities in the development of soft skills and critical thinking. Suddenly, Uber was hiring psychology majors to respond to customer feedback and English majors to OpenTable to analyze data to improve its service.
If that wasn’t comforting enough, the writing from one of the top executives at Microsoft was enough to put my mind at ease:
“As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.”Taken from this article in Business Insider written by Richard Feloni
So maybe I didn’t have it all wrong…maybe I was on to something in questioning the merits of the practical routes to success.
Food for thought
So, let’s say for the sake of argument that a degree in humanities was, at the very minimum, on par in terms of practically as a pre-professional degree would be.
I realized that I was not so perplexed over the question of if my interests were considered to be useful, it was that I was questioning the utility of passion, curiosity, and academic exploration. I can see now that I don’t need to choose between my interests and career success; you cannot have success from disinterest, and you certainly cannot fake authenticity.
Whether a degree in humanities will serve me in a practical way is likely an answer that will not be bestowed onto me for a few years. But it makes sense. The authentic drive for exploration fuels innovation, and innovation is the main driver for success and progress. And often innovation acts in ways that directly go against what is conceived as practical.