Majoring in English is a distinguished academic pursuit that is, perhaps, one of the most enlightening and intellectually stimulating degrees toward which you can strive. What you discover soon after graduating is that upon smugly informing the interviewer of your degree, she/he does not immediately promote you to CEO of the company, but instead asks if you could recommend a book to read. Yes, the reality of postgraduate life for the unfortunate bookworms can be a startlingly grim one at first. So, on my third consecutive day off from my part-time job, I have taken it upon myself to turn off Netflix for 30 minutes and write some useful literature for other English majors. Hopefully, before long, this will be in pamphlet form and conveniently located in college advisors’ offices across the country.
As I alluded to it before, for English scholars, the employment landscape is a barren one; our immediate postgraduate path can take us through the very dust bowl of the professional world, but don’t worry, your relationship with your couch and bed will be the strongest it’s ever been.
As you navigate the professional world in search of a rewarding job, be prepared to hear these key words and phrases often:
- Minimum wage
- Unpaid internship (but don’t worry, you get paid in experience)
- “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash on me, but if you’d like I can buy you some food from the convenience store.”
Speaking of homelessness, I’d like to share a personal anecdote in my own experiences in looking for a job. This should encourage you to be resilient and optimistic in your own: one day, I struck up a conversation with the owner of my favorite local coffee shop. I was charming and made sure to touch her elbow every other word. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask her if I could become a barista for her. She touched my elbow and sympathetically told me she couldn’t hire anyone right now. I was crestfallen, but ordered a cup of coffee and stayed to work on important documents (updating my Twitter bio). A few minutes later, a man walked in wearing clothes riddled with holes and holding a plastic Walmart bag with what probably contained all of his earthly belongings. He also hadn’t showered in days, maybe weeks. I could tell because I hadn’t showered in days, myself. Despite his shabby appearance, the man boldly walked up to the owner and asked her for a job. “Poor guy,” I thought, bracing for his utter rejection. “When can you start?!” the owner enthusiastically replied. He didn’t even touch her elbow!
You’ll quickly learn that the conventional lifestyle lead by many of your friends (or at least projected by your friends on Facebook) is not, nor will it ever be, for you. You will not have a job lined up immediately after graduation, nor will you be shopping for an engagement ring anytime soon. The best way for you to live life now is, for all intents and purposes, as though you are in the witness protection program. Better yet, become like the other four members of N*SYNC. You have to cut everyone who remotely knows you out of your life, completely; unless you do this, you will always run the risk of being asked, “so what are you doing, now?” Eventually, people will stop looking when you shout, “Hey, what’s that over there!” allowing you to run away from the situation.
When you tell someone, with tears in your eyes and zeroes in your checking account, that you majored in English, they will ask you if you are going to teach. Laugh in these peoples’ faces and shout “Never!!” And then follow that up with “Maybe.” Because truthfully, you know you can’t say “no” to anything. English majors are a different breed than business majors or engineers; we don’t co-op, we cope. A salary job will most likely not be waiting for you on the other side of the stage after you’re handed your fake diploma at commencement. You will look at your résumé and think you are not qualified for any real job (I once ran out of toilet paper and started using copies of my résumé). You’ll think the only thing you’re qualified for is nothing, but you’re wrong; you’re qualified for anything. Remember those hectic weeks when your professors decided to make all your papers due in one day. We eloquently refer to this as “b-s-ing.” Ernest Hemingway worded it a little more eloquently.
“A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge.”
In life, you will have to get creative, just like you did in the library at 3am; you will have to BS like your life depended on it. But you will get a passing grade. You will get rent and beer money (not sure about food money); and your life may seem miserable at times, but it will always be thrilling, the way you live on the edge dodging your mom’s phone calls. And then, you’ll go to grad school.