Sometimes, people ask me how I came to be a marketer when I earned my advanced degrees in Library Science and History. It’s a fair question. I mean, let’s face it, American Revolution to The Now Revolution is not exactly a straight line. Some people may assume that this was always my destiny since my family owns a marketing firm, but in fact, the universe was wide open for me to do something else, and still, I ended up working in (and loving) the world of marketing.
The funny thing is not that this is my story, but rather that most people I know have experienced similar things. A lot of people I went to college with majored in English, Theater, or History. A lot of them today are in banking or are working as lawyers. My friend Ryan, who gave me the idea for this post, went to grad school with me and earned an MA in History, and he now works in the insurance industry.
The not so funny thing is that these stories are I think influencing people to wonder whether a Liberal Arts education is the best way to go. I remember when I was working at the craft store between my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college, my old principal came in. He asked me what I was going to major in and I said History and English, and his response was that he’d see me at McDonald’s. Ouch.
The Real Problem
Of course, the real problem is not getting a Liberal Arts education. The real problem is that the job market that Liberal Arts students have traditionally turned to has undergone dramatic changes. Libraries, universities, museums, school systems – all of them share the same problem. Since Homeland Security started to siphon funds away from these types of institutions, there have been fewer jobs. The uncertainty in the world is causing people to hold on to their jobs longer. When someone does retire, their position is often not filled by someone new.
This should not defeat people who want to pursue a Liberal Arts education, though. We just need to think a little bit differently.
A Buffet of Knowledge
When I started in college, the idea was that you picked a major, stuck with it, and graduated with a degree that illustrated your focus on that topic. But by the time I was graduating, that was already starting to change. I double-majored and also double-minored. A friend of mine got a triple major, and another friend majored in music and English – two types of degrees. We were already seeing that the economy was going to require us to have a wider depth of knowledge.
Now, that’s even more true.
The world is no longer a straight shot from freshman year to graduation to job. So what can you do if you really want that Liberal Arts education? Look for supplementary activities and/or classes that can help round out your knowledge base. Instead of just taking creative writing classes, mix in some marketing or journalism classes. Instead of just taking 19th century American History classes (um, drool), mix in some Sociology or marketing classes. One thing you can say about college – you’re paying enough to be able to learn whatever you want to learn. Have at it.
Jobs are about thinking outside the box too
There is also a heavier responsibility on people today, regardless of age, to carve out their own jobs. I used my own academic background to make my position in our family’s company uniquely my own. My ability to research, the resources I learned about when I was pursuing my MLS, and other skills gave me a leg up as I learned about the world of marketing. If you want to practice law but also have an English degree under your belt, see if you can use those skills to enhance the quality of your trial briefs or your presentations before juries.
I find these kinds of brainstorming sessions much more fun than wondering if I could do all of my work in 4 hours. But that’s just me.
Anyway, it breaks my heart to think that today’s younger folks are being encouraged to stay away from the “fluff” degrees, as my History major was once called. Sure, the job market may seem tougher in those areas, but let’s be honest – most job areas are looking tough these days. We all need to think more creatively. We all need to move away from what once was and start adapting to what is.
It may be different. It may be abstract and kind of scary. That’s the 21st century for ya. But I have no regrets whatsoever about my education. I just keep looking for more ways to interweave it into where I ended up.
That’s my take. What do you think?
Image by Tiffany Szerpicki. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/igoghost