Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor

So You’re an English Major

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This is a picture of a painting of a painting.

What life looks like after graduation. (I don’t know who painted this.)

So you’re an English major. Welcome. It has been almost ten years since I graduated college and I prepared some advice, as well as responses to common questions. No other major has been so scrutinized, so deemed USELESS by the gainfully employed. Useless. What an awful word for a fantastic study.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late to change it. But you wouldn’t want to.

My “useless” degree in English taught me to examine the fabric of life. Everything is present in books. Everything. A writer observes and records. A writer makes his characters suffer so we know what it will be like when we get there.

I learned about love, death, desire, war, sex, passion, food, junk, poverty, disease, diplomacy, philosophy, social issues, activism, etc. I still don’t get commas though.

In short, an English degree is the universal degree. You just need to learn how to market it, how to make it work for you.

Let’s start with advice from one of my favorite writers: Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.~ Murakami.

The big question:

What can you do with an English major?

Elsinore-castle-denmark

That’s Elsinore. As an English Major, you know where this is from. Not many do.

That’s easy. Anything. Just get skills. By skills, I don’t mean writing erotic fiction or building beeryamids. Both are great, but they won’t help you land a job.

Some ideas:

Learn Word inside and out. That includes working with columns.

Get a few books on grammar and styleguides. Read them. Your MLA stylebook is useless in the so-called “real world.”

Take a class or five in InDesign, HTML, or whatever the kids are learning these days. Save the powder-blue typewriter for another day. 

Start a blog. Don’t call it musings. No one will read it.

WRITE everyday, if you intend to crawl down this path. 

Don’t send in clips of your creative writing. Work on getting something published, somewhere. 

Complete an internship. Even if it’s unpaid (gulp).

At 32, and an established copywriter/travel writer/journalist/poutine taster, I still don’t REALLY know what I want to do with the rest of “my one wild and precious life.*” It’s a big question.

I like not knowing. The minute I am sure of something, it shifts. I don’t want to settle into one of those uncomfortable office chairs, working 60-hour weeks until I become a Creative Director. I don’t want to know, I want to learn.

And I am, by all means, a “grown-up.” I have houseplants. I pay taxes. I can’t remember the last time I took a dime from my parents. I have a bank account and there’s food in the fridge.

You’re not going to teach! 

Prepare for a look of grave concern when you inform your friend that no, you’re not going to teach. You’re going to be a WRITER.

“How are you going to afford to eat?”

First of all, if there were a link between homelessness and English majors, those cardboard signs would have better spelling.

Sometimes the employable will tell you a story that’s supposed to make you feel better, but really makes you want to put your head in the oven, Sylvia Plath style.

“My sister was an English major. She figured out she could make more money mopping up the vomit under the Gravitron at the carnival. She graduated from Princeton ten years ago. Where do you go?”

 You may also be lectured by a know-it-all.

Why didn’t you major in something useful, like math?

Exceptionally witty and snarky responses only an English-major could write:

  1. Math involves allows one right answer. English majors draw multiple interpretations from one line of text. Then they turn those interpretations into a 20-page analysis. What about me being an English major leads you to believe I would be good at math?
  2. Why didn’t you major in math?

What are you going to do with the rest of your life, now that it’s ruined since you declared yourself an English major?

  1. The rest of my life is a long time to decide what to do with it. Mind your bizniz.
  2. Probably work at one of those cool agencies where impromptu games of Pictionary break out and big, slobbery dogs wander the halls and I draw silly ideas onto post-its. Enjoy that mega finance corp. Sounds like a great time. I heard you get to wear a suit all day.

It’s not that bad. Walk into your future, find your place, but don’t sit down. Once you carve out your niche you’re just going to want the next thing anyways.

*(English-major points if you know Mary Oliver wrote this).

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Author: angloadventure

Professional travel writer and near-professional wanderer. Recently lived in Seattle and Quebec City. Traveled across country three times in a car. Can find the best pizza in any city. Published in Fodor's travel guides, Delta Sky, Where magazine, Viator and others.

7 thoughts on “So You’re an English Major

  1. Nice article ,loved it…..

  2. You need to give a commencement speech.

  3. Love this article, had me laughing out loud. I’m not an English Major, majored in Film Theory and Feature Writing, but I am planning on getting an MA in English Literature. I always tell people I’m going to teach. Probably won’t, but stops everyone else from asking questions. 😀

    • Kristel,
      Good luck with the MA. I know what you mean. When people used to ask me what I was going to do or tell me I should teach, just in case. I would get heart palpitations.
      I realized this year through volunteer writing tutoring that I would make a terrible teacher.

      And this:
      “If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” Paulo Coelho.

  4. I was drawn here by a tag search of “Sylvia Plath”. As a former English major (Hanover, ’86), I couldn’t agree with you more. My academic work didn’t directly translate into big bucks (though I’ve had a stable career in pastoral ministry), but my studies help shape me into a better person.

    I like how one of my friends put it when asked why he was majoring in English instead of something like engineering.

    “Because it is the NOBLE thing to do.”

    I am currently reading Plath’s journals and have started a dialogue about her life and work on my blog. My first post is here –

    http://writingforfoodinindy.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/beauty-out-of-sorrow-reflections-of-a-young-sylvia-plath/

    I hope you might join the conversation.

    Keep up the good writing.

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