You’re working along in college, perhaps calculating and re-calculating when you’ll graduate. The plan is, once you’ve graduated, you’ll enter “the real world” and embark on whatever is to be your profession which you hope will be lucrative and stable. You may even have your eye on The American Dream—home ownership, nice car, all that. (Now that we have a new President, we can think about that possibility again.) You see college as perhaps the last part of a journey you began in elementary school, the transport means taking you to a destination where you’ll live, you hope, more happily ever after than your parents did.
This is perhaps why you’re squeamish about majoring in the Humanities, a noble pursuit that promises a lifetime of modest income. You need to have this all sewn up: Get your degree, then land a decent job in a career with a promising future. Here you are in college, and just about out of time to prepare yourself for “the real world.”
You have every reason to feel the pressure. You’ve been encouraged to see your education as the preparation phase for life and to imagine that somehow it comes to an end when you take a job, so you had better be fully loaded before then. The time for learning is over when the time for doing arrives! Right?
Your education is preparing you to keep learning. You’ll flourish as a professional because you know how to learn and how to apply what you learn at work, because you’re not afraid of reading, absorbing information, thinking critically, dealing with the abstract. (You didn’t, by any chance, learn any of those things in your English classes, did you?)
No one is ever a finished product. Having a college degree, even an advanced degree, is a beginning, not an end. Successful professionals are lifelong learners, and English majors are, I think, especially well-equipped for lifelong learning (reading, thinking things through, that sort of thing).
Here’s what I studied after I finished college (got my BA in English): Project Management, Data Modeling, Banking Operations, Electric Utility System Operations, Systems Analysis, Software Quality Assurance, Accounting, Non-Profit Arts Management and Public speaking—to name a few. I was surprised how much I liked Data Modeling. Who’d have thought a topic that bears a strong resemblance to calculus could be so intriguing? But then there was accounting. Sorry, not my thing.
The point is your college foundation is a beginning, not an end. If you’ve learned to read for intent, understand human motivation, synthesize the abstract, compare, contrast and—very important—write, you’re on your way to a successful professional life. Just don’t assume you have to know right this minute exactly what that will be.
And remember: Only a person who is about to breathe his last is a finished product—not a state you want to get to anytime soon, I’m sure.