It just doesn’t do to talk someone out of something without providing a suggestion for an alternative, so today I’ll tell you about why joining the Peace Corps straight out of college is a great idea if you have a wandering spirit but you don’t think the digital nomad lifestyle is for you.
INVARIABLY, these are the words which follow the revelation that you are an English major. There is literally no other response. Society has no use for English majors other than to teach new English majors, it seems.
This line of thinking is outdated, and wrong.
The rise of the Internet economy has created an entirely new use for those graduating college with liberal arts degrees. English, Communications, Journalism, and similar majors are suddenly in high demand. Why?
Because everything on the Internet is written by English majors.
May is almost up, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the month watching high school and college graduations go by: either in-person, or on social media. Caps, gowns and sashes flashed by in a blur— and the requisite binge drinking which soothes the thought of the future from the fresh graduate’s mind sloshed a veneer of fun over the whole thing.
Under the jubilation: the common, slinking, cultural understanding that the degree is going to be more of a burden than a boon, at least for the first half-decade or so. Student loans, a lack of experience and an eminently poor job market all linger on the sides of the millennial consciousness.
“I just graduated. Now what?” is more or less the zeitgeist of the Millennial generation. We’ve been raised since we were children to believe that a college degree held all of the answers we needed to know what we wanted to do with our lives. Many of us find out only after graduation that the degree was simply another stepping stone, not a conveyor belt. As a young college student or graduate, you need to take the steps which will lead you to where you want to go. The four-year degree track will not magically take you there. Some people realize this during college or even before; others do not see that far ahead.
So we end up with “I just graduated. Now what?”
That’s a tough question. The answer will vary hugely from person to person, depending on circumstances. The privileged white kid whose parents paid her tuition will have a different answer than the first-generation student saddled with debt. The engineer will have a different answer than the English major. The overachiever who completed a few internships and worked a side job will be in a different situation than someone who did neither of those things in order to focus on their grades.
Unless you’re lucky enough to finish college with a job offer, nonetheless you will end up lost for a moment, asking “Now what?”
My advice would be: live your life, and don’t worry too much about the money. Work to live, don’t live to work. I’m not much of anyone though. You don’t have any reason to listen to me. What’s to say that my approach won’t end in pain and misery and loneliness by age 29? Better to look to those who have proven themselves successful, Katherine Schwarzenegger says.
This is the approach Katherine Schwarzenegger (of the Schwarzeneggers) takes in her book (Anthology? Interview Collection? Curated Collection?) “I Just Graduated… Now What? — Honest Answers From Those Who Have Been There.” This book is a collection of essays written by famous figures about the path they took to success. Seems interesting enough, but unfortunately, it does not deliver on its potential. Book is dead boring and seriously lacking in insight.
Reading this book is no more helpful than asking all the adults you know how they got their jobs.
The stories contained within are random and the collection has no underlying thesis or thread. Some of the contributors never even graduated college, which seems a bit disingenuous for a book which is ostensibly about how to leverage your college education. Not that these dropouts have nothing to say— I’d actually argue that their chapters are the most focused and relevant, especially when put besides say, Serena Williams’ one-page essay which essentially says “I made sure to do other things so I’m not fucked when my tennis career ends.” Thanks, Serena.
Before we go on, I’m going to do you a favor and transcribe the entire list of contributors, as a public service for those who may be interested in the book. I have also linked to a recent relevant work by each contributor. If you are interested, you may explore many of these people and their careers further by clicking their names.
That list is heavy on entrepreneurs and privileged people. I bolded the ones who I thought had something to say. Four out of 31 (32 if you count Katherine Schwarzenegger herself, who contributes nothing to the collection except staggering amounts of privilege) is not a very good quality ratio for anything, let alone an anthology, which by its very nature implies some degree of curation.
The huge concentration of entrepreneurs who did not pursue traditional careers paths aside, many of these essays only tell the what, not the how. It’s hard to connect with the story in the book when essayist after essayist says “I got a job at a TV station in Baltimore right after graduating” or “I saw a need and founded my company to address that need. It was hard, but in the end it was all worth it.” These stories, while true and perhaps uplifting to a certain sort of person, are utterly useless to the struggling Millennial generation. There is critically little practical advice in this book, which I feel is more or less the pitch. The practical information is shoehorned into two tiny chapters at the very end, dealing with debt and the stigma of moving back home.
There is too much privilege in this book for it to be palatable to me, and I’m a straight upper-middle class white male. This is a book written by a rich white girl who is the daughter of a Kennedy and a beloved actor who was also a highly influential politician. That perspective alone almost invalidates the book; the essayists do not do much to salvage it. I can’t imagine these essays appealing to much of my generation, especially not my peers who were sold a college degree as the catch-all answer to social advancement, by their parents and by society at large. The book really steps aside on the bigger issues inherent in the current college crisis, which is absolutely shameful. If the book isn’t going to address the question in the title or the larger societal issues inherent in that question, why bother?
Do I think too big? Maybe. Does the book live up to the title, at least in letter if not in spirit? Maybe again.
But that’s the huge elephant in the room, the heart of this issue, the unspoken challenge that is tearing an economic and idealistic hole through our underclass. Surface-level thinking and surface-level studying GETS YOU NOWHERE. Your degree is utterly worthless if you don’t dig beyond what is presented to you in school. Doing what our parents and our predecessors did will not yield the same results for our generation. The path to success leads nowhere. We need to think of that path as the trek to base camp; the real work begins when that trail ends. You can’t extend that trail with law school or graduate school; at a certain point you need to put your fears under you and start climbing.
“You progressing on something, and that’s, that’s all about. You gotta keep moving, having a progress in your life.”