I was recently having a conversation with a friend about what she’s learned about some organizations with which she’s worked. Mostly, I learned the organizations are bureaucratic, disorganized, useless-at-best, harmful-at-worst, and generally bad places for which to work. I could tell she was disheartened from just having to work with these groups.
The conversation drifted towards what she was planning on doing after she graduates. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “I can either go to graduate school or I can go work for [one of these groups].”
We had just spent half an hour talking about the problems with these groups, how nobody can change them from the inside, how most of their employees are miserable, and how they are harmful towards their stated goals. I was confused as to why on earth she would want to work for one of these.
“Well, it’s all you can really do with a degree in [her major].”
She’s not alone. Every year, millions of graduates go into careers at companies, organizations, and agencies they don’t like and don’t have a passion for because they think that’s all that they can do with a degree in that field. Maybe they chose the degree because they thought they could do other things “with it,” or maybe because they thought that what was involved in the classes was fun and interesting. They end up trapping themselves. Thousands of dollars in debt and presented with a limited list of options by career services and websites about, “what you can do with X major,” they find themselves applying to jobs they don’t want.
Here’s something that most people agree with on first glance: you are not your major.
Your major does not need to determine what you will do in your life. It is not your identity. Just as you are not your political beliefs, not your religion, and not your degree, you are not your major.
Most people agree with this, but most people betray it in their speech and actions. At holiday parties, on dating sites, and at family events, somebody is sure to ask a young, 18-24 year-old, “what’s your major?” early in the conversation. If the answer isn’t sufficiently satisfying to the questioner, it is usually followed with a “what are you going to do with that?”
With such pressures from friends and family, it isn’t surprising that young people then start to categorize their professional options according to major.
Here’s a secret though: most people really don’t care about your major.
On the job market, employers are more interested in your potential to create value for them. They want to know why you’ll be an asset and not a liability. Once upon a time, majors were useful sorting mechanisms to help them determine this, but that time has passed. Now they’re looking for candidates who can show a track-record and experience creating value.
In the social world, people are less interested in what you are studying than they were in college. People are more interested in what makes you interesting. Do you play an instrument? Have you traveled anywhere exotic? Do you have passions? Hopes? Dreams? Values? “No, but I have a Communications degree,” isn’t a way to make friends and be interesting.
You are not your major. You don’t have to limit your career choices to things that people with a degree in your field usually go into. You can use the skills, experience, and knowledge you learned elsewhere — maybe even through the acquisition of this degree — to help you land some kind of work in any number of fields. Market yourself as more than a major. Market yourself as an asset to any growing organization. Studying psychology doesn’t mean you have to end up in psychology. Studying sociology doesn’t mean you have to go work with an NGO or become a professor. If people are categorizing you according to your major alone, ignore them. Go create value for people so you have a track record you can fall back on.