Two summers ago, I found myself at a soccer game with a high school friend, her friend from college, who I’d never met, and his father. “What do you study?” the father asked me, shaking my hand. “English,” I said. “Oh. That must be easy.” He grinned. “My son is an astrophysics major.”
I like to think that I’m a fairly patient person. But there is one thing that makes me want to throw stuff. And that is when people mock or question my education and career goals.
If you are a humanities major, you may know what I’m talking about. There’s the Wharton friend who vows to take pity on you next year when you end up living in a refrigerator box by the side of the road. The pre–med kid who insists that you “don’t understand what real work is.”
When I say that I want to be a journalist, all hell breaks loose. “You’re, like, never going to get a job.” “You don’t want to be a teacher?” “I thought journalism was dead.”
Yes, it’s harmless small talk, and we’ve all got to be able to laugh at ourselves (do investment bankers have souls? I’m not sure), but it does get old. It’s tiring to constantly defend myself, often to people who don’t even know me. I hate feeling like I have to prove that my ambitions are worthy of my time and society’s, just because engineering is supposed to be “hard” and an English degree isn’t a guaranteed ticket to a six–figure salary.
But I’m 22, teetering on the edge of my future. I wrote my first story when I was six, and decided to be an English major at twelve. In high school and college, I refused to take the easy route, no matter how tempting it was. I spent my junior year at Oxford, churning out two 2,000–word essays a week and becoming nocturnal. And while I believe that at least 50% of my successes are due to opportunity and luck, the other 50% come down to hard work and perseverance.
When you assume that I’m coasting because of my major, you’re belittling all of that: the passion I have for my subject and dreamt–of career, the years of long nights reading in the library and waking up with pages stuck to my face.
Maybe I will end up living in a refrigerator box with cockroach roommates (I can use this column for wallpaper). Maybe I’ll have to scrap this plan and fashion a new one. Maybe I will fail utterly. But maybe not. Writing is what I’m good at, what I’ve always wanted to do. I’d be a fool not to at least try. If not now, when?
Believe me, I have enough self-doubt to fill a tow truck—no, two tow trucks. I swear, guy I met in a bar, aunt so–and–so and physics teacher who thought I was dumb, you’re not telling me anything I haven’t already heard and worried about. So, if we run into each other, consider, perhaps, smiling and saving your English major stand–up material for finance class.