Why English Majors are Just as Important as Engineers

Last Sunday I adjusted my glasses not once, but twice to make sure I was reading these words in The New York Times correctly:

“To nudge students toward job-friendly degrees, [Florida Governor Rick Scott’s] task force on higher education suggested recently that university tuition rates be frozen for three years for majors in ‘strategic areas,’ which would vary depending on supply and demand,” writes Lizette Alvarez. “An undergraduate student would pay less for a degree in engineering or biotechnology -- whose classes are among the most expensive for universities -- than for a degree in history or psychology.”


The kid who thrives on Chaucer and couldn’t give a hoot about a molecule is going to be steered to an entire career in science because we need to fill those jobs? This is as opposed to finding a way for the science-inclined to afford to get the education to fill that gaping void? Does passion for the subject or talent for it even come into play? Are we looking for mediocre scientists and engineers or people gifted and wide-eyed over the marvels of the field?

I already have a piggyback suggestion – find a way to “nudge” folks to careers in life coaching because boy will that industry be in higher demand.

My fellow professional coaches are already doing their part to help adults transition out of careers “strongly suggested” to them by well-meaning parents, guidance counselors and other practical-minded advisors. They get to be in their late 30s, early 40s, even 50s, and realize the lawn and the two-car garage are nice, but spending the majority of your life commuting to a job you can barely tolerate isn’t a great tradeoff.

Even those who think the whole Mayan world-ending-this-month thing is hogwash are getting jittery over all the stuff they still haven’t done. They’re like, “Ha ha, these survival people are nuts … I have plenty of time to enjoy my life … can you pour me another glass of wine? Yeah, why don’t you just leave the bottle here?”

It’s a scary proposition, this idea of doing the societally dictated right thing, putting your square self in the round peg that is today’s open job.

“The message from Tallahassee could not be blunter: Give us engineers, scientists, health care specialists and technology experts,” Alvarez writes. “Do not worry so much about historians, philosophers, anthropologists and English majors.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I entered college as an English major (but eventually graduated with a degree in journalism and professional writing), so I’m smarting an extra little bit for that reason. But truly, my education prepared me for what I’m naturally drawn to, for what I’ve always been drawn to – writing. I couldn’t have known then that eventually newspapers would struggle and I’d be writing on the Web. That doesn’t mean given a choice I’d go back and change my major to fit some other societal need.

Florida has it backwards. You go with your interests, what’s at your core and you take it from there. If you have no clear focal point upon entering college, you gravitate to a few things that pique your interest and you stay open to what presents itself. Stories on how people happy in their careers found their way are so varied; it behooves us to trust ourselves and pay attention to that thing that perks us up.

I have had clients who, when talking about something that intrigues them, sit up straighter and talk more excitedly. Sometimes I can feel the energy shift.

If you’re one of those people who can go to a job, punch in, do your thing, punch out and come home to a life you enjoy because the job affords the security you need, more power to you. But there are so many people who try that and just can’t seem to stop asking, “Is this all there is?”

We create our lives. That may sound trite, but it seems like a revelation to an awful lot of my clients. When they tell me it’s all fine and good for so-and-so to make a change because she doesn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage, I point out that it was their choice to have that mortgage. And if that mortgage is the reason they are staying in a situation they hate, then the house owns them, not the other way around.

This is a bit of an extreme example because it’s not typically an either/or when it comes to security and and material comfort and happiness. But so many have convinced themselves it is. They don’t feel they have a choice. They don’t recognize it was a whole series of choices that brought them there in the first place.

This probably began sometime around the time they picked a college major. One year, one decision, flowed into the next. Some erect traps, walls, entanglements. Others opt for going with a feeling, a nod to the giver of gifts that those gifts will be used at all costs. There’s a whole bunch in between and most of us find ourselves on different parts of that spectrum at various times in our lives.

We would do well to encourage our students to pursue what makes them tick. That sets the right tone for a meaningful life.

But hey, we could go the other way. My fellow coaches and I will be happy to expand our client bases for years to come.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.