Selling Out?: Getting a “Real Job” as an English Major

“What’re you gonna do with that?” I heard this question many times throughout my educational career as an English major — eventually I would just respond with a blank smile and allowed the inquirer to speculate on their own. “Ooooh, a teacher?!?!” They would smile wide and nod: a self-congratulation as they had brilliantly rationalized why anyone would choose to gruel over the humanities as their field of study. And of all humanities studies — English! You can’t write code or do surgery or found the next brilliant tech innovation with an English degree!

“I’ll just be broke or homeless, I guess,” I would say sometimes, watching the look of inquisitiveness move into either mild shock or annoyance. After all, that’s what it seemed their question was leading into. Why put myself through 4 long years of school just to read?

No one is ever asked what they’re going to do with a Computer Science or Medical degree, because those indicate specific career fields after graduation. Even some art degrees have logical trajectories: the exploding world of technology and entertainment will always have a designated home for designers, illustrators, and musicians. But for the humanities it’s not always quite clear. I’m looking at you, students of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and of course, English. If you look so disdained and irritated at the thought of teaching, what the hell are you going to do with your life? You can’t highlight and discuss Dostoevsky for rent or bulk quinoa, you know. In this economy??

During the very last months of college I found myself wildly panicking over what was to come after graduation. I had seen the light after long, stressful nights of postcolonial essays and cursing Descarte, but what exactly was it that awaited me outside the tunnel? I had worked at Starbucks and as a math tutor for most of my time at university, but now I had to leave the lull of part-time work and join the work force as a full-fledged, blazer wearing adult. I began the arduous task of filling out applications and writing enthusiastic-but-not-desperate cover letters. The more company websites and Glassdoor reviews I read, the more I began to doubt and question myself. Just who the hell did I think I was, trying to penetrate into these money-flooded, world-changing industries with but a mere English degree?

The first thing I learned was that job applications are nothing but a numbers game. That posting on LinkedIn might have been there for weeks by the time your grubby hands clicked on it — imagine all the other souls that have already applied and posted their resumes and cover letters and hopes and dreams.

So you’re probably 189th in line to interview for a decent paying job in the Financial District with great benefits and catered lunches, and I’m sorry to say that statistically you are unlikely to even get an in-person interview. Maybe the recruiter won’t even see your profile. Don’t fret, dear friend. Remember the numbers and do not put all of your eggs (and your hopes and dreams) into one catered lunch basket. Take advantage of the “Easy Apply” button and up your game. The more applications you put out, the more likely you’re going to get a call. The more calls and interviews you’re granted, the more likely you’re gonna get a job. 

If you’re feeling as insecure as I was about your major, don’t. The education section in your resume is only what, 3-5 lines? There is an entire 8 1/2 x 11 sheet (or A4 if you’re not American) on which you can paint the intelligent, competent, and hard-working individual you are. The skills you learn as a humanities major are useful and important, but you have to know how to market them to fit corporate expectations and needs. For example, my long, grueling nights over analytical essays and presentations became:

  • Efficient and thorough analysis of written text
  • Effective written and oral communication on different scopes and levels of detail

It’s all about selling your skills and customizing your resume and cover letter to fit the job application. Technical writer? Emphasize your quick and accurate copywriting/editing skills. Project coordinator? Highlight your communication skills and the high- and low-level detail work you put into that senior thesis.

That being said, I’m going to have to get honest with you, fellow humanities major. Unless you’re intensely brilliant and prolific, Hermione Granger incarnate, or you were able to land and work unpaid internships during college, I’m sorry to say that you are probably not going to be a tenured museum curator at the Smithsonian or a publishing editor at Random House right after graduation. If you have the financial means to do so, put in that entry-level time at creative companies and work your way up. If you do need to make that cash, maybe take some time in another industry while you keep working on your creative pursuits. I say this because unfortunately, you will probably have to weigh in between having a higher, secure salary versus lower pay while working on your passion project and dream career.

I personally had to choose between taking a lower paid entry-level position at a small publishing company and a higher paid position in an industry I don’t love. Call me a sell out, but I chose the higher paid position for now because I want to build up financial security while I keep looking for better paid creative work and endeavoring on my own passion projects (like this godforsaken manuscript). At first I felt guilty because I gave up the opportunity to work in literature for a corporate job, but I can still love books and writing while paying my bills and building my savings.

So yes, I did get a real, big-girl job with my English degree! I am not finished with my education and constantly scour free classes on Udacity and Coursera to learn new skills (Mandarin and Python just because they’re interesting) but I am proud of my education and what I’ve learned. I like the work I’ve found and admit to settling, but I’m also on a constant lookout for transitioning into creative work. Do not fret, dear English major. The world is abundant and full of jobs: careers that you will either love or careers that you can take for the time being while you gain more editing experience and/or finish that manuscript (finish it, dammit!).

 

Our Blurry Sunset is Our Own

Upon reaching home this evening, I noticed the violet peeking out above apartment roofs in its very last moments before fading into the dark. I was worn after driving through a rainy rush hour on 101, and before that a full day of answering emails and phone calls while my mind wandered to Hawaii and Alaska and beyond. After arguing with myself if it was worth it to stay out longer to see that violet, I called you from outside and told you to come with me.

We’ll have been living in Pacifica a whole year this April, but we still get lost to our sunset spot. Panicking over GPS, we circle around neighborhoods and hills, watching the violet begin fading away. We give up on our sunset spot and instead settle for the post office before a sandy cliff, parked with emergency lights on the red zone. There are others who have stopped in the end of their day, when they are weary from work and parenting and school and life, to see the violet fade into the sea. I step out and walk to the sand and see and smell the waves crashing upon one another. The ocean does not roar today, rather hushes me again and again. Not quiet or calm but sure of itself, comfortable in its cycle. The waves are high, reaching and failing every time to reach the moon, hiding behind clouds. It is cold and drizzling and I am in my work clothes, but we stand with others with our cameras pointed, trying to catch the remarkable violet.

I endeavor to capture this scene, playing with scales and buttons but never quite getting it. You get a few pictures of me — blurry and unfocused. But within the pixels and awkward posing there is that violet, now fading into the last explosion of reds and pinks as the sun makes her way down under the sea. The others fade away, drawn to the rest of their lives after getting that perfect shot. We sit in the car with the emergency lights still blinking and watch out the window, catching last glimpses of that violet as it fades into black.

 

 

 

 

 

Where I am at 23 and Where I Want to Be

Admit it, we are all whirling into the craze that is decluttering and have the urge to pick things in our lives that will either spark joy or will spark the donation bin. Every other Youtuber and Instragrammer has picked out the worn Forever 21 sweaters and five-year-old single tube socks from their drawer, but I have also come across some articles from the web that talk about decluttering the more abstract parts of life.

As I take heed of Marie Kondo and her ruthless demolition of all things unnecessary or unsparky of joy, I’m beginning to reflect on the things I want to be known for or what I want myself to focus on as I become (dare I say it ) a real adult. So here is a list of things of big picture things that I still care about. General life aspects that spark that anime joy in me or that I know are good for me even though I don’t wanna go to the gym dammit:

  1. Health: I’ve always been fat. I was a fat toddler, a fat kid, a fat teenager, etc. etc. While I appreciate the incredible and charming personality that came with having to compensate for my looks, I have realized in the past years that my body just wasn’t responding to my lifestyle in the way that I wanted it to. My legs couldn’t carry me up the mountains I wanted to climb, my lungs wavered at the thought of running or jumping or swimming. My boyfriend helped me immensely by reintroducing vegetarianism into my life (more on that later) and becoming my adventure buddy. While he led me to this new path, I developed my own rhythm by learning how to cook, joining the gym and finding a routine that I like, and focusing on foods and movements that nourish me.
  2. Deeper Relationships and Understanding: at the risk of sounding like every other aging Berkeley hippy, I must say that this is so important to prioritize now that we live in such a fast-paced, social media age. Our minds are becoming more attuned to novelty rather than deeper relationships and understanding. I have found that it’s gotten a lot harder for me to focus on one task as my mind has been conditioned to await a new notification or shiny new post. We’ve all read enough articles on Facebook (ironically enough) that social media will rot our brain and is the ultimate doom of the human relationship so I won’t go into that. And I won’t go depriving myself the bliss of scrolling through puppy Instagram, but I am also taking an initiative to be more present and selective with what I choose to spend time on.
  3. Writing! Here it is, my big goal for this year. Since I was about nine-years-old and reading aloud my stories about android 4th grade teachers, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I have always been a storyteller — one of my famous numbers was composed at the tender age of three, when I spun a tale about the paniking kalbo, or bald-headed bat, who flew into the mall and wreaked havoc. I’m sorry to say my ideas have become a lot less adventurous, but they are there nonetheless. After years of conditioning myself to search for a practical career path just in case writing doesn’t work out, I realized that it never will if I don’t give it the dedication it deserves. I’m making this promise to write once a day, either on this blog project or on my manuscript and you, my friend, or the 2 people reading this, are here to hold me accountable.

I made a goal last year to finish the first draft of my novel and to start a blog and while I did write a few posts, I am not proud of the time and effort I had put into writing. This is something that brings me joy and something with which I feel I can make a contribution to the world, so it deserves more than a few scrambled posts.

In order to juggle my endeavors to get healthy, work on my relationships, and write more, I’ll have to sacrifice a few things. I am limiting the amount of time I consume in order to make time to produce and create. This means that I’ll have to spend less time watching TV or the black hole that is YouTube, which seems daunting now because GAME OF THRONES TRAILER JUST CAME OUT!! But relax, Dina. Everything in moderation, even moderation. When you deprive of yourself you truly start craving it — I learned this the hard way when I tried going vegan and spent those two weeks eating more cheese than I ever have.

That being said, I am also reaching out to you, family and friends, to support my passion by reading and sharing my posts, and also giving me feedback! I will take constructive criticism, suggestions, requests, whatever you have to say about my writing as long as it drives me to work on my craft and will not piss on my hopes and dreams.

Thanks for reading!

Dina Klarisse