[If I Could Go Back is a series of articles that center around the college experience. Hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes the best advice we could ever give stems from experiences in our past that make us cringe just the tiniest bit.]
“If I could do it all over again, I’d major in Education.”
“Oh, me too. Either that or Business.”
“I should have majored in Economics. At least then I’d have a real job.”
These are not the words of slackers or lazy, “Generation Me” complainers. Nor is this a made up conversation invented by a conglomerate of strict parents hoping their children will study something safe in college. This dialogue was actually spoken, by real twenty-somethings, all of whom worked hard for good grades and big fellowships, sometime last week.
During a short vacation back to my hometown, I met up with a bunch of old friends. As we all got caught up with each other’s lives, it became shriekingly apparent that there was a trend among the entire group: we all wished we had been more practical in college.
The 2008 financial explosion has created a very different world than the one I experienced as a college freshman. While jobs weren’t exactly falling out of the sky, they were there, and even when a few loved ones wondered out loud whether I’d be happier in the long run majoring in Education (“so you’ll always have health insurance”), I decided to throw caution to the wind, create my own major, and blindly pursue my creative bliss all the way towards an MFA and then a fantastic job with benefits.
- MFA, check.
Fantastic job with benefits… Not quite.
Economic slump or not, that idealized plan of mine was just that: ideal. And while I would never, ever, in one trillion years encourage young people to give up their dreams in favor of security, at this stage in my life — I would offer one snippet of advice: for the love of your wallet and your future happiness, just be a little practical.
Between us, my group of childhood friends has achieved high GPA’s, inductions to Phi Beta Kappa, a Fulbright, multiple trips to different countries and a bunch of volunteer work. But what the majority of us don’t have is a college Major, Minor, or even a bunch of experience that prepared us to stay afloat while we were perusing our lofty dreams of playwriting, saving the world and philosophizing.
Again, I am not urging young collegians to Major in something they hate. That will just result in F’s and back of the classroom naps. But maybe, just maybe, think about the future before you fill up your schedule with 9 different art classes or take a romantic jaunt through Europe during the summer.
Even people who eventually help to save or entertain the world have to get a “real job” that keeps the electricity on and food in the refrigerator (I didn’t want to hear this either. I really didn’t. But trust me), and in this social climate, a lot of bosses and managers don’t have time to consider the fact that your Phi Beta Kappa pin means you can probably learn something you have no experience in. They want concrete evidence in your ability, which usually means classes or internships that are often not totally awesome and earth-shattering, but that fill out your resume with real world applicable skills.
So please, run toward your dreams like a bunch of hungry cheetahs are after you, but while you’re doing that, consider a future that isn’t full of rainbows and perfect scenarios. Consider what your life may look like once you leave the bubble of these four years, and think about how you can maintain a livable yearly salary — even if all you want to do is write the next great American novel.
PS: 6 years ago, I couldn’t fathom writing an article like this. My unbridled love of freedom and creativity would have made it impossible to imagine a life that included more than 5 years of non-fame and non-fortune. So even if this article annoys you, give it just a few minutes of consideration. Because somewhere down the line, it may be 97 degrees in your apartment, and you may not be able to afford air conditioning, and you will be very disappointed that at one point, you were allergic to structure.