Maybe It Was Me

Please

My darling

You’ve done nothing wrong

Stop picking at your wounds

Stop telling yourself

That everything

Was your fault.

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Maybe

When it comes to you

My mouth is filled with so many maybes

And I am tired of trying

To piece things together

When I have so many missing shapes

And colors

No one should ever have to wonder

If someone ever really cared

But here I am

Left to draw conclusions

With no real answers

If you love someone

Spell it out for them

I cannot interpret you

The way I can interpret my dreams

There is no guidebook

No wise woman on a hill

Who will help me to understand you

All I have

Are the stories I tell myself

And the whispery hope

That everything I did

Wasn’t a huge mistake.

There are questions

Swirling in my mind

Moments

Where I feel fine

Moments

Where I feel wounded again

And the only thing I have

To say to myself in those moments

Is a whole lot of “maybe”

Old Dreams

Dust off your old dreams

Take them for a spin

See if you have anything

In common with them again

Turn to your former self

Say, “It is a pleasure to meet you.

I cannot tell you how much

You will grow

And how much you will get through.”

And maybe you will see

How much you have changed

Maybe you will see

How much you have stayed the same

Maybe you will see the ways

Your dreams have been twisted and rearranged

Dust off the past

Then leave it behind you

Your future is bright.

Where your old and new dreams meet

Where you belong comes alive

And that is what guides you.

Thoughts on Higher Education

[This became hella long so I broke it up into chapters. These are just my thoughts and advice about careers and majors. It is possible that some things I write, especially in regard to majors in math or sciences are not totally accurate. But as a writer and social scientist, this is all written in love and with the hope of being helpful ❤

Also, this post absolutely has typos. I am sleepy. Also, I am perfectly imperfect y’all 🙂 ]

Chapter I – My Experience (aka, learn from my mistakes) 

I write about higher education a lot on this blog. I just have a lot of thoughts on it, and I have had many things to process since I started college and now grad school.

I love learning. I think a lot of people who make it to grad school have a love of learning on some level. And that should certainly be a good enough reason to go to school. But in a country where pursuing higher ed means, for many people, going into a large amount of debt., knowledge is unfortunately not something most of us have the luxury to pursue “for the love of it.” At least not through the structured, degree-granting bureaucracy that is the university system.

Some of the most intelligent, driven, innovative people may struggle to find a job because they chose a “useless major” in undergrad. I don’t believe that any major is actually useless, but it is true that different degrees offer different kinds of value. Not all degrees will pay off economically. But does this matter? Well, in a word, yes. Yes it does.

In undergrad I started off as a theater major. I pursued this path out of pure passion. I had been acting for a few years and I wanted to continue on this path. After my freshman year I changed my major to English with a concentration in writing. I had a passion for words, too. I was always a super multi-passionate person. I wanted to do six different things at once, especially in the realm of creative pursuits. Changing my major actually caused a lot of stress. It was a big change, and looking back I realize it was one of the first big decisions I made as an adult.

Did I get support from everyone around me when I first thought about making the change? Absolutely not. As human nature would have it, people are not usually going to get on board with something right away if you want to change it. I don’t care if you want to change your major, your job, your significant other, or your diet. You WILL encounter naysayers because most people like shit to stay comfortably where it is. Anyway, I ended up changing my major. It felt like a big deal. But I got to focus on writing for three years, learned more about myself, and made some great friends. College was a good, transformative, and important time in my life. It held a lot of value on a personal level, and the two majors I had gone through played a big role in shaping me as a person.

Truth be told, in this whirlwind of an experience I had, I was never thinking about money. I have never been the kind of person who made choices based on money. I have always been an artist, I do shit that FEELS right to me, and while I wouldn’t change that about myself, feelings are not always good for finances.

Like I said, I loved my time in college. But when I got out, I had a degree in English. I was the poster child of a millennial with a “useless degree.” Meanwhile, I cheered myself up with all of the content online about the things you could do with an English degree. And I was interested in many of those things: publishing, editing, copywriting, advertising, marketing, public relations, technical writing, grant writing, fundraising…virtually anything that had to do with words. I was applying to all of those things.

Mind you, this was part of my problem. I had absolutely no focus. Having an interest in ALL THE THINGS can be good, but actually applying for all of those things was not. I never got specific and I know that hindered my job search. On top of that, all of those above jobs are highly competitive because, and I am not sure if you know this oh dear blogging community, but a shit ton of people want to be writers. On the plus side, yay! So many writing friends to be made! On the downside? Well, there’s a lot of us, probably way more than there are communications-related jobs. So let’s just say that pursuing this stuff is not for the faint of heart. You have to really work for it, and there was no specific path that I wanted enough for all the effort and little to no pay.

Still, I stayed the course for a while. I read website after website that talked about how you can market yourself as a freelance copywriter, the importance of finding a niche, the encouraging phrases that it was more than possible to work full time as a writer. I ultimately found that this path was not stable enough for me. I did not know this going in of course. I knew the kinds of jobs that I could apply for with in English degree, but I had no idea how hard it would actually be to get those jobs, let alone to get paid for it.

I spent three years after undergrad still focusing on writing. I had some fun times. But I did not become the self-sufficient adult I crave to be. I had always been thinking about grad school. At first I considered an MFA in Creative Writing, but considering how my job search was going, there was no way I was going to do that. I spent that first year out of college applying to jobs and writing on my own. I figured I would have my own MFA experience sans the debt, and with my family’s support I had the time to create my own shit. I am super thankful for that.

Chapter II – My Experience (continued) 

By year two, I had finished up an internship that gave me a good number of writing samples, but it I still struggled to land a writing job after I left. I heard back from a few marketing or PR agencies, but ultimately I felt like my skills were not valued and I felt disposable to them. By this time, I was thinking again about grad school. And I viewed my path far differently than I viewed it for undergrad. In undergrad I followed what I loved. This time, I knew I needed to create more job opportunities for myself.

After my English degree, there were a couple of things I could transition to easily. One was Education. “Do you want to teach?” is the dreaded question that all English majors get asked at some point. I never had a desire to be a teacher. Still, I considered this. And I knew from research and based on friends’ experiences that Special Education or Early Childhood would be the way to go. I also considered being certified to teach English as a second language through the CELTA certificate, as well as a masters in TESOL. I knew I wanted a master’s degree more than I wanted a certificate. So, this became option number one.

Upon looking at master’s programs offered at local state universities, I discovered the master of social work program at Hunter College in Manhattan. I did not know anything about social work, but for whatever reason I clicked on the web pages and started learning more about the program. I would have no problem applying with my English degree, and it turned out that social work was a pretty broad field. As I mentioned earlier, I am multi-passionate, so anything that puts me into too much of a box drives me bonkers.

I learned that with an MSW I could work in mental health clinics, hospitals, the government, the military, prisons, think tanks, and nonprofits. I went from knowing nothing about the field to learning quite a lot. Social Work became viable option number two. (This ended up being the option I chose, and I got into a state program I love – hooray 🙂 )

In general I also had to ask myself, what majors ACTUALLY prepare you for a job? I had spent so long hearing that you should go into a STEM field to make money, and while there can be truth to this, that advice can also be misguided. Plenty of people get a bachelor’s in biology or math and have no idea what to do next, or the options they have don’t actually interest them.

And what about people who don’t want to focus on STEM? Is teaching the only real option here?

Chapter III – Beyond the STEM Fields 

As a person who was always more drawn to the humanities (though I love and appreciate science and math as well), I did some digging. And I came to the conclusion that of course teaching is a good option for the right person. So is social work. Law is also a great field. My most financially stable friends who studied English or Theater ended up working in law firms. A law degree is perhaps not the best investment right now, considering all the debt and the over-saturated market—we have a lot of lawyers out there, so I have read–but as far as I can tell legal support jobs are still in demand. I know nothing about law, but I do know that such jobs want you to have litigation experience. And nope, I do not know what that means 🙂  (Edit: I looked it up and it apparently means “taking legal action.” So, experience at a firm where there were law suits??)

Then there is also the field of psychology, which is actually pretty science and math based in itself, but I think a lot of humanities types are drawn to it. Here’s the issue with psychology. A bachelor’s degree in this subject will not get you a job, at least not easily. You need a masters in a related field, like social work, mental health counseling, school counseling, school psychology, or marriage and family therapy. Jobs in music or art therapy are harder to get. Or you need a PhD in clinical psychology. Other PhD concentrations, such as environmental psych will not get you a job as easily, as far as I can tell. It is a worthy goal to want to do research and/or be a professor, but you’ll want to have a back up plan as well because the competition is tough.

I realized that for people more interested in humanities, you really cannot stop at a bachelor’s degree (except for the legal support jobs), and that a master’s degree that trains you for a specific career is the best thing. Even teacher, especially in special education are expected to have a master’s degree at this point. A master’s degree in the right field can do a lot for your career, if you find the right fit.

Chapter IV – But STEM is cool, too…

Then there are the STEM fields. STEM fields do indeed outshine the humanities as far as bachelor’s degrees go. A bachelor’s degree in nursing, computer science, engineering, or accounting can get you a good job. Based on my limited knowledge, I would recommend a degree in software engineering over computer science, but eh, what do I know? (I know these are very different paths, don’t bite me. Actually just ignore this whole paragraph lol). I do feel like it offers more specificity since some computer science majors graduate, realize they are shit at programming languages, and don’t really know what to do with themselves. But there are also plenty of comp sci folks who graduate and make bankkkk. Trust me y’all, I wish I had the passion for computers, or at the very least I wish I were one of those people inclined to follow the money.

Of course master’s degrees are good in STEM, too. People who want to move up to management positions in Engineering often need a master’s degree. (Also, research is key. Some fields in engineering are more in demand than others. And trust me, you want to pick something that is in demand with less competition). Some nurses further their studies to become NPs. A master’s in computer science probably couldn’t hurt anyone’s career. Same for a master’s in accounting.

Chapter V: Experience Before Business School  

Then there are degrees that are certainly useful, but ONLY with sufficient experience to back it up. A master’s degree in business administration is one of those degrees. It offers valuable skills, but you want experience in your industry of choice first. And I mean…it makes a lot of sense. No one is going to want to hire a new grad with no industry experience to be a manager. And if you go for an entry level position, you may need to leave that MBA off your resume to keep from appearing overqualified (aka wanting too much money, or being at risk of jumping ship the minute a shiny, new, and better job comes along. Only…shiny new jobs are not that easy to get. Ironic, right??).

An MBA is less about getting a job and more about honing your skills. Your foot should already be in the door long before you even think of applying to grad school. Also, you should probably get consistent experience in your industry of choice. Hint hint, it will look a lot like those career based degrees I mentioned above! Legal support, healthcare, nonprofit, technology, engineering, retail, food service….figure out what kind of business you want to, well, DO business in. Because a generalist approach will make everything harder. I don’t have all the answers, but I have learned from my own mistakes 🙂

Similar to the business degree, this also applies to studying nonprofit administration, public administration, public policy, or anything similar. Get that experience. Otherwise you just have a piece of paper, a bunch of debt, and desperation to settle for serving tables. (There is NOTHING wrong at all with serving tables. A job is a job. But if pouring coffee into mugs or scanning items at a drugstore are not appealing to you, don’t paint yourself into a corner in which this is all you are qualified to do).

So what does this mean for my dear aspiring English majors? What does this mean for my loves who have a passion for political science or history, or my proud geeks who want to study math just for the love of it, but have zero idea the kind of job they want? Are these degrees useless?

Chapter VI: For the Love of Knowledge 

I have a few thoughts on this. When it comes to a degree that does not train you for a specific career, financially it may make things harder for you. You may be stuck working in retail longer than you like. Financially speaking, I absolutely think it is worth studying these more broad subjects….IF you can pair it with something more practical. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be those people who get lucky and land a government job with great benefits, or a writing job at Buzzfeed. But for every success like that, there are many people who finish college and then drift, unable to find a job that meets their needs in terms of job satisfaction.

That being said, is monetary value the only thing to consider when pursing an education? Absolutely not. I think in general, people who pursue bachelor’s degrees have the opportunity to be exposed to people and ideas from all over the world. This shapes a person and makes them more well-rounded, which in many ways is the real purpose of a bachelor’s degree.

I am studying social work now. And my seemingly unrelated background in acting and writing are totally relevant for me. Acting taught me how to have empathy, to see the world through another’s eyes, and to think on my feet. Writing sharpened my communication skills and my ability to express myself authentically. These skills in empathy and communication help me immensely as a social work student and intern. Not to mention that I can breeze through writing papers and participating in social work role plays (the role plays can be different because they serve a different purpose than acting, but still, the theater experience doesn’t hurt).

My studies in undergrad gave me a lot of value. They shaped me as a person. I think the world absolutely needs people who major in English, History, Political Science, Math, Anthropology, Sociology, Theatre, Fine Art, Philosophy, Art History… Yes it is hard to get a job with these subjects alone. But I hate for that to mean that the people who study these subjects end up being seen as a joke. These are smart people who offer much needed qualities to the WORLD, not just the workforce.

Still, it is all about balance. We all need to earn money and pay our bills. We need to be able to work and have something to fall back on. Such is life.

In a country where too many smart, innovative young adults graduate college with debt and struggle to find work, we desperately need balance. We need room for people to be able to support themselves AND study the subjects they love.

In the meantime, I think the rule to “major in the money, minor in your passion” is pretty sound advice. I think colleges have more of a responsibility to make sure their students are educated on the realities of the job market. If you are interested in a field where the competition is strong or the field itself is shrinking (i.e – publishing and journalism), you may want to consider a backup plan. Nothing kills passion like being broke.

I love grad school. And I am grateful to be on the path I am on. I love how I have been able to grow, but I also know where I struggled with my English degree alone.

(This also isn’t to say everyone needs college to have a good job. There are plenty of great trades that do not require a bachelor’s or master’s degree ❤ )

I hope one day our country gives more people affordable opportunities to learn, simply for the love of learning. For now, I am always willing to pass on the things I have learned. Because at the end of the day, we all need to eat.

-AL