Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Major (In)Decisions

by Judy Merrill Larsen

You know, when I think about it, I have no clue what most jobs entail. I mean, okay, a heart surgeon probably operates on hearts (I do watch Grey's Anatomy after all.). I'd guess a ditch digger spends most of his or her time digging ditches.

When I went to college, I quickly became an English major. It meant I could read books (one of my favorite things to do) and write (another favorite thing to do). I gave very little thought to what I "would do with it." Much to my father's dismay. I still have no real idea what an English major does . . . for a living wage, anyway.

Near the end of my junior year, I called my folks and braced myself. I'd decided to double major by also getting a degree in secondary education. I worried that they'd be upset that it was going to take an extra semester and summer school. They were so thrilled that I'd be employable that the extra money never mattered. Teaching is sorta like heart surgery in that most people have a general sense for what the job entails (until you're actually in the classroom and facing those kids for the first time. Then you think, holy moly, what did I get myself into?).

This is on my mind because my younger son recently informed me that he's probably changing his major and he wondered what he should switch to. And even though I sent him an e-mail full of suggestions (mostly culled from his college's website of "available majors"), I have no idea what to suggest for him and he's at somewhat of a loss too.

Because, other than some very specific majors, we have no real sense of what jobs any given major will lead to. I mean, take "Business" for example. What does that mean? (Other, of course, something I'd have no interest in.) Or Poli Sci? (I mean he's never going to run for office.) Geography?

And even more confusing, when he thinks of a job he might want, no specific major screams out at us. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to the days of education for education's sake? When the idea was to learn things, to broaden your mind, and become a thoughtful thinker? Then, you would go and apply for a job and simply having the diploma was what mattered.

But no, now kids practically are supposed to decide in middle school. And start preparing right then and there. Am I the only one who thinks it's a little depressing that high school kids have to use their summers to pad their resumes rather than work on their tans? (Hmm, I can hear you muttering, Well, Miss-Not-Mother-of-the-Year, maybe your son wouldn't be in this quandry if he'd done something other than work at pizza parlors all through high school.)

But I'm still a big believer in kids being kids. In kids having enough free time to get bored and figure out what to do about it (hopefully without involving drugs and alcohol. Oh, and sex.).

Is it just me? And my sweet, hardworking, but slightly unfocused kid?

We're leaning to general business, but not with much excitement. And that makes me sad.

Ideas, anyone? Anybody out there have the answer? Anyone? Bueller?


Eudae-mamia said...

I still remember the day I sadly had to switch my major of choice from meteorology to marketing/journalism. I knew it would be more marketable and more flexible for my future, but it really wasn't what was in my heart.

I say go with Business - it's the most marketable. Totally boring and dry, but will pay the bills, hopefully. I guess this is where the path splits - decide if you want to love your job and throw fiscal caution to the wind or go to work and pay the bills. The lucky few get both.

Totally stinks to be an adult sometimes. Maybe that's the biggest college lesson of all?


Laura said...

Oh, this is a tough one, JML. I was sorry that I went into business--sort of. My heart was in art history and I think I would've been happy being an architect eventually. I did get a corporate job, but it didn't suit me. But I do have a decent knowledge of the way business works and how to direct projects and deal with difficult people.

Is there anything that your son loves to do that might not necessarily pay the bills right away? If we follow our hearts, the money--or at least happiness--will follow. A good liberal arts education is never, ever a waste!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Em, yes, that is often the biggest lesson. I just want him to be one of those lucky few.

Laura, part of the problem is figuring out what he will love--and I know that awareness might not come for awhile. We'll get there. Thanks for your thoughts.