I stumbled upon an article today called “10 worst majors for your career” and found not too many surprises listed among the ten–philosophy, anthropology, various forms of fine art, and, of course, English. I knew this was a “bad” choice in terms of finding a permanent career. English is one of those self-propagating majors that seeks to create English majors who can then go out into the world to make more English majors. I’m not actually sure why. Certainly literature is awesome and it deserves to be appreciated, but realistically we’re not going to be able to singlehandedly save the classics by declaring ourselves English majors.
Of course, there were valuable skills I learned from my degree–not just things like written communication, how to sound moderately intelligent in person or on paper, how to edit, how to find the hidden meanings in things, how to read between the lines, and even a little bit of human psychology (it’s impossible to read THAT many novels and not start to understand how people think and react and lie), but also things like how to debate, how to network, how to make suggestions without being mean about it, how to take charge in a group conversation, how to listen and accept advice. All of these things are hugely important in almost any career path I could choose.
Like in my current job as western teacher/trainer for a university. I write about two dozen emails minimum a day, mostly to students but also to coworkers, superiors, and campus peers. I teach horseback riding, so I need not only a knowledge of horses, riding and developing horsemanship, but the ability to communicate these ideas verbally. I coach a team, so I need to not only develop horsemen but also plan shows, manage the team, motivate, inspire and coordinate. My responsibilities beyond the equestrian center are increasing gradually so my ability to communicate with other non-equestrians needs to remain sharp and clear.
I’m also creating ways for me to keep my writing skills fresh. I’ve written a number of articles about the equestrian program at Alfred (shameless advertising, but a good way for me to get my foot in the door regarding publications) and have been published in Today’s Equestrian, the IEA magazine Take the Reins, and finally what I consider a first real big step into writing, Ranch & Reata. I write a weekly column for the blog HorseNation and attempt to come up with a new “western” topic every week (hello, overwhelming.)
Still, most of the writing I’m doing is still riding on the coattails of my actual job. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but does throw into the light the fact that I’m in a fairly tenuous career path right now that can evaporate quickly–sure, I have a decent amount of job security right now, but in an extraordinarily specialized field. I would guess that there are maybe 200 jobs like mine across the country, teaching horsemanship at the collegiate level. I do not have the connections or start-up capital to start my own equestrian business. Without the university, I’m no one. I was not well-prepared for the job that I have now–nor, realistically, was I prepared for any job at all. Do I really want to do horses as a job? I speculated when taking this job that I would find out if I really wanted to do this or not, and I’m still not sure.
I don’t blame the University for this, necessarily. Instead, I will quote this blogger that I found, a lovely source of comfort for these moments of academic self-doubt:
The problem isn’t the degree. Rather, it’s the English faculty who lack knowledge and experience on their part. They don’t realize that, because teaching is all that they know or understand, they cannot tell students such as you all the possibilities an English degree embraces. They simply don’t realize how many other options are out there in the real world.
The faculty I worked with as an undergraduate were fabulous people. But like my slightly-stuffy and mostly-doddery grandfather, they’re living out their lives in academia–not the real world. Like a lot of fine artists, they don’t like to imagine the mundane humdrum part of the world, the part that says we do need to work for money sometimes.
So here ends my vacation of linguistic drifting, snoozing comfortably within the cocoon of my “day job.” It’s time to build up my writing and editing chops again, get myself back into shape, force myself to write more, search more, find places to publish, people for whom to edit, ways to get those connections. I can definitely use that degree in English. I’ll just have to get a little creative.
That said, this is really just a bit elaborate lead-in to the fact that I’m going to be starting NaNoWriMo again in less than 48 hours. One novel, one month. It never needs to see the light of day again. What will I write about? I have a hundred different ideas.
It’s good to be back.