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7 Reasons Your Humanities Major Doesn’t Mean Unemployment

7 Reasons Your Humanities Major Doesn’t Mean Unemployment

Recently, I had a conversation with a new acquaintance about where we went to school. I told him my alma mater (a large state university), and after we talked about its March Madness bracket potential this year (mediocre to decent), he asked what I studied there. The answer: English. The response: “Oh, so you must teach.”

The implication was that if I had such an impractical major, it was teaching or bust. Now, the lovely person didn’t mean to imply that I was otherwise unemployable, but that’s how conversations like that can feel when you’re the one with a humanities degree.

If you tell people you majored in accounting or computer programming, they likely have a good idea of what you do every day. But what about those of us who majored in philosophy or history? Are we doomed to a life of standing on street corners in the middle of the afternoon, giving speeches on the many subtexts of Hamlet? Short answer: no. And if you too are a humanities grad, you don’t need to fret too much about your employability. Here’s why.

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1. The employment picture isn’t as grim as you may have heard.

According to Business Insider, humanities majors face an unemployment rate of 9%, which is on par with the rate for non-humanities majors like math (9.1% unemployment), and all majors overall (7.9% unemployment). Graduates of most majors face a challenging job market, but it’s not necessarily worse for humanities majors by default.

2. You actually have a number of options once you graduate.

Many humanities majors have to make a decision: Continue on the academia path, or go out into the “real” world? Both are valid choices, with different higher ed and employment concerns. This allows you to do your own thing and choose a career path that works for your interests and immediate goals. You’re not locked into a specific job type.

3. Your skills aren’t easily summed up by a major name.

Sure, you studied art history or cultural anthropology. You also spent your time in college developing critical thinking skills, writing skills, and comprehension skills. Humanities especially lean heavily on using writing and communication skills to develop concepts. These are essential in any job, whether or not that job is directly related to your course of study.

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That can give you a leg up over people who took mostly specialized classes in college and may have very specific knowledge and skills, but weaker writing and communication skills. Writing skills will get you everywhere.

4. Your skills aren’t easily outsourced.

When the economy shifts and companies try to find ways to outsource jobs to other countries or to computer algorithms, humanities majors aren’t easily replicated. Again, those writing and critical thinking skills are extra essential. Your ability to take information and apply it toward a solution is something that can’t be replaced easily. Empathy and social skills, same deal. There are some elements that can’t be pushed out, and that makes those skill holders valuable in any economy.

5. That you graduated is often more important than what you studied.

On a resume, that A.A., B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. tells the reader that you had the skills and drive to finish your degree. Regardless of where you went to school or what you majored in, it gives a baseline sense of your accomplishments.

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6. Social intelligence may beat subject-specific intelligence.

This is not necessarily true for, say, surgery (or maybe it is!), but in most professional fields, employers are now seeking candidates with emotional intelligence on top of hard skills. The kinds of skills you develop in the humanities can give you an edge, and show that you’re the kind of employee who can grow, analyze, and flourish on the job. You can always go and learn skills like coding, but it’s tough to go back and teach yourself how to analyze situations and talk about them coherently.

7. A major is not a lifelong decision.

We make lots of decisions between the ages of 18 and 22 that we wouldn’t want dogging us for the rest of our days. Perspectives change, realities change; needs change. Even having a “practical” and specific major is no guarantee that you will have lifelong employment in that field.

For example, I have a friend who gave up her engineering career, and is now a cake designer and a small business owner. Building a specific set of skills through a major is pretty important, but it’s not necessarily the most important thing forever. Building a set of skills that will serve you flexibly throughout your career evolution, that’s the key to longterm success.

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The next time you start to feel like your liberal arts major may fail you in the long run, remember that you made a choice that set you on a path—not a dead end. You can work with the skills you’ve built to make your humanities degree match your professional goals. And you don’t have to panic the next time someone looks skeptical and says, “So, uh, are you just going to go to law school, then?”

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via shutterstock.com

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Jessie Liu

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

I often hear people say, “I want to be successful but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved career success yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “what does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction. And when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

A word of caution. It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. In my opinion, this step-by-step guide is apart of your life philosophy.

1. Define Career Success for Yourself

Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

What does career success mean to you?

This is about defining your career success:

  • Not what you think you ‘should’ do
  • Not what people may think of you
  • Not adjusting to friends and family’s judgements
  • Not taking actions based on societal or community norms

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” – Zen Shin

When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define career success that best suits your life situation.

There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities for growth and advancement
  • Feeling valued that my contributions had an impact

Now even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

  • What do you mean by work-life balance?
  • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

  • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work
  • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company
  • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses:

  • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
  • What’s most important for you in the next 12 months?
  • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

2. Know Your Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. This one designed by Carnegie Mellon University can help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

Once you have your top 5 values keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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  • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
  • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
  • Put the words on your fridge
  • Add the words on your vision board

Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework – Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals:[2]

  • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
  • If no hurdles are in the way, what would you like to achieve?
  • If you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
  • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
  • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
  • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you most love?

Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

  • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals? Maybe some of your goals can be deleted because they no longer align with your values.
  • How attainable are your goals? Breakdown your goals into digestible pieces.
  • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

Get very clear and specific about your goals. Think about an archer – a person who shoots with a bow and arrows at a target. This person is laser focused on the target – the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

4. Determine Your Top Talents

What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it.[3]

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What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

What do you notice?

5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience

Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me, however, it expanded my identity.

Review this list of Feeling Words. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel.

Keep these words visible too!

Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

6. Be Willing to Sit with Discomfort

Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint hearted. It takes real work, courage and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” – Rumi

7. Manage Your Own Career

Not to be cynical, but no one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career and manage it like your own business – no one will.

Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

Summing Up

For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day? Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain work-life balance.

Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional:

  1. Define Career Success for Yourself
  2. Know Your Values
  3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Life and Goals
  4. Determine Your Top Talents
  5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience
  6. Be Willing to sit with Discomfort
  7. Manage Your Own Career

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.” – Lolly Daskal

Good luck and best wishes always!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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