Humanities majors can succeed, if they abandon their dreams

By Sophie Allen

(Collegian File Photo)

Humanities majors, I have good news: we’re going to make it in the world. But only if we abandon our creative writing pipe dreams. A liberal arts education is supposedly what the technology sector wants. While that’s a step in the right direction, we aren’t necessarily looking for jobs outside our fields. Many young people have to make the choice between a major in the humanities and a major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), and that decision is often made based on thoughts of future job security. While opportunities are certainly opening up for liberal arts graduates, it seems easier to not take the risk in an unstable job market.

I grew up hearing that if I wanted to be a writer, I was probably going to starve. My first grade teacher suggested I look into a more stable career when I told her my plans for the future. Some people are able to set their humanities interests on the back burner and pursue a career with more job security, whether that means studying STEM or, like many liberal arts graduates, entering a completely different arena. I want to emphasize that while there’s nothing wrong with doing that, it isn’t my plan.

I have a pretty big problem with wanting to pursue a career in writing: There is no objective measure of quality for any creative process. Likewise, there is no formula for success, no matter what anyone says. I have no idea whether I’m talented enough to make it in my chosen field. I can write all I want, submit to any and every publication under the sun and whether they choose my work or not, I still won’t know whether it’s any good, or whether I’m going about this in the right way. And even if a publication does choose to accept my work, readers still might loathe it.

It’s frightening to think that something to which I have devoted so much effort could turn out to be a complete waste of time. Imagine pursuing a career in a passion you’ve had for years, only to find out you were never going to make it. Obviously, neither I nor my work will ever be universally liked, but in the end, I hope it’s worth it. When I graduate with a certificate in creative writing, I still won’t know whether my talents are objectively “good.” Some people hate the work of Emily Dickinson; some consider her one of America’s greatest poets. If even someone like her faces significant controversy in modern circles, I feel like I don’t stand a chance. That said, even if I do turn out to be immediately and immensely popular, I still might not be making any money. Writing is one of the few jobs people are expected to do for free.

Still, whether or not I wind up unexpectedly wealthy, writing will still be my passion. Some people say that if you love your job, it isn’t really work, but that isn’t true. I have worked hard and will continue to do so for the rest of my education and probably for the rest of my life. Yes, a career in the arts may be hopeless, but it’s what I love, and I won’t know whether I have a chance at success until I truly try to pursue it.

Studying the humanities improves critical thinking, a desired skill in business, but it isn’t teaching me how to deal with rejection and hostility over and over. That’s a talent I’ve picked up from publications telling me I’m just not good enough, from people who see my UMass apparel and ask what I’m studying, only to make a face when I tell them I’m an English major. I’m developing a thick skin so I can write proudly and confidently, and nothing anyone says can stop me.

So please, stop telling liberal arts students that our majors are useless. We’ve heard it thousands of times already. I know that I’m probably not going to be a successful writer and that I may or may not end up in a career completely different from English literature. But if one more well-meaning, condescending extended family member or teacher or stranger I meet in a Walmart tells me I should consider studying engineering, I might have to write an angry poem about it.

Sophie Allen is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]