Overcoming your "Major" Identity Crises


There is something interesting that happens to students once they enroll in college and select a major. It's as if an invisible box appears and they step inside, etch their major on all four walls, and lock the hatch. Their major then carves out a nice secure identity for them over the next four years, and when they emerge from that box upon graduation day, suddenly, they have to come to terms with the fact that maybe they don't want to work within the confines of their major anymore. Maybe they're ready to step outside of the box completely and go find a new box, based on new interests and new ideals, now that they are four years older, and four years wiser. 

While working in higher education career services, I'd see this most often with liberal arts students; the psychology major that comes into the Career Center upon graduation having a full blown meltdown because they "no longer want to be a psychologist," or the English major who no longer wants to be a full-time writer or teacher. Regardless of what someone studied, this "major identity crises" was all too common, and completely unnecessary.  So before you go throwing the degree-baby out with the bath water, let's just get one thing straight… a major is simply a reference of what you "focused on." This does NOT insinuate that your future job title, or even future industry, needs to be 100% aligned (or even 50% aligned) with what is typed on that diploma. Period.

Do you know how many history majors I know who became marketing executives? Or how many women's studies majors I worked with both in corporate setting and higher education? I was a journalism major for crying out loud. I applied for work at a temp agency, hoping for some copy-writing jobs, and they offered me an administrative assistant role internally. I took it, happy to have a salary and some benefits, and 10 years later, I'm still working in the employment industry and absolutely love what I do. Wether I'm recruiting talent in a corporate setting or providing career advice to clients, I still blog, which satisfies my need to write. I'm not a journalist though. Does that mean I failed myself? Or that I shouldn't have majored in that? No! I use the skills I developed in college every single day in my job. My Master's was in higher education with a focus in college administration and leadership. ::wait for the pin to drop:: Does that mean that when I left higher education to double my income in a corporate setting, I regretted not getting an MBA? Hell no!  Our journey from college-to-career (and every version of that "career") are ever-winding roads, and your college major is simply the first location you enter into your life GPS. Don't freak out when you hear "Recalculating! Recalculating!"  You will still get to where you're going. Trust me.

Still not sold? Think of college as a four-year incubation process. You hop under the university heat lamps and proceed to mature for four years. You explore other industries and interests through classes, which can help you self-identify what you like and what you're good at (or not). Don't allow yourself to stay cooped up in that identity box for four years before poking your head out and seeing what else you can do! Take different classes, join an interest-based student group, job shadow, intern... anything! That way, when college is over, and you walk out of the proverbial oven, you hopefully have a lot more to offer potential employers than just the name of your major and a piece of paper. Be ready to sell your skills and articulate what you can do with them! (Because while the B.A. degree may be a key eligibility factor, it won't be enough to make you competitive against all of the other freshly minted graduates who are applying for the same job.)

So... for all of the liberal arts (or other) majors out there panicking because they've had a change of heart as they stepped out of the box, just know that you are among friends in the working world. And hopefully, throughout your four years, you were able to identify a few things that interest you, while also developing some skills in those areas that make you employable. If you happen to have put all of your eggs into one identity basket though, and you've since dropped that basket and have no idea what to do, please, DO NOT return to your mall job and complain about how your degree didn't do anything for you. Send me an email or make an appointment with your career services advisor, and let's figure it out. If you don't ask for help, no one will know you need it. From one formerly lost liberal arts soul to another, believe me when I tell you that most employers, unless you're in a STEM field, could care less what your major is, so don't let it stand in your way of doing something you love... even if you don't know what that is yet. Let the people around you help you figure it out.