A Call to English Majors: Please Become Serious Professionals. We Need Your Ethics.

Studying English isn’t like other majors (except maybe Art). You don’t spend your time thinking, “How am I going to get hired by Google doing what I’m doing?” Nor do you think, “How rich will this make me?”

Instead, English majors tend to be more focused on understanding the human experience. That makes us more accountable.

“What is this character thinking?”

“What societal factors influenced this writer’s work?”

“How can my own work be free from bias?”

I don’t want to say we’re special in an entitled way. But choosing to major in English does give us a special set of abilities that could make the world a better place.

So why aren’t we using these special abilities where it matters?

Sure, literature can be transformative. Many people have learned critical lessons on race from To Kill a Mockingbird. Shakespeare’s work, though not loved by all, transcends time and culture to bring remarkable perspective.

This gives us English majors the incredible gift of empathy. We’re able to understand different audiences, cultures, and people in ways most people never learn how to do.

But then we graduate, and we take whatever job we can get, and our gift gets crushed. Maybe we treat ourselves to a foreign film, or we keep up on reading. Some of us join book clubs. (Some of those book clubs even last more than a year.)

We could have so much more. And frankly, the world that gives you so much deserves it.

English majors could make great managers and business leaders. But we’ve got this idea that business is icky, and that management is for someone else.

Maybe business is icky because there aren’t enough people like us in it?

By learning leadership and management skills, and then by using these skills to obtain positions of professional influence, you can ethically guide business decisions. You can be in a position to say, “I know it’ll tick off some users, but it’s the right thing to do.”

And in that way, you can make the world a better place.

By ignoring job prep when soulless business majors are focusing 100% on their careers, you’re doing us all a disservice.

Job prep isn’t that hard, but so few English majors actually do it.

How to Become the Leaders We Need You to Be

When I decided to move from higher ed into the private world, I was surprised at how easy it was. Sure, the rules are different. Higher ed is based on degree rank and gatekeeping, while the professional world cares more about your results. Despite these differences, it’s not hard to learn. It just takes time.

(There are lots of average people who learn the rules of professional growth and do really well. That means there’s no reason smart people like us can’t excel even more.)

There are so many ways to take your professionalism seriously. Each individual’s journey will be unique and based around personal interests. Here are a few general ideas to get started:

  • Learn coding. Even better, minor in computer science. Coding is just like grammar; if you can learn how to diagram sentences, you can learn how to code. Having the coding experience sets you up for a career in tech, where you can contribute to design decisions that help lots of people.
  • Take your career prep seriously. As an undergrad, I thought caring about my someday career was being artistically untrue to myself. Now, I realize that was a mistake. Artists gotta eat and live. Those experiences that spark creativity don’t come free (especially if you have a family). By learning how careers and jobs work, you can take control and give yourself freedom to create.
  • Avoid debt. The single greatest threat to our generation is debt, especially student debt. It limits our choices and forces us into soul-sucking jobs we hate. That’s no good. Debt kills creativity. Fortunately, thanks to remote work, it’s more possible than ever.
  • Stand up for good work. If you’re ever asked to do something unethical in your career, you can say no. There might be unpleasant short term consequences. But we need lots of small “nos” to make the world better. (Like “No, I won’t write this article to exploit poor people.” Or, “No, I won’t provide a marketing plan to sell worthless supplements”).
  • Email me. I’m always happy to chat with English majors like you about your career options. Feel free to email any questions, concerns, or thoughts you might have about moving forward with your career.

The world wouldn’t merely benefit from having English majors in leadership position. I believe humanity needs this to happen, and I believe you can rise to the occasion. Do your part to stop fascism today by taking yourself seriously as a professional.

Additional Reading