Why You Should Study English, And What You Really Learn When You Do

“I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English and/or Creative Writing degree you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. And then smile very serenely until they say ‘oh.'” Cheryl Strayed

Believe me when I say I’m sure many of you will think the following is a perfect example of why English majors are stereotyped, and that’s okay, because you are as entitled to your opinion as I am mine. I am among a group of students and graduates who chose to study within the humanities, a decision that is commonly criticized but mostly misunderstood. Now, you can argue that I am phenomenally biased, because it’s worked out for me so far, but to that I’ll say that the point of this article is not to actually persuade you to major in English. What I really mean to say is that you should major in whatever the hell you damn well please because your life should not be about doing for the sake of where you’ll end up, but doing for the sake of lending yourself to each part of the experience it takes to get there. You do not need a job title that is a derivative of the name of the major on your transcript, but what you do need is to know that sometimes the most incredible experiences in life are the ones that are done just to have accomplished the doing. Learning to be for the sake of being; learning to study for the sake of what you walk away with on a much deeper level.

As I have said countless times before, you don’t have a career, you have a life, and you need to live it as true to whatever sparks a little fire inside you as you can, because anything else is a waste of time. Choosing to spend your money on a degree that does just that doesn’t mean you are negligent of your responsibilities to support yourself. But as I’ve lamented about at great length, we have very specific ideas about what a college degree should give us, and they usually revolve entirely around the monetary benefits, which, if you ask me, is something our society is entirely too obsessed with. It’s turned us into business people when it comes to our personal lives: we should invest in a degree that will be lucrative in the end, right? But what about investing in yourself? Nobody talks about that. And nobody considers the fact that doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that one is unaware of the additional challenges they face in terms of paying off debt they may accrue and being able to find financial stability; nor are they necessarily deluded into thinking they’ll be famous writers right out of college. Rather, they are just choosing to defy those expectations and accept a more challenging route for the sake of something greater.

Studying English is studying life (I know, I know… just hear me out). You can study novels and authors and genres and poetry and at the end of the day what you’re really looking at is experience and thought and love and life, all through the eyes of those who were brilliantly gifted with a way to communicate their experiences to us. You don’t walk away from a phenomenal book with just the affirmation that the author is indeed a great writer. You walk away with knowledge. You walk away with an inside look at an experience that isn’t your own, or an insight into a fictional world that is in itself a coping mechanism but also takes you out of your understanding of reality and aides in making a reader into a thinker who can consider possibilities beyond what reality says can and cannot be and it is in thinking outside of those confines that we become progressive, innovative, creative and individualistic.

You walk away with answers, with questions, with thoughts, and maybe with a deeper understanding or just a deeper confusion and that may be crucial because the next part of your journey could be the way you work out of that. You study the ins and outs of people’s existence, and sure, you study form and style and theory whilst doing it, but what you take from it is so much more than that. Because within it, you’re simultaneously exposed to a plethora of subjects that you subsequently become at least a bit informed about, and it’s through that learning that you open yourself to other ideas and interests. Because it’s falling in love with learning that we truly start to expand.

What I’m really getting to is that this kind of education is soul work in way. Soul work that can only be achieved by receiving access into the inner lives, thoughts and theories of truly brilliant people. To go to school to study the stories and minds and perspectives of some of the greatest thinkers, philosophers and humans that we have recorded knowledge of is not only a privilege, it is a blessing, one that shouldn’t be dismissed for the fact that it doesn’t have a clearly delineated career path post-grad.

It is path on which the voyagers aren’t always just daft book worms with a penchant for avoiding reality but rather, people who are secure enough in themselves and their passions to know that pursuing such is what will matter in the end. You will never be on your death bed wishing you spent another day at a job you hated because it gave you money. You’ll be wishing you invested in what really mattered– yourself, first and foremost. And if such an investment is in studying the thing you know moves you most, then that’s just what you have to do, and figure out the other technicalities as you go along. As anyone who is well-versed in the art of life can tell you, income can sustain your body but insight sustains your being; and it’s in being that we really start to live. TC Mark

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