The Face People Make When I Tell Them My Major

“I’m majoring in communication.” “Oh. That’s nice.”

Columbia University in New York City (not the college I’m going to, unfortunately)

Most of my adult interactions over the past year have had something to do with college, the admissions process, or my future plans in general. Not knowing how to approach me before, the elders in my life had suddenly found an easy way to make conversation with someone who was otherwise reserved and seemingly unreadable. Whether it was after church, at the grocery store, or right in the middle of lunch rush at work, I was constantly fielding questions about “what I was thinking for next year.” I realized it was going to get old fast when all of the conversations went something like this:

“So have you decided what you’re going to do after you graduate?”
“I’m majoring in communication.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”

And just about every time, the person would give me that look. That half-confused, half-condescending look, the one that almost always accompanies an obligatory “that’s nice.” It’s the subtle tilt of the head, brief squint of the eyes, and smile that’s only there for the sake of being polite. I might as well have said “general studies with a minor in basket-weaving.”

Another common response I got: “What does that mean?” (And not in the intrigued, impressed way someone might ask if I had said biochemistry or astrophysics.)

I then explain that communication is a mix of traditional journalism, new media, and technical writing, gathered under one major. I would get to try a little bit of everything, then pick a concentration to specialize my studies. I tell them that writing is my thing, and while communication is on every “Top Ten Most Useless Majors” list I’ve ever tortured myself with reading, it’s what my college had to offer, and yes, I’m really excited about it.

There’s this whole idea that I hate — a myth, really — that the vastness of the Internet is destroying the careers of writers, as if what I’m doing right now, right here on the Internet, isn’t a form of journalism in itself. I was even asked in a scholarship interview if I thought my career plans would become obsolete with the decline of traditional media, to which I answered: “If anything, my career will be more accessible.”

Just because we no longer have use for the paper boy does not mean we no longer have use for the writer. If anything, we write now more than we ever did before. Most people write daily: texts, Tweets, ugly YouTube comments, you name it. The Internet is based on writing — in fact, the Internet was created with writing. And even though I don’t sit down with a pen and paper, I’m still a writer. Even though there’s a decline in the use of the printing press, the media isn’t seconds from dying.

But these facts don’t stop “the face” from being made, and I still have my moments of intense self-doubt, as most do when deciding what they want to do with their lives. I had the editor of a newspaper tell me to look into attending a school with a more specific major — of course I’m insecure. Pursuing writing meant being taken out of the running for scholarships at my high school, because despite taking five years of math classes, I wasn’t advanced enough. Pursuing writing meant being made to feel like I didn’t know how to make decisions.

Pursuing writing meant thinking, once or twice, wouldn’t it just be easier to be a scientist.

But being a writer pursuing a writing major became more than just that. For me, it meant being accepted to ten colleges. It meant being chosen for a selective honors program before the valedictorian of my class. It meant making up a third of the total scholarship money earned by my class. It meant getting national recognition before leaving high school. It meant earning almost a full-ride to my future college — the one with a major in communication.

Pursuing writing taught me that it doesn’t matter how competitive your field is — it matters how competitive you are in your field. Pursuing writing taught me the importance of relentless, sleepless pursuit.

So maybe the faces will never stop. Maybe every time I’m asked what I’m studying and I answer with communication, I’ll get that half-smile like I’m just there to have a good time and graduate in four years stress-free. Maybe every time I say that I want to be a writer, all I’ll get is an “Oh. That’s nice.”

Maybe I’m doing this because I want to prove myself — I want them to see why I write. It’s possible that most writers will get the same condescending look forever, but I believe that writing will outlast the doubt.

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Postscript: Thank you to the people in my life who responded to my plans with “That makes sense, you’re a writer.” You did not go unnoticed, and your support has always been appreciated!

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