I’m graduating with a Humanities degree and have no idea what to do with my life
Hi, so I’m graduating college with a humanities degree (well, two actually) and I not only don’t know what to do with my life, but am also currently unemployed with zero job prospects… I know that this struggle is anything but unique: I’m always hearing about how hard it is to get a job in this economy and I have friends who are equally unemployed.
But I still don’t get it. Why? OK yes, I pursued a humanities education (literally, all of my majors are on this list of 10 worse majors), but I spent most of my undergrad years trying to be “employable”: on top of the 18–20 units of classes I took every single semester, I worked part-time jobs and even full-time jobs to both pay for school and to build my resume — one that, quite frankly, I am very proud of. The only time I haven’t had a job in the last 5 years is during the two semesters I’ve spent in Chile, where my student visa prohibits me from having a job. So even if I wasn’t going to land my dream job after graduating, I had to get something… right? Right?
Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
Trying to get a job in Los Angeles during the summer break between my semesters studying in Chile was truly soul crushing and I think I’m still trying to recover from the effects of this immense blow to my confidence and sense of self-worth. Seriously, if being trilingual with two bachelors degrees, a work history, and the willingness to work on holidays couldn’t get me an interview for a job at a churro stand in the local mall, what are my job prospects really?
In high school, when news of my admittance into film school (one of the best in the country) entered my family’s vortex of rumors, it wasn’t met with “Congratulations, we’re so proud of you!” Instead, my uncle called with his unsolicited opinion about my career options: doctor, engineer, lawyer. My cousins surrounded me in the kitchen, practically yelling at me to just minor in film if I was sooo stuck on the idea.
I’ve gone to lot of career development workshops and seminars where people have told me that the age of having a single secure job all your life is over, and that many people nowadays will have had many different careers throughout the course of their lives. Maybe, it was even suggested, the perfect career for me has yet to be created. Wow! This was all incredibly empowering to hear and I became hopeful about the possibility of an interdisciplinary education one day becoming a viable option for my future.
As fate would have it, Uncle & Cousins sort of ended up being right: I quit film school halfway through, dropped it into a minor, and declared a double major in Comparative Literature and Philosophy, Politics & Law. Then, I moved to another continent for a year to take classes about race and Latin American politics.
“But, what are you going to do with that…?”
While going to film school was met with great skepticism, at least people had a concept of what kind of career I was trying to pursue, even if they didn’t believe in me. Now, it’s actually just really unclear what I’m even trying to do. Sometimes I answer snarkily with, “Anything I want.” My conventional answer is, “Still into filmmaking, but I wanted to take advantage of my one opportunity at a university education.” Or sometimes I throw my hands up in the air and say, “Grad school?”
The great thing about a humanities degree is that the skills you learn can be applied to a broad range of jobs, so the possibilities are quite endless. The problem is that the possibilities are endless.
For a while, I worked to keep as many doors open for as long as possible. But that was somewhat exhausting and sometimes some doors just gotta close for a while. That’s the point of doors: they close AND they open. If there’s anything I learned from Pixar’s Monster’s Inc., it’s that just because doors are closed and put through a shredder, it doesn’t mean they’ll never open again.
When we ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we demand from them a specific career path they want to commit their lives to for all eternity, instead of asking about the kind of person they would like to become.
So a huge part of me still believes that my career choice defines who I am and there’s pressure to choose the right one, the right me — the perfect job would, in theory, combine all of the things I like to do and maximize all the random skills I have. But a job ≠ me, so I should just choose something that doesn’t make me miserable and do it. If anything, for the sake of my student loans that will soon be accruing interest.
My interests and passions are broad, so let’s start with skill$ as a guide for where to begin:
Here, I feel my holistic humanities education butting heads with the specific technical demands divided labor. When people hire, they’re looking for someone with specific skill sets and a solid work portfolio… or someone with a personality they like.
Other than Spanish (the Chilean kind, ¿cachai?), what marketable “skills” have I gained this past year? I mean, I have knowledge about 20th century history in the Americas, the Cold War era in particular, know about Chile’s economic policy relationship with China, can tell you about various indigenous movements for political autonomy in South America, and a thing or two about Latin American documentaries… and, I know how to light a gas stove with a lighter!
To which I imagine all potential employers replying, “That’s all very nice, but do you know how to use Adobe Aftereffects?”
A filmmaker I once interned for told me that she thought it was good that I quit film school to study other things… something about the necessity of being “older” and having “life experience” to contextualize my work.
So one of the doors I tried to keep open for myself even when I changed my majors was the door to a career in film: I continued directing broadcasts at our student TV station, continued my film studio internships, and somehow even convinced the film school I dropped out of to let me direct one of their collaboration projects with James Franco.
But, do I still want to be a filmmaker?
To be honest, I’m not so sure anymore.
Part of my uncertainty is insecurity: there are a lot of talented people out there and I am not sure if there’s anything of value I can actually contribute. The other part of it is realistically confronting the fact that the film industry is institutionally hostile: the recent ACLU lawsuit against Hollywood’s gender discrimination only serves to legitimize something that people have known for years. This is not to mention the widespread discrimination based on race. I’m not saying that I can’t suck it up and grow a thick skin, but do I want to? And for what, exactly?
I never wanted to be a filmmaker for the sake of being a filmmaker. I wanted to be creative with other people, learn about the world, and critically engage in/contribute to dialogues about social justice. Film and media just happened to be the first space I personally found that nurtured this.
Where’s that space for me now, is it still in realm of filmmaking? Or is it time to move?