The Post-English Major Life

When I decided to study English in college, I did so because I wanted to become a better writer. Though I always planned to pursue this major, I never imagined I would be doing so at the college I attended. To be honest, I only applied to this school because my mom asked me to. Since I didn’t plan to go there, I never seriously researched the department and walked into the major totally blindsided my freshman year. You can say I was more than a little bit surprised when I somehow found myself sitting in a meeting with the English department during my first week of college classes listening to one of the professors tell me and the other freshmen English majors that our program was ranked in the 99th percentile in the country.


When I heard this, all I could think about was where the nearest exit was located. I knew in that moment that this was going to be a hard four years. Now that I have graduated, I can honestly say that getting through (and I purposely say “getting through” because I literally dragged myself across the finish line) was one of my greatest accomplishments.

Before I share how my studies have affected my life post-graduation, let me take a few moments to tell you about my experience during those four years. It’s pretty simple, really. I complained the entire time and all of my English classes turned out the exact same way each semester: I would get absolutely destroyed by my exams and then turn around and excel on my research papers. Somehow, this meant that my final grades balanced out in the end (usually got a solid B) and I lived to see another day. Now, you may not believe me when I say that I got “destroyed” by my English exams, so I’m going to give you a tanglible example. Let’s flashback to the midterm exam in my Literary Criticism class junior year.

This is how the exam was structured: I had 50 minutes to answer 200 questions. My professor pulled 40 random quotes from all of our readings, and for each quote, there were 5 questions: identify the speaker of the quote, identify the title of the work from which it came from, the period in which the work was written, and then answer two more objective questions about the quote. Now, I was no math major, but I’m pretty sure that means I had an average of 25 seconds to answer each question.

Somehow, several of my classmates managed to get A’s on this exam; however, I was not one of them. I started studying a whole week in advance and spent over 15 hours preparing for the test. Guess what that got me? The lowest grade in the history of mankind: a whopping 37%. Granted, I didn’t have enough time to even read the last 50 questions of this exam, so I left them blank and literally cried as I walked out of the room knowing that I failed. Now, that was by far the lowest grade that I ever recieved in college, however, it was rare for me to get an A or even a mid to high B on an English exam.

Anyway, a week after this Literary Criticism midterm, I filled out a form to drop the class, but at the last minute, a friend of mine convinced me to stick it out. Looking back now, I am so glad that I did. Turns out, I finished the class (and saved my grade!) by writing the best paper of my entire life: a research paper examining Stephen Chbosky’s book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, through the lens of Psychoanalytic Theory. Since I just admitted my embarrassing midterm grade, I trust that this doesn’t sound conceited when I say that the research paper I wrote for this class was a damn good piece of writing. You can read it at the bottom of this page.

To be honest, I hated my major all four years. With the exception of my Asian Literature, African Literature, and African-American Literature classes, I really didn’t enjoy any of my English classes while I was in college. Since I developed such an interest and love for business and entrepreneurship in school, everyone I knew in college always asked me why I never switched my major. Part of it was because I’m stubborn and competitive so I really didn’t like the idea of giving up on English because it was hard. The other part was because, as much as I didn’t particurly enjoy reading (fact: not all English majors like reading), I felt like I was getting a real education. I have a lot of respect for people who are well-read and have always felt that reading is the best way to learn about the world.

Now that I’ve finished school, I can honestly say that I refined my writing skills and turned into an active and critical reader post-graduation. When I finished school in May, I thought it would take me months to pick up another book, but it turns out I was flipping pages and underlining quotes just a few days later.

Below are the most impacting books I have read since graduation. Feel free to leave a comment, and let me know what books you enjoyed reading this year or would recommend I read too!

The Truest Thing About You by Dave Lomas

This book was written by my pastor at Reality SF in San Francisco. I would recommend it to anyone going through a transitional time, especially graduating college students.

There are many true things about you — true things you use to build an identity. Parent. Introvert. Victim. Student. Extrovert. Entrepreneur. Single.

These truths can identify you, your successes and failures, your expectations and disappointments, your secret dreams and hidden shames. But what if your true identity isn’t found in any of these smaller truths, but in the grand truth of who God says you are? In other words, lots of things are true about you — but are they the truest?

David Lomas invites you to discover and live out the truth of who God created you to be: you are loved, you are accepted, and you are made in God’s image. It’s time to move beyond the lesser voices and discover why everything changes when you become who you really are.

Glitter & Glue by Kelly Corrigan

If you are a mother, daughter, or like to travel, you must read this memoir. Kelly Corrigan has become one of my favorite authors and this book was inspirational to me as I prepared for my backpacking trip across Europe this summer and began writing my own travel memoir this year. My mom loved this book too.

When Kelly Corrigan was in high school, her mother neatly summarized the family dynamic as “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” This meant nothing to Kelly, who left childhood sure that her mom — with her inviolable commandments and proud stoicism — would be nothing more than background chatter for the rest of Kelly’s life, which she was carefully orienting toward adventure. After college, armed with a backpack, her personal mission statement, and a wad of traveler’s checks, she took off for Australia to see things and do things and Become Interesting.
But it didn’t turn out the way she pictured it. In a matter of months, her savings shot, she had a choice: get a job or go home. That’s how Kelly met John Tanner, a newly widowed father of two looking for a live-in nanny. They chatted for an hour, discussed timing and pay, and a week later, Kelly moved in. And there, in that house in a suburb north of Sydney, 10,000 miles from the house where she was raised, her mother’s voice was suddenly everywhere, nudging and advising, cautioning and directing, escorting her through a terrain as foreign as any she had ever trekked. Every day she spent with the Tanner kids was a day spent reconsidering her relationship with her mother, turning it over in her hands like a shell, straining to hear whatever messages might be trapped in its spiral.
This is a book about the difference between travel and life experience, stepping out and stepping up, fathers and mothers. But mostly it’s about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I really struggled with anxiety and depression for a month this fall while living in San Francisco. For weeks, I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone apply for jobs or work on my book. The War of Art helped me break through and begin taking steps towards feeling better.

A succinct, engaging, and practical guide for succeeding in any creative sphere, The War of Art is nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul. What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor — be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece? Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identif ies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success. The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself. Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple, personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize the potential of your life.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Check it out if you like memoirs, movies, or writing.

After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into meaningful narrative.

Miller goes from sleeping all day to riding his bike across America, from living in romantic daydreams to fearful encounters with love, from wasting his money to founding a nonprofit with a passionate cause. Guided by a host of outlandish but very real characters, Miller shows us how to get a second chance at life the first time around. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a rare celebration of the beauty of life.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

This book was a slower read, but the author makes an interesting distinction between getting lost and losing yourself. Here’s my favorite quote:

“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.”

Whether she is contemplating the history of walking as a cultural and political experience over the past two hundred years (Wanderlust), or using the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge as a lens to discuss the transformations of space and time in late nineteenth-century America (River of Shadows), Rebecca Solnit has emerged as an inventive and original writer whose mind is daring in the connections it makes. A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit’s own life to explore issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. The result is a distinctive, stimulating, and poignant voyage of discovery.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Mind blown. Buy this. Read this. You’re welcome.

“A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading — how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.

What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? The collection of fragmented images on a page — a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so — and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved — or reviled — literary figures. In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature — he considers himself first and foremost as a reader — into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.”

Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach

Another great travel memoir. I started this right before I went to Europe and read the rest of it on travel days during my trip.

In many ways, I was an independent woman,” writes Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Alice Steinbach. “For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shoveled my own snow.” But somehow she had become dependent in quite another way. “I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.” But who was she away from the people and things that defined her? In this exquisite book, Steinbach searches for the answer to this question in some of the most beautiful and exciting places in the world: Paris, where she finds a soul mate; Oxford, where she takes a course on the English village; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards from Steinbach’s journeys, this revealing and witty book transports you into a fascinating inner and outer journey, an unforgettable voyage of discovery.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

If it’s possible to have a “soulmate,” then it must be possible to have a “soul book.” This is mine, and I’ve read it four times.

Since its publication, Stephen Chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over three million copies in print, spent over one year at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and inspired a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Re-read this on the plane from Pittsburgh to Seattle. If you didn’t read this growing up, it’s never too late. The book is much, much better than the movie.

Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.”

The Messiah Method by Michael A. Zigarelli

I have so much respect for the Messiah College soccer program. This book highlights what makes their program and my own college’s women’s soccer program so special.

How Excellence Happens From 2000 to 2010, the Messiah College soccer program-the men’s team and women’s team combined-posted the best record in NCAA soccer: 472 wins, 31 losses, and 20 ties. Few programs were even close. Seventeen Final Fours between them during this time. Eleven national titles. Unbeaten streaks measured not only in games, but in seasons. How do they do it? What’s their secret of success? They use what might be called “the Messiah method,” seven disciplines that propelled these teams from decent to dynasty. They’re seven disciplines that can supercharge your team, too. Whether you’re leading a sports program or a business or a school or a church or any other organization, there’s a proven method to achieve breakthrough performance-and to sustain it year after year. It’s The Messiah Method. It’s how excellence happens.”

The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading.
- David Bailey