I Spent $160,000 on an Education to Prepare for a Job That Doesn’t Exist Yet

Factor that into your four year plan

Source: Baim Hanif

By Anna Durkin

“65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”

As a twenty-something, this estimate is a familiar one. I recall hearing it peppered through the principal’s speech at my high school graduation. It was mentioned at the orientation of my liberal arts college, and was referenced by a handful of professors throughout my collegiate career. To those of my parents’ generation, this estimate seems ridiculous. How is the world evolving so quickly that we can already cite the need for someone to coordinate or manage problems that don’t exist yet?

I can identify with my parents’ uncertainty. But the question that plagued me from the risers on my high school turf field was, “How the f*** do I prepare for a job that doesn’t exist yet?” This estimation presumably affected every plan my classmates and I had: two or four year school, college or university, private or public. The headliner? My major.

Lucky for me, I hadn’t selected a major based on any big picture, financial strategy. I avoided the classic moneymakers like the plague, partially because I wasn’t interested in them and partially because I knew the occasional counting-on-my-fingers-without-realizing-it impulse wouldn’t be viewed as “cute” by stockholders or investment bankers. No, I decided to put my above-average SAT vocabulary recall to good use and became an English major. It seemed like a compromise, equipping me with the tools to brainstorm, communicate, and problem solve in a variety of situations (not to mention the ability to identify every 21st-century Shakespeare-adapted rom com and how to literally make paper). Literature will never disappear, nor will the need for written word, though that last part is no longer anchored in literal terms. Here marks the segue into the realm of unnamed jobs that no one has created yet.

In 1976, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Medieval History and Philosophy. Fiorina spent in the neighborhood of $25,000 for a four-year private university degree that deemed her knowledgeable on topics such as the Black Death and the Vikings. She went on to law school for one semester before dropping out. She worked as a receptionist, an English teacher, and a sales rep at AT&T before beginning her climb up the IT and tech industry ladder.

Now, and please feel free to disagree, Fiorina isn’t quite the stereotypical IT nerd that we’d all expect. As far as we know, she didn’t crouch under the covers at night with a flashlight, studying up on programming language. She wasn’t disassembling and reassembling floppy disks or learning how to code. Fiorina is a perfect example of someone who acquired, developed, and refined a tool belt of skills in college. That belt equipped her to become the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. If you were to ask a construction worker about the organization of his or her tool belt, he or she would say best practice is to keep frequently used tools on your dominant side. For Fiorina, it’s pretty clear that her belt was suited for success.

“While I joke that my medieval history and philosophy degree prepared me not for the job market, I must tell you it did prepare me for life. I learned how to condense a whole lot of information down to the essence. That thought process has served me my whole life… I’m one of these people who believes we should be teaching people music, philosophy, history, art.”

If you were to pluck one nugget of knowledge from Fiorina’s story, it should be that despite her major, she chose her own path. For my generation, this is more important than ever. I studied English in college with a concentration in writing. I’m currently working in the publishing industry, which is continually evolving with the times. The discussion of “What can we leave behind?” is almost constant. I’m relying on my own belt of skills, equipping me to brainstorm, communicate, and problem solve successfully. I suppose it’s too early to tell whether or not my paper-making skills will come in handy, but boy am I happy about that $160,000 tool belt.

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