Your Major Doesn’t Define You
They say you’re one in a million. That makes you just like 7,000 other people on this planet. I say you are one in one. You are the only person in the world with your unique skillset, capabilities, and personality. You are exceptional in your upbringing, life experiences, and story. I led a workshop in Boston last summer, hosted by creative strategist Maya Rafie, to help people find their one in one. I facilitated a breakout session in teams of 4–5 among the 20 participants with the purpose of exploring their individuality, diving deep into the unique elements of their story, and championing the evolution of their identities.
It was incredibly humbling to witness the uniqueness in everyone’s story through this holding space of openness and vulnerability. One story in particular stood out to me and even today reminds me of the nonlinear nature of life. Marco Mares, one of the live music performers at the gallery, is a singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. During our interaction, he surfaced that he had originally studied engineering in Mexico prior to pursuing his passions in music composition at the Berklee College of Music and dropping singles on Spotify (my personal favorite is Flaquita).
I am pursuing a degree in International Business with a minor in Mandarin. However, similar to Marco, I will not let my major stop me from adopting parallel identities such as a writer, photographer, and visual storyteller. If I have learned one thing from Marco’s journey, it’s that life is full of choices. We are not confined to any one single path. In the thick of extreme uncertainty and constant change, it can be hard to see how all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. Our path is not the most obvious and is certainly not the road of least resistance. By listening to everyone’s stories in the retrospective, I realized that you will be grateful for all the meanders along the river of life as they will shape you into who you are today.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forwards; you can only connect them looking backwards” — Steve Jobs
Fourth Industrial Revolution
Our nascent species and our planet are on the brink of an all-encompassing environmental, social, and technological change. By 2020, humankind will be on the cusp of a transformation unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. The World Economic Forum calls this inevitable phenomenon as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The interplay of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D-printing, and nanotechnology will prompt unimaginable shifts to the way we live, work, and approach problems.
Our education systems must prepare our young people for a future where 30% of current jobs will not exist, new opportunities will arise, and entire job markets will surface that are unheard of today. Across the globe, we are moving away from rote memorization and regurgitation in examinations to inquiry-based and student centered pedagogy.
21st Century Skills
The OECD nations recognize the skills needed to thrive in the 21st century: emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and complex problem solving. In order to contribute value in an incredibly complex society coupled with an unprecedented pace of change, we must forego linear thinking and shift our mindset towards developing a repertoire of skills that can be applied across the board.
Everyone is exceptional and unique in their own ways. We all have something to contribute to our communities through our story, life experiences, and worldview. We are so much more than our major, grades, and even our thoughts. Contrary to our upbringing in school and higher education, we must avoid restricting ourselves to the silo of specialization down a specific linear path.
Thomas Wulff Wilhemsen, my exchange friend from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is in his final semester at the Copenhagen Business School. He describes the Nordic institution’s approach to education as a complete breakdown of silos and truly interdisciplinary in nature. There is a greater emphasis to shift the focus from a major to areas of knowledge that you’re keen on learning more about such as philosophy, economics, and human behavior.
The next decade will see game-changing global educational innovations. Why should young people with a diverse pool of talents and passions be subjected to the same boxes that were used to determine product quality in the 20th century? Traditional thinking has squandered the creative potential of our youth. Teachers and educators are embodying their role as facilitators to learning rather than the vertical “teacher instructs student” model.
“What’s your major” — the most commonplace question college students are asked with a curtain of assumptions and implications about their intelligence, future success, and abilities. Whether your degree will say accounting, pharmacy, computer science, or anthropology, you can push the boundaries set for you by tapping into the wealth of resources available in the skills-based economy we are living in today. Skills such as computer programming, foreign languages, and graphic design can be learned. But the drive and perseverance to grow has to be cultivated from within.
The Next Wave
Embrace the uncertainty of your path. Trust your ability to connect the dots looking back. Step into growth by abandoning all the limitations imposed on you by yourself and by society. Don’t let your background or major define what you can and cannot do. Give yourself permission to create change in your community. Together, we can co-create a sustainable future for all and ride the next wave for the betterment of humankind. We can empower others to use the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a powerful platform to bring about remarkable shifts in the way we live, work, and solve problems.
As Homo sapiens, we can redefine the world we want to live in, foster greater emotional intelligence, and work with technology to preserve our consciousness and the human experience. In order to tackle today’s most pressing and complex social issues, we must build a world where everyone is a changemaker. It’s time to change the script and empower every young person to tap into empathy, creativity, and entrepreneurship as tools to affect lives in an unpredictable world.