I’m only 19 years old, but about six months ago — over Winter Break — I had what some would call a mid-life crisis. I finally dropped the pre-med plans I carried for most of my life, and committed to the dangerous waters of humanities, social sciences and academia.
My winter schedule consisted not of Animal Physiology and Organic Chemistry II like I had planned, but of Rhetorical Activism and the Civil Rights Movement as well as a seminar on Cities in the Global South — classes that matched up with my newly declared major and minor, English Language and Literature and International Studies.
As word spread among my family and friends, I received a whole spectrum of reactions — there were the sympathizers who expressed disappointment at my wasted “intelligence” (clearly these people didn’t see my grades the semester I took Organic Chemistry), the new-found allies (fellow students of Humanities and Social Science) who cheered and gave me high-fives and the snide science majors who smirked and assumed I couldn’t handle the heat in the lab. Most of all, though, I was bombarded with this question: “What are you going to do with that degree?”
It’s not that I mind the question. In fact, it’s nice when people are interested in learning about my goals and future aspirations. Rather, what bothers me is the tone of skepticism that often accompanies it. Because sometimes when people ask, “What are you going to do with that?” I can almost see them pitifully imagining my penniless, struggling, “wasted” future.
I have to admit — I imagined it too. Many times I think it would be much easier to stick to a tried and tested career track and save myself the trouble of worrying about a stable job market and income. But then I think about the world we live in.
The world we live in is one where the state of the environment is the worst it’s ever been, where the ice caps are melting, the polar bears are dying and the wildlife is becoming extinct.
The world we live in is one where hunger is prevalent, and the gap between the very rich and the very poor is extreme, and continues to widen. It’s one where people don’t have enough to eat, let alone to afford adequate shelter or luxuries like education.
The world we live in is one where racism and prejudice are alive and well. It’s one where mainstream media and pop culture perpetuate stereotypes and profit off of divisive, marginalizing rhetoric.
The world we live in is one where politics are corrupt and driven by money. It’s one where tyrants and oppressive leaders hold power while the people demand justice and liberation.
The world we live in has a lot of problems — problems that won’t be solved by tried and tested solutions. We need solutions based in justice, integrity and strength of will. We need actions driven by sincere intentions, teamwork and unified visions. Perhaps most of all, though, we need creativity.
The issues we face today are complex — they require people with bright minds, and, more importantly, the passion and energy to use them. Shouldn’t we be encouraging this generation of high school and college students to pursue what interests them, in the hopes that their love for a subject — whatever it is — will give them the momentum to use it to create a positive change? Shouldn’t we value the risk-takers, the ones who prioritize big dreams and revolutionary ideas, over money and stability? Whether it’s writing, art, music, chemistry or math, every discipline has the potential to solve a problem — directly or indirectly, inter-personally or structurally.
Yes, it’s harder to find a well-paying job as an English major than as a doctor. And I probably will have to be in school longer than an engineer would in order to receive a promotion. But rather than meeting these less clear-cut academic pursuits with doubt, let’s challenge ourselves to become confident with the idea that it doesn’t matter what someone does — what matters is that it’s something the individual believes in, will become a leader in, be their best at and employ to improve life for future generations. Rather than place implicit pressure on students to choose a career that will assure comfort and stability, let’s cultivate a norm where discomfort and instability are admired, because we understand that if we want to be comfortable in the long run, we need to have the courage early on to be inspired and to take the risk of following our hearts — all the way.
Nour Soubani is an LSA junior.
Correction appended: a previous version of this viewpoint listed the author’s name as Nour Sabani. The correct name is Nour Soubani.