Friday, June 24, 2016

5 English Degree Goals (Unless You Missed Like I Did)

The title says it all; but just a little backstory to its conception.  I remember talking to an old coworker about blogging–but without sharing my particular interests and activities doing so.  As I’ve stated before, you must be discerning about who you share your ideas with.  Anyway, the conversation was about how it's possible to support yourself blogging, if vigilant.  Or how blogging came make you at least enough to build an extra income outside of working a 9-5. Combining your interest/passions with a solid monetization strategy–BOOM.  Interesting stuff to talk about at the workplace, right?  
Well, most of my expressed ideas fell on moot ears.  Abandoning the conversation, I started thinking about the paths we take in life.  Specifically, the detours we take when stumbling through brush and granite toward our life goals.  Then my English major years in college bubbled up in thought, as well as how I tumbled out of its expectations.  And while my expectations fell apart along the quest, these days I’m kind of already doing what I wanted to do.  Granted it's super-super small scaled, independent, flooded, and removed of any foreseeable safety nets.  But it's all about the tethered-less joy of expressing oneself through words and language (and drawing and talking life).  And, ever so naturally, reading.  Yet, let’s be real, you usually get degrees to get hired off somewhere.  Personal Flaw: I'm known for blowing interviews by being too honest when asked questions anyway.
Anyhow, just as I reflected on those years scratching around campus looking for the meaning of life through words and language, the idea for this post emerged.  Let's talk about five career paths one could get hired on with an English Degree.
1.       TEACHER.  Ever notice when telling people you're majoring in English the first thing they ask is will you teach?  Of course the question comes after their gaping expression for your choice in majors. Anyway, most of us are all too familiar with this type of scenario.  We know it too, too well.  It’s a conversation we generally try to avoid with those outside of liberal arts.  For me, when asked will I teach, I would sometimes respond with a “kinda-sorta”.  Then I'd attempt to sedge out of the conversation to avoid an approaching sermon.  Sometimes I could see judgment in the eyes, and would rather risk eating a dish of cassava than share dreams of becoming a crime fiction writer.  I was always pretty tactful, but mainly because I grow exhausted explaining myself about anything.  
Nonetheless, the perceived inadequacies some people place on the major is rampant.  We hear it all the time dripping in a conversation, as we sub-speak and hint-dodge around how we’ll "pay the bills reading books."  I guess this is why so many think the default profession for an English major is teaching.  It’s almost as if the teacher path is the most rational way to go, and more or less income stimulating.  This path gets the compassion of receiving a little security and safety, and with less starving artist anecdotes.  Even if teaching appears as the English major’s default, it’s a needed path.  And it has its own challenges and rewards for the passionate leader.  Because that's what it takes–a leader.
2.       JOURNALIST.  Working in news is another goal for an English major.  I wanted to be a journalist way back in high school.  I was on the high school newspaper staff for my last semester.  And yes, I jumped on to share my comics with my classmates.  Nonetheless, I still enjoyed putting together an interesting story.  Researching, canvassing classmates for opinions, typing, and re-typing was fun.  As long as I had a real interest in the subject, I was there to see something bloom.  

Leaving high school, I prized the idea of working for the city’s newspaper staff.  I even played with the thought of becoming a news reporter.  (SIDEBAR. With English major origins, forensics thriller author Patricia Cornwell’s past as a crime reporter wiggled itself somewhere in my drive.  Probably more so for pushing my inner crime fiction angles.)  But what glistens in the realm of journalism is meeting people and hearing real stories.  And that's something I don’t get enough of.  I was the guy who would talk to the homeless man who came into the fast food place I worked.  Pants stuff with garbage of some sort, he would sit down with a busted spiral notebook and talk.  Irrational and crazy talk, but talk.  My favorite story of his involved him, a prostitute, a ghost, and the city’s oldest cemetery.  No lie!

I think journalism speaks to a sort of desire I attribute to my Aquarius humanitarian pull.  A pull that wants to up-right the world through the testimonies and experiences of others.  The issue is I’m a raging introvert and an empath.  So I guess contradictions be damned.

3.      MAGAZINES.  I have a love-hate relationship with magazines.  Spending my teenage years (and on into my late twenties) printing out short stories and poems to submit to various literary magazines brought me dust.  And rightful so, when I consider publication standards and the competition.  Still, rejection after rejection doesn’t always beam a shining ray of inspiration to keep trying.  After so many rejections, my attitude transforms from commandee to commandeer.  Even so, my only claim to making it in a magazine are the two or three occasions where my letters and fanart landed in the readers' columns.  
It wasn’t until well into blogging (and Kindle Direct Publishing for that matter) that I realized why wait for some magazine to “pick” you?  You can pick your damn self!  You can make your own material work however you see fit.  

However, speaking on consumer and trade magazines; I suppose the real gem working for these magazines, as an English major, is the thrill of tussling with articles and deadlines in the editorial department.  Or filling in as the hired free-lancer sitting at home punching keys.  Personally, I love editing others' work–to the best of my abilities.  The problem nowadays is I’m too busy cleaning up my own writing mistakes.  A bag of Salt & Vinegar flavored potato chips in my lap and controlling my patience all the while!

4.      PUBLISHING.  An English major’s dream, right?  Who wouldn’t want to work in the book publishing world?  Especially if reading an unlimited supply of books is considered "work"–with many of them potential bestsellers.  Here you get paid to critique, distribute, edit, and market books.  You can create close bonds and foster relationships with authors.  You can go to publishing seminars with other book lovers, and stretch your circle of book friends.  You can strategize release dates in New York offices with other (one would assume) book lovers.  You can be the instrument to a big book/author's debut!  You're basically inside of the machine that makes up your passions.  
So an endless stream of exciting possibilities comes to mind. However, publishing books is a business.  You can love books all day but, in publishing, "books" become "units."  Numbers.  Sales.  Popularity.  Marketing.  Time becoming money.  It all ties in.  That's no matter to me, though.  Given the opportunity, while under the right guidance, I would totally jump into publishing.  Berkeley mystery division, call me!

5.      FREELANCE.  There’s this thought that freelancing is often seen as a last resort, with many ups and downs.  I mean, you get to be flexible doing what you love.  But what you give is what you get.  Meanwhile, you have to remain steadfast in your networking hustle.  You have to manage every aspect of your profession, including recognizing and controlling your brand.  
There are rewards behind the hustle, though–just as there's a heavy downside.  One month you’re barely making your car payments, and eating sodium-soaked noodles out of a Styrofoam cup.  Another month of work and your pockets are looking pretty nice.  So nice you can take yourself out to eat at P. F. Chang's for lunch (or at least catch the lunchtime prices).  But it's all about that money, budget, bean counting, receipts, and general flying paper.  Your expenses must to be in order for tax season.  And I suppose it can feel like a lonely profession–though I’m good with that.  Nonetheless, the work is always out there.  Somebody is always looking for another to write an article or fill in some contract work.  Regardless, freelancing requires every bit of your attention to keep business and money coming in regularly.  But you're the boss.  At least to a client/boss degree.

While the list goes on (marketing, radio, advertising, etc.), I’m keeping it at five.  In this world of internet blogs and social media, we can all create our individual brand of these professions in some capacity.  I would be crazy to say one or the other measures up as one but, even if you missed English teaching opportunities, you can put together an Udemy course for sell.  Missed being a journalist?  Blog stories from your own personal stance, or remain as objective as any journalist.  Hell, put videos up on YouTube.  (Please leave all that blogging versus professional journalism argument out the way.  I suggest this for those who–like myself–may have missed the train on that profession.)  Be your own media outlet!  As for publishing?  Well, many people are doing it on their own, just as authors are e-publishing books daily.  Freelance?  You can break yourself in with Textbroker or hit up Upwork for opportunities.
As an English major I used to sit in classes surrounded by a topic I loved, but never quite understood what I was going to do with myself.  I specifically remember a time where I came home from classes, and sat in front of the TV thinking to myself “what am I doing” and “why am I just sitting here.”  It was almost as if I was waiting on somebody’s permission to go forward–to figure something out.  Flash forward to today and I realize I’ve done a degree of what I’d considered at the time.  All done under my own terms and hustle.  Now I wish I could say I’ve been here been there.  Earned this.  Earned that.  But I can’t.  However, what I can say is I’ve created something all my own.  And probably better aligned for someone with as many creatively uncompromising ideas as I have.
But just stay encouraged.  Life is full of twist, turns, snags, and bumps.  You just have to lead with what you love and and let the rest be.

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