English majors get asked as soon as they declare their major.
“So, what are you going to do with that?”
I remember dodging this question for four years like a fat kid would dodge a dodgeball in gym class — poorly. I didn't know what I was going to do exactly. I wanted to write for a newspaper, edit for a magazine, write commercial scripts for a television station. Yet, I always received the same sneer from people, the same “you're wasting your life” look.
Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of options for English majors. You can become a teacher with further schooling, go to law school, or even, ahem, become a Starbucks barista for three years. I spent many years and many tears trying to hone my craft, convinced that eventually my hard work would pay off with a lucrative job offer. Yet, sometimes it felt like I was the only one who believed this.
It's hard having a job (or in my case “wanting” to have a job) no one understands. You sometimes feel like you are completely alone in the world, like Will Smith as the last man in New York City battling zombies in I Am Legend. Even when an English major gets a job in his or her field, he or she still faces criticism, especially since the job doesn't usually pay all that well. “How are you going to support a family someday?” “You can't get married and reside in a studio apartment?” “What are you going to do when newspapers don't exist anymore and the world is overrun by computer androids?”
There are some jobs out there that people will never understand — whether these people be mom, dad, or intrusive relatives and friends. Yet, the only opinion that really matters is the person holding the job.
Here are seven tips when dealing with a job no one understands:
Hold your ground. Marge Simpson once said: “Don't make fun of grad students. They just made a terrible life choice.” Yet, the choice to be a full-time graduate student has an incentive at the end of the rainbow: a higher level of education means (in most cases) more money from a future job.
Most “Dilberts” with 9 to 5 jobs who talk smack about grad students are just jealous; grad students get to live out the American dream of extending college just a little bit longer. When a grad student finally does graduate, the bachelor-of-arts lollygaggers making fun of them will most likely be making less money than the master's-degree overachievers. Whatever your misunderstood job is, think about why you have it in the first place and focus on it. Whether you're good at it or just enjoy it, your “pros” outweigh anyone else's “cons.”
Embrace your pretentiousness. For example, a web developer. Literally, NO ONE understands this job. When a web developer is asked what the job entails, he or she will probably start talking about codes and other things over people's heads, which usually results in a dry stare from the questioner. Instead of feeling misunderstood by your job, embrace it. Chances are, you are probably just more intelligent than everyone else. You might get an ego, but hey, you deserve it.
Money doesn't buy happiness; it pays for a bitter divorce. Most people who get nosy about other people's jobs will bring up the issue of money. More often than not, the people who bring this tidbit up don't even have a high-paying job to begin with.
In this case, it's good to remind yourself that the people who are petty about money and status are emotionally empty inside, so miserable in their own lives that they are focusing their attention on you and your low-paying, misunderstood job.
Glamorize your lifestyle. If you were in the art club in high school, you probably got a talk about “starving artists” and a lecture on being prepared to be poor. While some people might look down on your lifestyle if you talk about being an actor or artist, you should instead make it sound wilder than it actually is, or even bring out the truly crazy points of your career. “I ate nothing but candy corn during the month of October just so I could pay for my electric bill.”
Not only does this make you sound bold and Survivor-esque, but it also makes you sound like someone who's living on the edge, somewhere most people have never dared to visit, let alone live.
Make yourself a martyr. Social work, while a respected field, isn't known for paying their experts well. Outsiders will often question why someone would go into a field that's tough work and pays nothing. Make yourself a Joan of Arc. When someone looks down on your job, play up all of the tough points. Chances are, they will realize how little they've given the world.
Assemble a “misunderstood jobs” support system. Sometimes you just need to vent and when you can't vent to someone who doesn't understand your job, it's good to find someone who will. They don't have to be people who are in your field. They can be friends who have similar job situations. You can find them online, through social networks, at job conferences, etc. A good example is Ryan Bingham's relationship with Alex in Up In the Air. While this relationship was romantic, it existed based on two jobs that left both characters frequently airport-bound.
Remind yourself that jobs are temporary. If your misunderstood job is a job that's simply a layover until you find something you really like, keep focused on that future job. All jobs are temporary, whether you work at McDonald's or are a stock broker on Wall Street. Anything can happen at any time to change the course of your life.
Even though people might be harassing you about getting out of a particularly misunderstood job, remind yourself that you have something different in mind for the future.
Whether you like your misunderstood job or not, sometimes it's the job no one understands that proves to be the most worthwhile; these jobs exist not for everyone, but for the token few that are savvy and strong enough to keep showing up day in and day out. Jobs don't define people, but sometimes they can make someone feel a little more special just for having a position of mystery and intrigue.