This post originally appeared on The Happy Miles Blog.
Today I’d like to talk about a topic that has been on my mind a lot in the past several of months: the experience of a post-grad history major in the professional world. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from you wondering how my experience in college prepared me for what I do now.
Liberal arts majors
If you have ever been unsure (or have no idea!) about what you want to do after college
If you are all of the above
I am number 4.
See what I did there?
Did anyone actually see that movie? … I definitely didn’t, but I’ll take it for a bad joke.
Anyway, whatever number you are. Yeah you. This one’s for you.
Unlike the decision of what to actually do with my history degree, the decision of declaring the major was an easy one. I declared history as my major even before I went to orientation at Holy Cross. It was a bold move, but a sure thing.
It had become apparent to me that history was really the only thing I was truly interested in studying. The only thing I wanted to learn, to read, to write, and to discover in college. It had been the same growing up too. My love for it is something that makes me, me.
And history turned out to be the best thing for me to study in college because I had an innate, unquestionable, burning passion for it.
But once second semester senior year rolled around, I realized that I would be blasting stereotypes, as I would not be venturing off to law school or applying for a teaching job with a fresh history degree.
I really had no idea what I wanted to do and who I should contact about jobs that would be a good fit for the major on my degree. I didn’t know if interviewers and companies would see my degree as vague and limiting and unspecified and without practical training.
How would my passion for and knowledge of Gilded Age America translate into work at a future job that wasn’t being a teacher, librarian or historian?
I eventually came to believe that my major prepared me well for life and work in the professional world. For any kind of job, really. It wasn’t what I learned/loved… every bit of 19th century America… or didn’t learn/hated in college… calculus and plant biology… but how I learned it and what I walked away with… besides being able to talk anyone’s ear off about the significance of the construction and opening day of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883.
I’ll spare you that oration.
Instead, I am here to tell you — all of you — that all of the papers and tests and group projects and office hours and presentations (that seem completely bullshit at the time) are worth it. These experiences will be put to good use after you earn the diploma. You will use the skills you picked up along the way, whether you’re conscious of them at the time or not.
In the end, it didn’t matter what major I graduated with. I’d been on a holy grail and back in order to graduate with indispensable professional (and life) skills and passions, and that is what I believe will take me far in my career.
So what the heck are these famed skills and passions that can help earn you success and gain you notoriety among your co-workers?
I’ll tell ya.
A history/liberal arts major teaches you the word. How to read it, how to make sense of it, how to be smart about it, how to highlight the important points, how to be creative or analytical with it, how to edit it, how to craft it into something you’d want people to find intriguing. If you can master these tasks, you are setting yourself up for success at any job you try your hand at. And I guarantee you will be noticed and regarded for it.
Something else being a history major taught me is how to be inquisitive and how to interpret data to draw conclusions. This skill has really helped me at work, where a majority of my job is reporting on analytics in a thoughtful, clear and concise way.
Group/solo presentations seem to start early in life. I can remember memorizing some kind of poem to read in front of the class in third grade. In college, it seems more of a challenge because the whole thing is more off-the-cuff and you’ve got to know your stuff and keep the audience interested and engaged. No recitation or reading off note cards. Same goes for the professional world. I’ve found I have to be able to talk off of slides and highlight the most important things and add in a little of my own commentary, showing how close I am to the topic. And that’s whether you’re in person with the group or presenting to, or on the phone or over the computer. It’s definitely not a skill I’ve even remotely honed, but one I hope to over the next year.
While I enjoyed writing about historical events in school (after all the research was done) I also came to really enjoy talking about them with my classmates and professors. Going back and forth and tossing ideas off of each other helped in making sense of the issues on the table and understand why and how they happened. In the professional world, it’s so important to be comfortable discussing with co-workers issues and items on the table just like that. Everything is a team effort.
Talking through and coming up with new ideas and solutions and explanations = indispensable for as a history major and indispensable in the professional world. Not being afraid to express even the brainstorms that seem outlandish (but you just know have potential) = something I continually remind myself.
Four years of college augmented a curiosity in me… a curiosity to keep learning, to keep asking questions, to want to know more more more, to get to the bottom of things, to strike up discussion with people passionate about things you are not or never thought about. College helped me to become a sincerely interested person. This life skill has really come alive at my job. From the beginning, I’ve had an open mind about everything I’ve learned about the industry, and completely surprised myself by how invested I am in my job, team, and company. If you asked me years ago if I’d be interested in the field I’m working in now, I would have probably said a definite no. And even in the beginning, I wasn’t sure I would be. But thanks in part to curiosity, I am so content and eager to keep learning and understanding and to continue being passionate about the work my company does.
And one of the best aspects of these skills? I can continue mastering them by experiences at work and outside work.
I’m of the belief that I can always, always keep getting better at these things if I work hard and seek the advice and mentoring of others.
Another great aspect?
Even the littlest of gains in any of these skills is extremely rewarding.
The final takeaway: You can do whatever it is you want to do with your life and your career.
Please never think that whatever you majored in somehow limits what you can do, because it’s all about being passionate, savvy, curious, positive, intelligent, and a go-getter, and it’s all about the basic skills you’ve had to work for in college and even before that. (At least in my opinion and from a time or two around the block in my relatively short career.) Never think it will be too late to change jobs, change course, go back to school for a different degree or master’s, and/or try something drastically but excitingly new. Continue searching for something that makes you happy, fulfilled, and challenged each day. Allow yourself to fall into place. Begin with an open mind. Surprise yourself.
Have you found that the skills you learned in college set you up well for your job, even if you weren’t expecting it to? Tell us in the comments!