Here’s what people respond when I say I’m majoring in English (especially older people): “Oh! So you’re going to teach?” No, Linda. I’m not.
That’s not to say that I don’t hold an immense amount of respect for teachers. My older brother teaches middle school. One of my best friends is working towards becoming an elementary school teacher. I’ve personally worked with kids from kindergarten to tenth grade in the past in various capacities (Girl Scouts, camp counselor, etc).
Still, I don’t see myself teaching when I graduate.
I love writing long-winded essays examining in minute detail how Virginia Woolf’s description of a chair creates the perfect sensation of ephemerality. And I’m super aware of how lame that sounds. No sane high schooler wants to listen to their psycho, wannabe-intellectual English teacher ramble on about chairs when they should really learn how to pass the AP test.
So what will I do with my love of extended metaphors and my fancy paper that says I’m qualified to interpret them? I have several ideas in mind. I should probably get to picking one soon, seeing as I’ll be a junior this year.
Option one, AKA plan “Make Mama Proud.” As you can probably infer from the title, this plan is the most sensible, and consequently, the most boring. I could apply to graduate school and get a master’s or a doctorate in something that only sounds cool to a nerd like me (Folkloristics? Yes, please).
With this expertise, I could write books and articles for a demographic of maybe a couple hundred other scholars. With any luck, I could even end up on the syllabi of literature classes around the country, under the “Optional Supplementary Reading Materials” list that nobody ever reads. As much as I may kid about this being the safest and least exciting route, in all honesty, it would likely be equal parts challenging and rewarding.
My courses prepared me especially well for this first route, seeing as critical analysis of literature is one of the most important skills we hone as English majors. Life on this path isn’t much different from what I do now. It’s a comfortable place, and it’s easy to imagine.
Option two, AKA plan “Just Try Not to Become Homeless” is a personal favorite of mine. As much as I love classic literature, I also spend quite a bit of time writing in a different genre: film. I enjoy everything from analyzing films to reviewing them and writing scripts myself. I go to the movies at least once a week. So it’s hard not to dream about embarking on a riskier path toward the blinding lights of show business.
This plan would consist of me moving to Los Angeles (okay, but more likely: the fabulous Atlanta, which is where you actually go for production these days) and attempting to make it in the brutal film industry. I’d begin as a low-paid, poorly treated Production Assistant, and worst case scenario, stay one forever. My mom would likely send me money for ramen and use me as a cautionary tale for my little sister. But you know what? I’d still get my name in the credits.
Surprisingly, my college experience prepared me pretty well for this route, too. I’ve taken two courses on screenwriting. I’m involved in Rough Cut Productions, the GW film club. Not to mention, I’m used to running out of meal money and seeing double (or even single) digits in my bank account. Ramen is an old friend of mine. Scraping by is something I’m not afraid of so long as I’m scraping for the sake of something I enjoy.
Option three, AKA plan “Do the Work No One Else Can (or Will) Do.” I’ll land a couple of internships while I’m in college, positions that prove I’m a reasonable, hardworking person with an abnormal love of words. Then, when I graduate, I’ll go for one of those jobs that only an energetic young English major could fill. Something tedious, thankless or equal parts of both.
I mean, who else is going to become an editor, someone who reads other people’s work all day with an unholy need to cathartically tune it into perfect grammatical harmony? Who else will write grants, helping poor science-inclined souls who haven’t written an essay since eleventh grade eloquently beg rich people for funding? Who else will ghostwrite Taylor Swift’s autobiography, Catch You on the Swift Side?
The very nature of my degree prepared me for this route. All English majors are keenly aware of the fact that writing is everywhere in this world. Somebody must do all the grunt work that makes it possible. Every time you hear a radio commercial or read the cheeky blurb on the side of a Smart Water bottle, somebody sat down to write that. And if they didn’t do a good job of it, it feels unprofessional. Shifty. Untrustworthy.
As much as non-English-lovers complain about “grammar Nazis,” we all discriminate against a poorly-structured sentence. If you get an email full of typos, you send it to the spam folder. If you find multiple typos in an article, you might question its legitimacy. People and companies everywhere need people who can write. It’s just a matter of seeking out those places with an open mind and a willingness to work.
My parents may worry about my future career. My pre-med roommate may balk at my disinterest at earning a huge salary. My classmates interning on Capitol Hill may scoff at my apparent lack of direction. My little sister may even need to let me crash on her couch when she’s an adult with a job and I’m an adult whose “temporary” dog-walking gig doesn’t always pay the bills (okay, I doubt it will be that bad, Mom).
But the concerns of others aside, I feel pretty confident about my post-graduation prospects. I love to write. I always have.
As long as I continue to write, I’ll be happy.
And if all else fails, I can always go back and get my teaching certificate. No harm done for trying another career (or two or three) first.