What to Tell Mom and Dad

              “Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you.  Now that I’m about to be a junior in college, I’ve decided what I want to major in.”

            “That’s nice, dear.  What is it?”

            You fall silent, at some level unwilling to say what you know you must, and what you know will trigger an avalanche of reaction.  Nonetheless, you did decide it was time to tell them.  After several awkward seconds, your mother smiles at you inquisitively.

            “And what will you be majoring in?” she prods.

            “Um, well, African History.”

            Your dad looks up from his laptop.

            “What the hell do you want to do with a degree in African History?” he snarls.

            “I want to study the cultures and geography of countries in Africa.  I think it’s not very well understood by the rest of the world, and–”

            Knowing what’s coming, your mother has already left the room. 

            “You need to get a job when you graduate!   You think they’re hiring a lot of African historians these days?  Go look at Monster.com.  See how many jobs there are for African historian.  I bet you don’t find one!”

            “I bet I don’t either,” you admit.

            “You’re not spending the rest of your life living under this roof just because you got a useless degree.  You want me to pay for your education?  Choose a different major.  Like business.  Or how about engineering?”

            “I’ve never been interested in math.  Or very good at it either.”

            “Okay, then, something else.  How about healthcare?  You could be a nurse.”

            Your mother has returned.

            “Oh, Jim, not all those bedpans and bodily fluids.  Really.”

            “Alright,” Jim agrees, “no bodily fluids.  But no African history, either.  If you’re so wildly interested in it, take a couple of elective courses in it.  Just don’t tell anyone.”

            You knew this was a conversation you were dreading, and all that you imagined has now come to pass.

            “I assume we have an understanding,” your father concludes, returning his gaze to his laptop screen.

            I understand you, you think to yourself, but you don’t understand me. 

            Truth is, neither of you seems to understand one very important thing:  Majoring in history (or social sciences or literature or language) is incredibly good preparation for many of the jobs on Monster.com and all the other sites.  No, you won’t find much for “African historian” other than a few teaching jobs. (I just checked.)  But you will find all kinds of jobs that want you to know how to:

            Write

            Research

            Organize qualitative information

            Apply systems thinking (“critical thinking”)

            Speak

            What you need to tell Mom and Dad is that an education in history prepares you to think reason, write, and lead.  Employers are desperate to find these skills in the workforce, and thanks to your education, you’ll have them.  Professional education (business, nursing, engineering) is creating an army of niche-filling job-specific workers.  We need some of those.  But what business really needs is people who can think, learn, communicate, analyze and discern the difference between appearance and reality. 

            There are jobs for just such people, and they go by the name of project assistant, business analyst, market researcher, documentation specialist.  You WILL find those jobs on Monster.com.  Be sure you tell that to Dad when he insists the only employable people come from professional schools.

            And if that doesn’t work, tell him to call me.

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