As a 22-year-old college student on the verge of graduating, I dread few questions in this world more than, “What’s your major?”
Now, this isn’t because I’ve had to answer that question so many times before. It’s because of the reactions I get when I do answer. Having to tell your parents’ friends, the majority of whom are businesspeople with steady office jobs at large corporations with outstanding health benefits, that you’re a journalism major with a minor in film and media studies often results in them reacting as though you just told them you plan to be homeless for the rest of your life.
After I tell them what I’m studying they’ll sometimes try to put on a good face and act as if they might be a tad impressed or find my choice of major interesting in a good way. But then comes the inevitable question, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”
Call me crazy, but what this translates to in my mind sounds a little something like, “How the hell do you make a living out of something like that? Why are you wasting your time? Will you even be able to find a job with that kind of degree?” I should specify that I don’t always get this type of condescension thrown my way when asked what I plan to do with the rest of my life, but it’s definitely more often than not.
After taking a few moments to remember that I should probably try to not sound like an idiot because it’s pretty clear they’re already halfway to that assumption, I explain to them what some of my goals are and what I would like to do in my career. I talk about my aspirations of becoming a television or movie critic and how I would like to be involved in the entertainment industry in some way. Sometimes they’ll seem more understanding than they were before I explained my aspirations, but other times they’ll just nod and say things like “Oh, okay,” or, “That sounds nice.”
I get it. I understand the concerns about what kinds of jobs there are available in today’s economy. I understand that careers in the arts aren’t usually high-paying or stable, but with the current state of the economy and unemployment rates, it’s difficult to say that any one job is more stable than the other. After dedicating four years of my life working towards a degree that I want to apply to my future career, I am fully aware of what I’m getting myself into.
What I don’t understand is the stigma that surrounds pursuing a degree in the liberal or media arts. When I first told my parents I was going to major in journalism, the first thing they asked was if I want to minor in business just in case. While I agree that it’s smart to have a back-up plan, I don’t agree with choosing that back-up plan solely based on how sensible it seems. Sure, having some business savvy would be beneficial, but that’s not why my parents suggested it. They suggested it simply because earning a degree in business would qualify me to make more than $30,000 a year in an entry-level position.
People who have chosen a career in television, film, journalism, drama, or any other profession that can be considered part of the arts obviously have a passion for it. If they didn’t feel strongly about what they were doing, they would have given up a long time ago. It’s so easy to just give up. It’s so easy to land in a 9-to-5 job where all you do is sit behind a desk, make phone calls, and fill out paperwork. Not that there’s anything wrong with that career path, but it’s just not something I want for myself no matter how much more stable it might be or how much more it might pay.
Many people also don’t realize that jobs that depend solely on creativity and the quality of work produced may be more stable than working for a large corporation that could make job cuts at any minute. For example, freelance writing can earn someone a pretty good income if they are good at what they do.
Careers in the arts are not completely impossible to obtain, as so many would have us think. Who do these people think make the movies they see, write the books they read, and produce the television shows they watch? There is a place for these kinds of careers. There are options. It might take a little longer to land that dream job that finally pays a suitable living wage, but if you’re passionate about what you do, how long it took you to get there won’t matter.