I could tell by the very demeanor of my 2:00 appointment that he was disgruntled and anxious. About what? The subject of our meeting, of most of my meetings: The Future. What will he do with his English degree once he graduates next year?
"I was a history major, but I didn't want to teach, so people gave me the blank stares you're probably familiar with." *
YES, he says. You understand exactly.
Yes I do, I've been you.
He was very quiet starting out, so I asked him what he might be interested in doing for an internship. I don't know, I'll do anything. Something in a cubicle, technical writing?
It couldn’t be clearer how unexciting a career in technical writing will be to him.
I’m a realist, he says.
You like to write. We discuss some of the other skills he has gained from his English degree. He lights up a little bit at ‘marketing.’
That’s what my associate’s degree is in, he says. He tells me also how he found American authors and literature, their impact on him, that he’s a child of foster care, social services and 'the system,' and has a particular bend towards working with children.
Do you see what’s happening here? When I first asked the question, he was completely closed off, feeling dejected about his choice of a degree in something that “doesn’t translate,” and now here he is mentioning all of these areas that he could pursue. I count at least a dozen avenues for work in my head.
Much of my work is pulling this stuff out of students who come in looking for the answers from me. I have the tools and resources, but he had everything inside him already to find something he can feel inspired to do in his life.
I turned his whole day around, he said. He said that to me. You’re saying so many things I’ve maybe suspected about the validity of my skills, but no one had given me permission to believe.
* I can't believe how often I say this, and how deeply it resonates with students in the humanities.