Just because I’m an English major doesn’t mean I’m lazy

We work just as hard as other majors

“Oh, so you want to teach?”

I can’t particularly point you to the moment when I first faced the difficulty of responding to such a ridiculous question, for it has assaulted me on infinite consequent occasions since I first proclaimed to my friends and peers that I was heading off to college with the intention of pursuing a degree in English literature. I have since developed a resistance against English major jokes, the detestable stereotype of the starving artist roaming city streets, the inevitable bitch-faces that assault me whenever I dare correct someone’s misuse of the word whom, the caustic proposals to instead take up biology and set my hopes on Harvard Med School. What would I gain from it? Does it matter to me, in truth, how many neurons crowd my little cranium—and perhaps more importantly, does it matter to those med students who try to act so superior?

Photo on 2-6-16 at 2.53 PM #4

It’s been a question I’ve been juggling for quite a while—or, to satisfy all you pre-med types—to which my neurons have apparently fixed themselves to, and I think it’d be fair to say although this does not hold true to all students aspiring to become doctors of lawyers, many of us have lost sight of their true goals in life amid all this pressure to strive in our capitalist-driven society, and many of us no longer remember why we opted to become doctors or lawyers in the first place.

I can honestly say that at this point, I can provide no conclusive answer to the oft-posed question of what I’d like to do with my life, but I do know that being an English major does not mean I sit around all day reading about the trifles of Elizabeth Bennett (though, at this point, I’ve read that thing more times than even Lizzy herself would approve of). Reading literature requires vast amounts of critical evaluation, a close engagement with the characters bounding at you from their stifling pages, begging for a human soul with which to share their experiences. And because literary episodes tend to be grounded in the ongoings of what we term the real-world, a great degree of compassion and understanding must exist in the mind of the reader. Some of us enter this quaint world already possessing such gifts, but many of us must acquire them, these gems of empathy of which the modern world seems to be in lack, and reading is the perfect way to do so: it promotes the arousal of emotions that would otherwise lie dormant in an age where we have all deemed such sentiments superfluous.


So, no, I don’t sit around and read books all day. I think, I evaluate, I develop necessary skills for basic human interaction. While many of my peers may consider the English major as a completely impractical waste of time, I’d like to point them to the fact that during my time as an English major, I have gathered not only critical thinking skills but also these otherworldly trinkets called emotions, which we often forget will prove useful even outside of the workspace. Outside of the workspace! What a foreign term to many ears! The fact is that we, as a society, have recently lost sight of basic ideals such as friendship or love, so tangled up are we in realms of riches and success.

IMG_8817 There is no doubt that for the English major it may be more difficult initially to obtain a job, because of of the labels and stereotypes that have come to be associated with it, yet in the long run we may be of use in a professional environment, having accrued skills that aren’t taught in your fancy Econ classes. I can only hope that I will settle in somewhere as a successful writer, but for now at least I can say I chose to study literature not for the material rewards involved, but rather for the intangible ones.

And I think we all need to take a step back from our busy lives, if only on occasion, and recognize that sympathy and compassion, care for other people, can be infinitely more gratifying than sitting at home all alone, perched up on some million dollar couch. So do me a favor and pick up a book, next you find yourself questioning your purpose on this planet. There are certain values to be found that the practical world simply won’t provide.

Columbia University