awareness, big questions, career, Uncategorized

Deep/Shallow

Last month J. Money published a post on Budgets Are $exy that made me think a LOT. I wrote a longish comment at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make it into a full post.

So here we go. I’d be interested to know if you can relate to any of this.

J.’s post was called “Millennials Don’t Want to be Millionaires?” It was written in response to a survey finding that “Two thirds (67%) [of millennials] said they would rather have a steady job with a modest income than become a millionaire with a chance of going broke within a few years.” As J. points out in the post, these survey results could just mean that millennials really value job security and a steady income—which is totally understandable.

But the question sparked another train of thought for me. Although I may be sliiiiightly too old to qualify as a millennial, I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that if that same question had been posed to me when I was 21 or 24 or even 27, I would have (rather smugly) replied that I would never want to be a millionaire.

Let me try to explain why.

Last month I wrote a post about how in many movies and books, the rich characters are the bad guys and the poor characters are the good guys. In other words, a lot of us grew up surrounded by the concept that:

Rich = bad
Poor = good

But in addition to that, I think there’s another belief floating around out there—or at least it was floating around in my head when I was 21—about the difference between people who are actively trying to make money and people who aren’t particularly trying to. That difference, or so I felt at the time, was:

Trying to make money = shallow
Not really caring whether you make money or not = deep

There are several problems with this concept, first and foremost that it doesn’t distinguish between trying to make enough money to support yourself and your family, and trying to become rich enough to buy a private island. But it was kind of the way I thought about things when I was in college, so let’s go with it for a minute.

My key assumption here—I think—was that if someone cared about making money, they must not care very much about other things like art and love and ideas, which I guess would mean that they were “shallow”. And being shallow was something I desperately wanted to avoid. When I was in high school and college I wanted to be a lot of things: smart, pretty, thin, popular, athletic. But above all, I wanted to not be shallow. For me (and for many young, idealistic people), shallowness was the worst possible trait.

Interestingly, I think this aversion to shallowness had an impact on how I evaluated possible college majors at the time. In my 21-year-old brain, possible majors were basically divided into two groups, like this:

Majors for people who want to make a lot of money
Business
Finance
Economics
Pre-Law
Engineering
etc.

Majors for people who don’t care if they make money or not
English
Philosophy
Comparative Literature
Education
Art History
etc.

Not every major fits easily into one of these lists (biology? political science?). But the point is that when I was in college I really thought that a person’s major revealed something about their core values, their identity—and I would venture to say that I was not alone in this thinking.

I chose to major in English, for many reasons but in part because I liked what I hoped it said about me, that is, that I valued literature and ideas over being able to have expensive clothes or a big house or a yacht. I remember feeling a bit superior to my classmates who were majoring in finance or economics, thinking, ha, you people are just out to get rich; I’m better than that.

Before I go any further, I want to recognize that the fact that I would even consider majoring in English, a discipline with no obvious career path attached to it, probably says something about my level of privilege. I don’t want to make assumptions about other people, but I suspect that if I had come from a lower-income background, I might have been less likely to consider majoring in anything in the humanities and more likely to choose a major with some sort of clear career trajectory. (Here’s a brief write-up of an interesting study that explores this question in a bit more depth.)

But the fact is that I did major in English. And don’t get me wrong: I liked it! I didn’t have the goal of becoming a published writer or an English professor, but I liked my courses, I liked writing essays, I liked poetry, I liked British literature, and I liked analyzing texts. So in terms of my interests, English was a perfectly appropriate major for me.

However, what I find interesting in retrospect is that literature and writing weren’t my only interests. On the contrary, I also really liked math and logic and, I believe, could have been equally as engaged studying finance or economics or something of that nature. But I never considered majoring in finance or economics, largely because I wasn’t sure I liked what those majors might imply about me and my values.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that things aren’t nearly that simple. It’s entirely possible to be an idealistic, deep-thinking finance major who also loves poetry and wants to change the world, just as it is entirely possible to be a self-absorbed English major whose main goal in life is to become rich and famous. Identity and values are important, but it’s unlikely that all of a person’s values could be perfectly encapsulated by a single college major or career.

I want to emphasize that I got a lot out of majoring in English. I think the humanities are hugely important, and I don’t regret my choice. But it’s always interesting to try to understand our motivations and insecurities and assumptions a little better, isn’t it? (For more thoughts on this whole topic, see The Myth of the Yacht—this post is really just an extension of that piece, which was the first thing I ever wrote for this blog.)

And finally, a note to my 21-year-old self: there are actually no shallow people. Everyone is on their own journey. If you think someone seems shallow, it’s only because you can’t see their depth from where you’re currently standing.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this deep/shallow motivation at all when choosing a college major or applying for jobs? Or did you go a different route than me and pick a more obviously practical major or lucrative career path? Let me know in the comments!

61 Comments on “Deep/Shallow

  1. Let’s see. I was an English major with minors in Education and History of Ideas (a fusion of philosophy, religion, and history). Clearly, I’ve always been chasing dollars. 😉 I was also a first-generation college graduate in my family. One day I’ll write a post on how that shaped my trajectory…once I figure it out.

    1. And I’d love to read it when you do! I’m really interested in how being a first-generation college grad would tie into things. I’m still figuring all of this out myself too. 🙂

  2. Between the ages 18 and 22, I would say that I had my own ‘prejudices’.

    Firstly, against people who didn’t go to university – I stupidly thought that they didn’t want to better their lives via further education (as if that was the only way to ‘better your life’), that perhaps they were less intelligent, that I wouldn’t be interested in anything they had to say. I found that I was woefully wrong when I started working and meeting people outside of my ‘university’ circle.

    Secondly, while I was at university itself, I was prejudiced against people who were majoring in what me and my fellow prejudiced students called ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects where there was no discernible career-path or job at the end of their degree.

    What did I study? Business Studies, majoring in Accountancy/Finance. No, I didn’t end up an accountant, no I didn’t actually enjoy the course, but pretty much all my roles in my career have been in ‘finance’. I have worked with both people who have never been to uni and also with some people who have studied ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses – both have shown me my prejudices were totally unfounded!

    I guess I was probably the really shallow one in the first place!

    1. That’s so interesting, thanks for sharing! I guess we all have our own prejudices or assumptions or biases regarding college and careers and wealth — but it’s fascinating to me how different people’s assumptions are so different from each other!

      I’ve never heard the term “Mickey Mouse” applied to college majors, but that’s probably because I was in one of those majors myself. 😉 Interestingly, I went to grad school in a field with a much clearer career path attached to it, but I have mixed feelings about that choice (mostly because the career options are not only clear but also very narrow).

      And P.S.: I don’t think you were shallow! Just figuring stuff out, as we all were/are.

  3. I kind of just chose what I loved at that time (TV Production) without much thought to how it would play out financially. There were definitely times post college I questioned my decision and kind of wished I went into something more steady, or the medical field which also interests me, but it was more about the steadiness of the job and the jobs available, not so much the paycheck.

    1. Oh interesting, TV Production — I don’t even know how my college-aged self would have categorized that one. Steadiness of jobs and paychecks is definitely an important issue, and one that I definitely could have spent more time thinking about when I was younger…

  4. I definitely relate to this. I had so many unexamined beliefs surrounding careers and money – a vague sense of moral superiority about being a history major, a disavowal of the pursuit of money, acceptance of the idea that I would never be able to retire (a whole other misstep) – that are crazy in retrospect. I wised up a little at graduation when I realized I basically had no plan beyond: grad school, I guess? so I decided to get my library science degree since it led to a clear career path. That’s worked out pretty well for me, but I wish that I’d broadened my conception of “possible” opportunities earlier. I also really enjoy coding, but even though my father worked with computers, as a girl and an English nerd, pursuing that was all but unthinkable for high school me. I don’t necessarily regret the choices that I made, but I definitely wish that I had been better informed sooner.

    1. Ah, interesting. I actually considered library science for a while when I was in my 20s — it definitely seems like a field where you have a clear skill and are qualified for a specific set of jobs, and that’s appealing to me.

      I am definitely on the same page with you regarding not *regretting* past choices per se, but just wishing I had had more information or thought through things a little more. But I also think that generally we’re all doing the best that we can, most of the time, given the information and resources that are available to us.

  5. I had an anti-business prejudice in college, which made me feel so superior to my then boyfriend. I didn’t think it was a “real” major. Unlike my poli sci, history and english classes.

    Fast forward 20 years. I marry an MBA and then get one myself. I love love love MBA classes, particularly compared to the Poli Sci PhD program I had dropped out of in my 20s. It was so applicable to work, and I was good at the classes. And accounting? I’m still kicking myself for the fact that I didn’t give it a try in college, because I LIKE accounting. I would have loved to be a CPA, which probably fits my personality and skill set as well as anything.

    Sigh. I was an idiot.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I think that almost every major has that kind of bias against every other major! As a business student, we felt that way about tons of other programs, and when I hung out with the engineers – or asked them for help with my math homework – they would have no qualms telling me engineering was the only real degree out there, haha.

    2. Ah, interesting! A total turnaround! I too remember thinking that business wasn’t a “real” major — I think I assumed it was some sort of educationless get-rich-quick scheme. I wish I’d taken maybe just one business class to try to explore my prejudices a little.

      I really don’t think you were an idiot, by the way — you were just figuring things out, as we all were (and are). 🙂

  6. This is really interesting and I’m sure another study could be done on why people chose certain majors. Perspective definitely changes as we age.

    I majored in Economics but originally planned to major in Chemistry. Most of my education was paid for since my dad worked at the university that I attended (definitely a privilege) and I grew up in a typical middle class family living in the suburbs. But growing up it was made clear that the purpose of college was to prepare me for a job afterwards. Middle and high school were for exploring non-career subjects.

    I’ll admit that I questioned my friends who majored in things like History or English, only because I couldn’t understand how it would translate into a career outside of teaching. If education was free and I had plenty of time, I would’ve been interested in taking more of those classes. Maybe in retirement…

    1. That’s really interesting, Kate. It’s so fascinating to me to hear about the different ways people view/viewed college and its purpose. Looking back today, I feel like it’s kind of a no-brainer that college is supposed to give you skills for a career, but at the time I was in college (1999-2003), there was a lot of emphasis on the importance of the liberal arts and how you should use college as an opportunity “to learn how to think” rather than to learn specific skills. I’m still sympathetic to this idea, and I did get a lot out of the English major, but if I had it to do over again I would probably pay a little more attention to the career side of things.

  7. Oh man Sarah, this is so good as usual.

    I studied business in school, and even as someone who was SO PSYCHED to study business, I remember being especially flattered that one of my high school teachers, upon learning I chose to pursue a business degree, said “I think you’re someone who will do a lot of good with that.”

    I mean ok yes, that is an unqualified flattering thing to say, so of course I was flattered. But looking back it does seem to imply that I wasn’t just in it for the money, which was probably the root of the comment (and to be fair, that was during a time when people who were just in it for the money had recently decimated the North American economy.)

    To be honest, part of my decision had to do with money, but it also had to do with the fact that I was a nerdy kid who had gone to entrepreneurship camp in grade 11 (no school credit, lol) and loved it. I thought it was going to be a good fit for me, and I was right – even though I distinctly remember the class I sat in where they taught you exactly how to use fear most effectively in advertising.

    They did make us take an ethics course before graduating, so I mean, there’s that?

    Hahaha anyways, these kinds of biases probably influence a lot more of the college decision making processes than we even realize, since they’re so pervasive.

    1. Whoa, Des, entrepreneurship camp, that’s awesome! 🙂 I’ve never even heard of such a thing, and my 11th grade self would probably have preferred to stay home and read books. I’m also so intrigued by this business ethics course, and the idea of learning how to use fear effectively — sounds almost like a psychology course! Business and psychology would be a pretty interesting double major. 🙂

      Yeah, these biases are definitely pervasive. And it’s so interesting to me to hear about the differences between different people’s biases — like, we all seem to have them, but they’re still all so different from one another!

  8. Wise words my friend. As someone that also majored in a non-money-making field, people would always say “that sounds really fun” when I would tell them what I was getting a graduate degree in. It made me so mad – it’s fun, but it’s HARD too, I promise! And now I work in a lucrative field BECAUSE Of my creative background. Favorite line: If you think someone seems shallow, it’s only because you can’t see their depth from where you’re currently standing.

    1. Ah, yes, I can relate to the “fun” comment. The most common comments about English majors are, I think, “So what are you going to do with that?”, “So are you going to correct my grammar?” and (the *fun* one) “So, you basically just read books all day?”

      Now I’m super curious about what your graduate degree is in. 😉

      1. To “So are you going to correct my grammar?” I always replied “Yes. Correcting and judging all at the same time. And I’ll charge you a fee.”

        Because I was 19 and couldn’t resist. 🙂

  9. Thought provoking article… I’ve never had any thoughts about relating what I wanted to do with my life as being viewed as shallow / deep in terms of my career or motivation. I went into Engineering because I LOVE math and logic and I love to be challenged and create solutions to problems that our society faces.

    I’ve also created side jobs for myself in sport/fitness and endurance racing as well as educating and teaching others and giving back. I love my career choices and my motivation for becoming an Engineer, Event Producer and Educator of people both young and old.

    I certainly chase after money as I see the security It provides for myself and my family as well as what I am able to do for others with my left over security!!

    I view the knowledge gained from studies in the humanities more as life skills that ANYONE needs to learn in life to become a contributing member of our society. Some learn it faster that others in school and on occasion change the world by changing our social norms… While others like me pick those skills up simply by living life and being and contributing to society as a whole.

    CHEERS!

    1. Wow, Tim, it sounds like you were able to find the best of all worlds! 🙂 That’s pretty cool that you were able to avoid the whole shallow/deep question and just do what you really loved doing. I used to really wish in college that I had ONE subject that I loved above all others, because that would have made things a lot easier. English was a fine, good choice for me, and I liked it a lot, but I did wonder pretty often about whether or not it was the right decision. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken an engineering course just to check it out — I don’t even think I knew what engineering WAS in college!

      1. I think we all have those thoughts… on thing we could have done back then… I’m not sure I wished I had taking more English courses back in college…. But I do wish I was a bit better at writing… I think I will always be working on that..

        I just like building stuff!! 🙂

        1. Ah, well I think writing is something that we all continually get better at with time and practice. 🙂
          I wish I were good at building stuff!

  10. I don’t think I saw the issue of college majors as deep or shallow or motivated purely by a desire for wealth, but I tend to think of people who are interested in humanities as deep, so I see what you’re saying. Then again, I dated an electrical engineering major all through college (and married him) so maybe this helped me see people in more “practical” or lucrative fields can be deep, have other interests, might not care much about money, and for some reason just really love calculators and Excel.

    1. Ah, that’s a good point, Kalie. Biases and prejudices can definitely be challenged by being close to someone who is doing the thing you’re prejudiced about. I had a lot of friends who were also humanities majors, so I unfortunately didn’t interact with a lot of engineering or business majors — but maybe that would have helped! 🙂

  11. I have experienced the same thing at times. I initially wanted to be a teacher but ultimately majored in accounting, sadly yes for the money. I didn’t realize the importance at the time (and I”m not saying I”m thrilled with my decision) but I was influenced by popular opinion and suggestions by my parents and others.

    It’s funny how that ends up playing out though, in real life. At some point, you take a step back and ask yourself if you’ve made the right decision. All part of the journey I suppose.

    Excellent post Sarah! And food for thought.

    1. Ah, that’s interesting, Laura Beth. From my perspective, majoring in accounting actually sounds like a great choice — very smart and useful! But as you say, it’s so easy to question one’s past decisions. The good thing is, our colleges majors really do not define us as people. They may make a difference in our careers, but we are three-dimensional people with lots of other interests and experiences that impact our lives. 🙂

  12. I never thought of it that way when I was choosing a major, but I think the shallow/deep sentiment exists in society as a whole. People who are rich are assumed to be callous, shallow, etc. Whereas people who are struggling are seen as “real” and deep and have integrity, blah blah.

    You’re right that it’s not that simple, nor is a large income always indicative of a high lifestyle. I was surprised by how much we made this year, but we have a ton of expenses that suck away money. I thought we’d be living the high life if we ever made $60k, but life intervenes. So yep, I’d definitely like to make more money, but that doesn’t make me shallow. Just interested in our future. And yeah, interested in maybe an extra vacation per year eventually.

    1. Yeah, the concept that people who are struggling are automatically real and noble is unfortunately widespread, and really problematic. I don’t even know who to blame for that (movies about people struggling to overcome adversity?). But it’s definitely not that simple.

      I’m with you on wanting to make more money, just to support myself and plan for my future (and I too would appreciate an extra vacation per year…) 🙂

  13. J$’s posts always make me think a LOT, and yours did too. I’m a sucker for psychology. When you speak of its curious intertwinings with money, emotions and cultural messages, you’ve got me hooked.

    Deep/shallow was not a conscious factor in my career choice. Though thinking back, maybe it was. I saw the working world as comprised of 2 major types: The Brains (deep) and The Backs (shallow). The former pushed papers and pencils; the latter pushed picks and shovels. I leaned towards The Brains. They wore sexier clothes and stayed neater (and less sweaty).

    I majored in Business Management, minored in Philosophy; and after 25 years on Madison Avenue I pioneered a new ad agency with a new business philosophy I called “Profitability through Social Responsibility,” along with a new monetary symbol, “Peacebucks.” In the past few years I’ve become a webmaster, (bit.ly/1L7ax5w), a defender of the dollar and a publisher (amzn.to/1DAtTvo). Always pioneering!;)

    1. Ah, interesting, mixing Business and Philosophy. That’s a cool combination! It’s interesting too that the dichotomy in your mind was between intellectuals and non-intellectuals (so like white collar/blue collar, maybe?). I think those categories actually make a bit more logical sense than my English/Business categories — but minus the deep/shallow part, since many people with physical labor jobs simply didn’t have the opportunity to go to college to pursue a different path.

  14. I was an English major for literally ONE WEEK in college before I doubted myself and switched to something more lucrative like SOCIOLOGY (seriously). I then had a lot of overlapping classes with Psychology so I ended up double majoring. I rounded out my studies by taking some business courses as well. So my degree was a hodge podge of a little bit of everything. 🙂

    Now my wife and I joke about how I used to be an English major and now my biggest hobby is blogging ;). Go figure.

    I was privileged as well, and I did have a negative connotation about becoming a millionaire. How I never wanted to Sell Out and have a job that made me happy regardless of the income. Now as an adult with a child I can see how that was pretty naive. While my ultimate goal is to find that elusive dream job that I love, at the same time I understand the reality that on that route I might just need something to pay the bills until I find it.

    1. Oh yes, not Selling Out. I’m surprised I didn’t use that phrase while writing the post, because it was definitely key in my mindset when I was younger. And naive is a word that resonates with me as well. It’s as though I thought that Wall Street was banging down my door and begging me to work for them, but I was nobly resisting. Or something like that. 🙂 In any case, it’s so interesting to look back on it now. Man, I wish I had taken psychology and sociology classes (and business classes) in college. That stuff is so interesting to me now; I’m not sure why I didn’t consider it at the time. Your college course load sounds like it was a really cool mix! 🙂

  15. What an interesting point of view. I love your last paragraph. More need to remember that. Lol i also love to read budgets are sexy. You reminded me that I haven’t been there for awhile!

    1. Yes, Budgets are Sexy is great! Also consistently entertaining. 🙂
      As for the last paragraph, I wrote it because it’s still something I need to try to keep remembering on a daily basis!

  16. I think how we are brought up plays a huge role in our attitude towards majors in college. While we were a middle class family, there were many times I heard the words “we can’t afford it” or caught on to the stress my parents felt about finances. It had a huge impact on me wanting to make enough money where I wasn’t always hostage to the “we can’t afford this” mentality or stress around finances. So what did I major in? Finance. And what did I want? To make money. It’s shallow, but it was my mindset going into college.

    1. I totally don’t think it’s shallow! 🙂 I think that type of decision is practical and smart.
      I will also say that when I was in college I definitely underestimated the skills that were involved in finance as a major/career. I think I figured it was sort of like going to school to learn to balance a checkbook, or something ridiculous like that. I have so much more respect for both business and finance now because I have a better sense of the skills and hard work involved.

  17. First – member of Gen X. My husband grew up with nothing and he picked a job that is stable and good pay. I grew up middle class and after a lot of education, ended up in the field of education. I have always wanted to be comfortable. While most of my family was middle/upper middle class, I did have some family who were millionaires, so I was exposed to that lifestyle. I really selected my career as something I loved that would allow me to live the life I wanted. I am not a millionaire, but have been fortunate and we live very comfortably.

    1. That’s really interesting that you had some family who were more middle class and some who were wealthier. I wonder if that helped you to see the possible options out there, and to think more consciously about what type of lifestyle you wanted and how you would achieve that (?). I think part of the difficulty when we’re in college is that we don’t have enough life experience to really understand our childhood lifestyle relative to other lifestyles, or what it would be like to have substantially more or less money. It’s great that you found something that you liked and that would also be able to support you.

  18. Yes, I TOTALLY get this. Not really about my college major (which I never finished anyway), but more about the mindset I had in college. At that age, I thought I was deep (and better than everyone) because I was a crazy workaholic. I was studying full-time and I worked at least 80 hours a week and I wore this like a badge of honour. I truly believed that anyone who didn’t work crazy hours was lazy, spoiled and entitled (and I completely looked down at fellow students who dared to enjoy their lives!)

    But here is the thing – I was working crazy hours but I also spent money like a mad woman. I was a serious shopaholic and I spent nearly everything that I earned. In other words, I wasn’t working crazy hours to support a family or to pay for school; I was working crazy hours to support a silly lifestyle that I didn’t need. It didn’t occur to me that other people were just being smart and trading less stuff for more life. (That was a lesson I eventually learned, but much later in life.)

    Looking back … I grew up in a family that always struggled with money and I think if I’m honest I was jealous of people that didn’t. How I dealt with this was by putting them down in my mind (ie: they are shallow and lazy.)

    Anyway, great thought provoking post (as always!) xx

    1. Oh my gosh, Jennifer, that is SO interesting. I will disclose that I was totally one of those people who didn’t work very hard in college. And honestly it wasn’t because I had much of a social life or had other pressing things to do; it was just because I didn’t really value hard work and didn’t really want to get a job if I didn’t *have* to (which I am not proud of). So I’m really in awe of people who went out of their way to make money in college. I totally hear you about the lifestyle that went along with it, but I do think it’s cool that you were like, hey, I want these things, and I’m doing what I have to do to get them.

      1. Hmm, it is SO interesting hearing a different side of the story! I think the frustration you have about having student load debt now is the same frustration I have about having worked my butt off for years and just throwing the money away on northing! I guess the lesson is it’s all about balance and finding that sweet spot between smart money and quality of life! x

        1. Yes, I think you’re right about that. I guess we each just get there in our own way and via our own path. 🙂

  19. This is so interesting because there was definitely a sense at my undergrad school from the engineers that they were the best and a competition of sorts with other departments. It really bugged me sometimes. I didn’t go into my field (software) for the money – I didn’t even know I would make good money. I just went into it because I enjoyed coding.

    It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts about rich people vs poor people. I think that in a way, money just accentuates what you were going to do anyways. Some people will be lazy regardless of whether they’re rich or poor. Spendy people will spend whether they’re rich or poor, same with savers. My parents paid for my undergrad degree, yet I worked really hard and got good grades. My employer is now paying for my grad degree and I am still working hard and getting good grades (well so far). Work ethic isn’t always motivated by paying for something. And yet other people say that paying for their degrees forced them to work harder than they would have had their parents paid, so they shouldn’t pay for their kids’ degrees. To me, that’s a silly reason to saddle your kids with debt!

    Good luck with your job hunt, Sarah! Congrats on defending your dissertation! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Leigh. 🙂 That’s really interesting — I’ve actually heard this from a few other coders as well, i.e. that they just loved coding and it had nothing to do with money. And I agree with you that there isn’t always a super strong correlation between work ethic and money. It’s such a complicated topic — people have such different approaches to higher education and career.
      Thanks for the good wishes! 🙂

  20. I’ve never thought about all of this stuff this way before, but I think you basically just spoke for 21-year-old me, too. I definitely thought I was deeper (better?) than my peers majoring in the practical, career-focused majors, surrounding myself with my Shakespeare texts and dramatic lit, and spending my free time at art museums and art house movie theaters. And yet, here I am, the same person, writing a blog that’s all about money and wealth acquisition. Granted, I truly never set out to make money, it really just happened through luck (and I feel thankful every day that I somehow get to earn a good salary in a career that feeds the social good), but I also now see that money as feeding my “deepness,” by giving me time once again to devote to all that humanities stuff that has gotten squeezed out in favor of time spent working and traveling for work. This post definitely made me think a lot and question how I have judged other people’s choices — thank you for that! (And thank you for acknowledging privilege in here! You’re always great about that, but I appreciate people setting a good example on that front, as you know.) 😉

    1. I also find it a bit funny that I’m now writing a blog about money — 21-year-old me would be shocked at how mercenary I’ve become! 🙂

      I have the sense that back in the late 90s/early 2000s (I’m thinking we were in college at roughly the same time) there was a lot more of this thinking, at least in certain circles, about how the humanities were going to save the world, and everyone needed a liberal arts education in order to be a responsible citizen and have a meaningful life. I was talking about this topic recently with a 21-year-old friend who’s currently majoring in finance at an Ivy League school, and she was saying that she thinks her peers are generally pretty concerned about finding a job after college and so are not that likely to consider a humanities major (possibly because they grew up hearing a lot about the recession?). Interesting…
      Anyway, I’m glad the post was thought-provoking. 🙂

      1. Yeah, I do think it shows that we grew up in a different financial age, where people focused on the value of “pure education,” and not just the life-or-death necessity of finding a job! (I graduated HS in ’97, college in ’01.) But I also keep reading about how the Ivys and other elite schools are just turning out really smart robots these days, and I get super sad for those kids. I’m thankful that I had the privilege of studying something totally impractical that I loved without worrying about employment.

        P.S. You’re making me think about the idea of what we originally set out to do, and whether that matters. Like how neither of us ever *tried* to get high-earning careers, it just happened over time. But then I’m not sure whether that matters, and it’s for sure not helpful advice for the younger folks making career choices now! 🙂

        1. I graduated from high school in 1999 and from college in 2003. And yeah, I agree that the “pure education” approach has its benefits. I do feel conflicted sometimes wondering if I “should have” double-majored in English and Business or something like that, but I think overall I made the best decision I could at the time, and there are a lot of benefits to what I studied. But since I’m yet again in the position of making a career choice, these issues are on my mind on a daily basis! 🙂

  21. My husband actually earned a degree in theatre arts his first time around. Talk about privileged!

    In my opinion, college has become too expensive to be a place where you simply “find yourself” any longer. I wish millennials would learn towards college degrees that will help them support themselves.

    1. Yes, agreed! There was a huge emphasis on using college to “find yourself” or “figure out your passion” back in the early 2000s when I was there. I can definitely understand the thinking behind that, but I wish there had been more emphasis on job training as well.

  22. Oh wow..Sarah, yes. I have definitely experienced the deep/shallow categorization, and throughout college I tried to mesh the two (Communications Major for Liberal Arts, Business & Entrepreneurship Minor). I wish in my younger years I also learned that there are no shallow people, that life does not have to be divided into this, or that (it just helps to organize thoughts)! May people will scoff at a Communications degree, but it has not hindered me one bit. In fact, even years after graduating – I was still asked in an interview “What was your favorite thing you learned from your degree, and how will you apply it here?” (and this was for a tech position)! Humanities are still essential, and as much as they try to drill in which “top degrees that will make you the most money,” I think it’s about the skill set you develop & continue to develop after graduating that truly matters. Great piece!!

    1. That’s such a good point, Alyssa — that categories can help us to organize our thoughts. I guess that’s the first step, and then hopefully we can break out of the categories to look at things in a more nuanced way. But that definitely can take some time.

      Oh gosh, that is such a good interview question. I need to add that to the possible questions I might be asked…it’s a long list already! 🙂

  23. This is spot on! I actually was turned off by the idea of majoring in business because I saw business majors as shallow, unethical people who just wanted to make a lot of money. I majored in psychology because it was what I was truly passionate about, but then I ended up getting a master’s degree in business (which I never would’ve guessed would’ve happened!). I was surprised to find that my fellow classmates were not shallow, money hungry people – they were friendly, caring people who were looking for a practical field (so they could actually afford to pay off their student loans). It’s interesting how much we stereotype certain majors!

    1. Ah, glad to hear the post resonated with you. That’s pretty cool that you ended up getting a master’s in business! That’s something that I wish I had looked into more. I bet psychology and business go together in a pretty interesting way, too! 🙂 I also think it’s also very cool that you had the chance to meet some nice people in business school and bust some stereotypes.

  24. Great post! I think you really nailed it–it’s the old, “Do what you love, the money will follow!” mindset. Then we graduate and learn, Um, no … no, it won’t 🙂

    I don’t think that all business majors or people who choose a path to have a stronger chance of employment are shallow, but I wish I could think as well as everyone as you do. (I think there ARE shallow people in the world … many, actually … and they’re certainly not all rich :-/ )

    But you should DEFINITELY add the book Drive by Daniel Pink to your reading list. Turns out, having Making Money as your goal might not be shallow, but it actually makes you less happy–EVEN IF you succeed! If your goal is, for example, To start my own successful business that does X in a great way, and then you make a lot of money, then great–but if your goal is just, To make a lot of money–then you never get happier, even when you make it. Or so the studies show. Fascinating.

    1. Oh, that’s such a good quote for this mindset, “Do what you love, the money will follow”. I’d totally forgotten about that, but you’re right, it’s something that people say all the time. And, yeah, sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. Too bad it took me 15 years to learn that lesson, haha.

      I actually have been meaning to read Drive! That sounds like a pretty important takeaway. I’ll have to be sure to check it out soon.

  25. Ah, aren’t we are all idealistic and naive in college? In college I started out a Philosophy and Psychology double major, added Spanish and Business as minors, then later promoted business to a major (concentration Finance) because I ended up not being sure what I wanted to do professionally and that seemed a broader jumping off point (my interest in psychology and philosophy waned after completing the minors).

    I wanted to be a psychologist, attorney, wealth manager, and writer/journalist at various points in my college career. All use higher learning to help others, but all would have resulted in very different careers and lifestyles. It’s crazy to look back at how flippantly or simplistically I made major life decisions like choosing a college or major.

    1. Ha! I love this list of majors and possible careers, how they’re so varied. 🙂 I think a lot of the difficulty of trying to pick a major and career at such a young age is that we simply don’t have a very good sense of what any of these things would be like. I used to think I wanted to be a teacher — that was my first job out of college, actually — but it turned out that I really just liked the *idea* of teaching (I thought it was noble) but didn’t actually enjoy it, nor was I naturally good at it. It’s hard to choose a path when you don’t really know what the paths will feel like once you’re in them.

  26. Wow, a really popular post here Sarah, thanks for bringing it up :)..
    I’d have to say that this is a big question I considered when starting university (or what we call college over here).. I decided to go for the cash on offer in the business world although have realised over the last 2 to 3 years that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and as you grow and develop as a person occasionally it becomes more than being about the money.. Even deeper though is that you can really make money doing most things in life if you can get creative about it and are okay with some uncertainty, which is becoming more prevalent at any rate..

    It’s awesome how you reply to every comment too, how do you manage to keep on top of it? 🙂

    1. Ha, good question. I try to catch up on comments once per day. I feel like if someone takes the time to reach out by writing a comment, I want to be sure to respond to it.

Leave a Reply