Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Renaissance Men Wanted: Liberal Arts Degree Required

"What is he going to do with THAT?"

This is the question I get 99% of the time when I tell people that my son is getting a degree in Art History. What people really mean, of course, is "How is he going to afford a house in the suburbs and make the SUV payment?"  These are, after all, our American priorities. We value less and less the "jack of all trades" with a bit of knowledge about everything. Conversations with people often reflect the new myopic specialized view of education. What happened to the philosopher/craftsman/scientist? We see more and more students emerge from college with the ability to do one thing well. But not necessarily to think about it or anything else in any original or creative manner.

Which is why liberal arts studies are in decline.

In an economy gripped by fear, students and parents staring down increasing tuition and the prospect of debt due to student loans are prone to go for the "safe" options. My son's theory (and yes, he's given it a lot of thought) is that since economic stress has funneled so many students into practical degrees or mere "certificates" in twenty years or so there is going to be a dearth of people qualified to be curators of museums or teach things like art history and related subjects. But even if that doesn't come to pass I still want him to do what he's passionate about. I have confidence that he'll find a way to make a living.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Our viewpoint is a little different than most parents and college students. Instead of my asking him where he wants to be in ten or twenty years I ask this: "Your life is nearly over, you are in the nursing home or maybe a hospital. Looking back over your life, what do you want it to have looked like?"

The answer to THAT question reveals where your priorities lay and what your goals should be. Then you look down the road and make your 5, 10, 20 year plan to get there.

Never lose sight of the entire thing.

My daughter arrived at the Do What You Love Party a bit late.  That is so like her. She loved studying the law and worked very hard for four years to get a degree in paralegal studies. She toyed with the idea of law school. She was giddy the day we went to the mall to purchase her first "business" wardrobe when she was hired at a law office. Within one year she worked at 3 firms. We thought she just couldn't find a practice that was a good fit. We had no idea that she was crying every day on her way to work. You see, it turned out that it was indeed the studying the law that she loved. Applying the law, dealing with stressed out attorneys, and meeting clients on the very worst day of their lives, was grinding on her soul. She cried for 3 days before she told us that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. She thought we would be upset that we had paid for a degree that she wasn't going to use.

Yes, of course, your father and I want you to cry on your way to work for the next 30 years.

Some of my daughter's students captivated by a storm.
She has been working at a Montessori school for the past year and is working on her Master's in education. She is happier than I've ever seen her and talks about her job with joy and passion. The business wardrobe was sold at a consignment store and she traded a stuffy office and stacks of files for a playground and crayons. Her favorite  comment about the change is that her current "clients" are so much more mature than her old ones..."and they cry less." So does she.

So if your kids are in high school and looking at making some really big and expensive decisions, take a moment to have them look BACK from some end point many years from now and think about what kind of people they want to be. They will leave a legacy of one kind or another, it can just be kind of hard to see that when you're starting down the road.

Beautiful lives don't just happen. Random luck may not shine on you. If you want your life to be something specific instead of nothing in particular, you are going to have to live it with intent. Think about it, focus on it, work hard at it.

The fast lane often leads to nothing but debt and depression. Your college student may be far happier (and maybe even eventually more successful) on The Road Less Traveled.

1 comment:

  1. AWESOMELY said. Should be the Op-Ed in the New York Times.