Why your major will never matter | Megan Schwab | TEDxFSU

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Translator: Vivian Chen
Reviewer: Irina Zayats So, we’ve been made a lot of promises
as a generation. One of the very first promises we hear,
and for many of us, the very first experience we have
with the idea of career planning, is the promise that you can be anything
that you want to be when you grow up. We hear this early on
and we hold on to this. This is deeply rooted
in our society and our culture. We call it the American dream. And we love it because
it sounds awesome, right? Anything you want to be,
anyone that you want to be, it’s out there. All you have to do is go get it. And when you ask kindergarteners
what they plan to do when they grow up, you will get a creative
and widely varied set of answers. They seem to have absolutely no idea
of whether a job would be possible or if it exists. No consideration for
how much money they would make. And then we start to grow up,
and the roles change, the message we hear changes. You can still be anything you want to be, as long as you follow our roles, as long as you well in school,
you pass the right test, as long as you meet our expectations. And as children, we’re okay with this. We’re used to playing games
that have roles and that have one clear winner. So we accept this, but for the first time,
the idea of scarcity comes in. The promise is now
that some people can be anything, but not everyone. And then they add on. So now it is not enough
to do well in school, but you also have to go to college. And at this point,
some of us start to question. Right? You might have noticed that
not everyone goes to college and they seem to be doing okay. In fact, the 10 most common jobs
in the United States include things like,
retail, cashier, janitorial staff, maintenance, transportation,
office manager, things that don’t actually
require a college degree. Although they also don’t make more than
the national average salary. But there are wildly successful people
out there, too, who have skipped past college. For example,
Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, tech giants
who have never actually graduated. Or celebrities, like Taylor Swift, who is about my age
and has more famous friends, more money, and more houses
than I will ever see in my life. But if you tell people that
you plan to skip college and instead be a full-time yoga instructor
or write that novel, you’ll normally hear
some variation of the same comment, “You have to get a real job.” So, you can be anything you want to be
as long as it’s a real job. And I hear this term so frequently
when I work with students, when I talk to their parents
at orientation. I hear it in conversations
with my own friends and family that I thought I should figure out
what it means. What do we mean when we say “a real job”? So I asked the smartest person I know. I asked Google. (Laughter) What is a real job? And I was surprised
I didn’t get a clear answer. I did find a definition
from Urban Dictionary, which contains words
I cannot share with you today. (Laughter) But aside from that, what I found were
articles, blog posts, podcasts, all made by people
who didn’t have a real job or have been told to get a real job
or had decided they never want a real job. And what surprised me about that
is those authors had job titles, like entrepreneur or marketing specialist, but to me, sound real. So I was in this weird predicament. Google didn’t know the answer. I have not been in this situation
many times in my life. So if Google doesn’t know the answer,
what am I supposed to think? (Laughter) But we still talk about it, so I try to piece together what we mean
when we discuss a real job. And I was able to come up with
these 5 characteristics. If you have 4 out of the 5 of these, congratulations,
your job is probably real! (Laughter) If you have less than 4, unfortunately,
your job might be imaginary. I’m sorry about that. (Laughter) So normally what we look for
is some sort of required education, college generally or some other
expensive certification program. For example, to be a nurse,
you do need to go to a nursing school, but you don’t necessarily actually need
a bachelor’s degree. You have to be paid well
and that one is the magical requirement. It can actually
make all of the other ones irrelevant. If you get paid well enough,
any job is a real job, which is why,
for Brad Pitt, acting is a real job. But if you tell your parents
that is what you want to do, that’s really a hobby, right? So that’s where we get that disconnect. So once again that idea is scarcity. Some people can do anything
that they want to do, be anything that they want to be, but not everyone, and certainly not you. Right? Now, I’m not saying that
college isn’t important and I’m not just not saying that
because I work at a college and need them to continue paying me. I do truly feel that college is important
because if what you do want to do lines up in any way
with one of those real jobs, chances are you do actually
need to be in college. Also, college is one of the first chances
we get in an educational environment to explore our creativity,
to develop critical thinking skills, and to really explore options
that we’ve never seen before. This is your chance to open your horizons, to meet new interesting
and diverse other people and to find out what your passion is. But, it’s become not enough
just to go to college. So they keep adding on, right? The economy is not what it used to be
and we’ve become really scared. It’s not enough anymore
to get a college degree. It doesn’t guarantee you a job. And so now you have to pick
the right major. And if you do pick the right major,
you’re set. You know, you’re gonna go off,
you’re gonna make lots of money, you’re gonna have a great life. If you pick the wrong major,
you’re doomed to a life of underemployment and jobs that don’t necessarily
require a degree anyway. And that’s why some of you may be
contemplating your new and exciting career as a Starbucks Barista. Whom I love, by the way.
They keep me in caffeine. But this promise, for me, feels so
far removed from what we started with. Right? We’ve started to subscribe to this idea that your major leads to
a particular job or a set of jobs, and from there on out
to success and a happy life. So now, you can be anything you want to be as long as it’s one of these
3 or 4 specific professions. Right? So that doesn’t seem like
the same promise. Where did our promise go? I was promised anything.
No questions asked. And so what we tell kindergarteners
and what we tell 18-year-olds is so wildly different that I decided
that I needed to look into it. Luckily, a lot of other people
already have. So the American Association of
Colleges and Universities have polled employers, the people
who hire you for those real jobs. And less than one quarter of them actually looked for
a specific college major. More than 75% of employers
will hire any college major as long as you have the skills
to do the job. And overwhelmingly, employers value critical thinking,
creativity, and problem-solving skills above any major
that you could use in college; which is crazy, right? When you think about it, creativity,
critical thinking, problem solving are things that we are naturally
inclined to as children. We naturally have that. And that’s why you ask kindergarteners
what they want to do, and you get answers
that you would never have thought of because they are creative,
they’re creatively solving problems. And that’s something that we stopped doing
as we come up through school. And if you do college right,
you can get some of that back, right? So, “If your major doesn’t matter,
what does?” is the obvious question. And I figured this answer out
by looking around at the change makers, the big names, the people who really
make an impact on our world. And if you look at those people,
they did not get where they are by listening to what other people
told them they should be doing. They just didn’t. In a lot of cases, they fought very, very hard
against those outside voices. So what does matter is you
and what you know to be true, disregarding what other people tell you
about whether it’s real, or about whether it exists,
or about whether you’re good at it. Walt Disney was fired from his first job
at a newspaper because he lacked imagination. Oprah Winfrey was fired as a newscaster
because she was unfit for television. But they kept going. Right? And they made connections. If you are true to your authentic self,
if you do what you’re passionate about, so if you choose the major
that you’re in love with, even though it might not lead to
a stable career path right now, you’re gonna connect with people,
who share your ideas, who share your passions,
and you can start a business, or you can start a movement,
or you can change the world. So let’s hold on to that first promise:
You can be anything that you want to be. And ignore all the people
who tell you that you can’t, that it’s not valid,
or that it’s not real. And when you go home tonight, I want you to take
just 5 minutes for yourself. Turn off all the voices that are
coming in at you from the outside, so turn off your cellphone. It’s okay, you can call your mom back. (Laughter) Turn off the internet. Get away from friends or roommates,
any other voices that are coming in: what other people are thinking
or what they’re saying, and listen to your own voice. What do you love?
What do you want to do? And then tomorrow, do it.
Just a little bit. I mean you don’t have to be hired
at a magazine to write something. Just write it. And you don’t have to be a doctor
to help someone who is in need. You don’t have to be a CEO
to start a company or a business. When you do what truly makes you
passionate and excited, it’s practicing listening to
your own voice. And just like anything,
with practice it becomes easier. And if you are living true to yourself,
to your own voice, then you will have much more to offer
any possible employer. But more importantly,
you have more to offer the world. Thank you. (Applause)

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