What’s romantic about starving artists?

Kevin Joffre

Back while I was picking classes for my freshman year at GVSU orientation, I overheard a disturbing
conversation. The kid next to me was blundering through Banner, trying to figure out which classes he
should take, so a professor came over to give him a hand. “I’m a BMS major,” the kid said. “Which
classes do I have to take?” The professor pointed out a few relevant ones, then said, “But don’t limit
yourself to taking just BMS classes. Try out philosophy or psychology or creative writing. You may find
out that you have a real passion for the subject.”

For many students, that seems like a fair claim. After all, it’s something that we hear daily in our
classrooms. “Be sure to branch out,” professors say. “Try new subjects. Enjoy a true liberal arts
education.” The danger, though, is that an over-emphasis on well-roundedness can distract you from
one of your most pressing concerns: your future after college. “But money isn’t everything,” you’ll
recite. “You have to love what you do.” And that’s exactly why you should thoroughly consider your
current majors and minors.

Do a quick Google search of the job placement for your major (or call up Career Services). Are you an
anthropology major? Cool. Now how many people actually have your dream job right now? An English
major, with a dream of emulating one of your current professors? Splendid. Ask them how many other
highly-qualified applicants were turned away.

I hope this serves to dispel the myth that surrounds the “you have to love what you do” fallacy. When
we utter these fateful words, it’s because we envision ourselves heroically pursuing our field of study
for little pay. We imagine that our future poverty will be charming and rustic. What actually will
happen, of course, is that we will wind up doing something only superficially related to our field (if
we’re lucky). And if you haven’t accounted for this option, you probably won’t love what you do.

Now, by no means am I devaluing any majors that Grand Valley offers. But the danger is to assume
that a major in Women and Gender Studies, for example, is anything more than a field of study. It
receives a lot of attention on a college campus, but how can you bring these innovative perspectives
to a larger audience without the practical channel of a Business or Law degree?

So, as I see it, you have three options. First, you can add on some other degree that is more appealing
to future employers, then use that as a jumping-off point for your future. Second, you can keep your
majors and minors and come to terms with the notion that you may not have the career you’ve always
envisioned. By default, this will force you to accept that college has served solely to better you as an
individual and a member of a community. Or, finally, you can find some way to make yourself
necessary; you must achieve something innovative through the intersection of your majors that will
propel you to the forefront of your field.

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