Don’t major in history for the love of Charlemagne

Everyone got their outrage hats on?

Here’s mine:

Let’s go.

This article. (via Leora and others)

Let’s start parsing, shall we?

William Klein’s story may sound familiar to his fellow graduates. After earning his bachelor’s in history from the College at Brockport, he found himself living in his parents’ Buffalo home, working the same $7.25-an-hour waiter job he had in high school.

So that’s the normal paragraph.  How does it read to me?

William Klein’s story may sound familiar to his fellow graduates. After earning his bachelor’s in history from the College at Brockport, he found himself living in his parents’ Buffalo home, working the same $7.25-an-hour waiter job he had in high school.

Kids, what did I tell you about majoring in liberal arts and then trying to find Real People jobs?  Unless you are a trustafarian, don’t major in stuff that sounds nice in your head but not on a resume. If you are majoring in liberal arts and are aware that you have less chance of finding a job, that’s coo’. But otherwise, don’t whine that grad school is the next new thing. I guarantee you no one in the companies you think you want to work for will hire you when your resume is in a stack against B.S.s in Finance or Chemical Engineering.

What’s that?  It was your life passion to pursue history?  Why not do it on the side then?  Why not volunteer at a historical society as you work in a soulnumbing job and at some point are able to turn that volunteering gig into a full-time position?  Oh, you feel like you’re compromising everything you stand for?  But living in your parents’ Buffalo home isn’t?

Ok.  So you blew this one.  Looks like you’re going back for a Master’s?

So this fall, he will sharpen his marketability at Rutgers’ new master’s program in Jewish studies (think teaching, museums and fund-raising in the Jewish community). Jewish studies may not be the first thing that comes to mind as being the road to career advancement, and Mr. Klein is not sure exactly where the degree will lead him (he’d like to work for the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East). But he is sure of this: he needs a master’s. Browse professional job listings and it’s “bachelor’s required, master’s preferred.”


So this fall, he will sharpen his marketability at Rutgers’ new master’s program in Jewish studies (think teaching, museums and fund-raising in the Jewish community). Jewish studies may not be the first thing that comes to mind as being the road to career advancement, and Mr. Klein is not sure exactly where the degree will lead him (he’d like to work for the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East). But he is sure of this: he needs a master’s. Browse professional job listings and it’s “bachelor’s required, master’s preferred.”

*mind explodes*

So you have one unmarketable degree, and you’re going to get ANOTHER?  If your goal is to work in the Jewish community, by all means, get that degree.  But, why not research the market first? Do you realize that most Jewish orgs struggle to pay people, and pay is usually around $30k or so for someone starting?  Will that balance out the debts you’re incurring?  Do you already have contacts in the professional Jewish community that will get you started? Did you do Jewish stuff in college?  These are the kinds of questions he should be asking himself instead of aimlessly going for a second degree and being not exactly sure where the degree will lead him.

Hint: If you want to work for the CIA, you need to be in DC, not Rutgers, and you need to be learning Arabic and Farsi and prefrably a third language like WHOA.  Jewish Studies will not help you, unless you are EXTREMELY resourceful.

Don’t waste your own time and money.

Are we all sufficiently outraged?

I need that hat for real.


How to not be unemployed in a recession

We interrupt this blog for a SERIOUSBUSINESS post on economics.

I’ve been on Google+ for about two weeks now, and I’m really hoping everyone switches over from Facebook, if only because you can get quality conversations like this (and also for the animated GIFs)


I came across the piece yesterday, talking about the recession and how there’s an employment bubble.  The author writes,

For people who spend most of their days within a few blocks of tech start-up epicenters such as South Park in San Francisco, University Avenue in Palo Alto or the Flatiron district in New York, last week’s jobs report must have created some cognitive dissonance. After all, we’re in aboom/bubble right? It’s really hard to hire good people isn’t it?

And I think, aside from that post and one last week by Megan McArdle, I haven’t seen too many mainstream media outlets discuss the fact that the recession is not affecting everyone equally.

Since Mr. B and I lived in DC for most of the severity of the recession, and since, thanks to our parents, we were able to afford to go to college and we picked majors that would guarantee us stable jobs, we never experienced the recession’s effects.

In fact, Mr. B was able to find four jobs from 2007-today, and I’ve been able to switch jobs once to move to Philadelphia, which is a much worse job market than DC.  All of our family (knock on wood) that wants to be is employed and even though three of my immediate family members were laid off in the past two years, they were able to find jobs several months later.  I have one family member that switched jobs just last week.

The key point, though, is that all of us majored in somewhat technical fields, or if we didn’t go to college in the United States, trained here for them.  Here is the range of my family’s professions: computer programmer, power tools and electrical repair, computer programmer, civil engineer, computer programmer, business/economic consultant, computer programmer, QA analyst, computer programmer, medical office.

What’s my point? The recession is affecting mostly those whose job skills are no longer needed in the economy.  The manufacturers.  The print journalists. The artists whose skills are no longer necessary as businesses try to streamline costs.  And also those located in cities that don’t have big employment opportunities. Unless you drive a Russian ambulance.

And, as Megan writes, the recession is hard and unemployment is excruciating:

I was unemployed for basically two years between the time I graduated from business school in 2001, and the time I accepted a job with The Economist in 2003.  I was much luckier than most people in that situation, both because my parents let me stay in their spare bedroom, and because I was working during much of that time–freelancing, flirting with a start up, doing some tech consulting, and of course, working in a trailer at Ground Zero.  But none of these were permanent, and at the time, it wasn’t clear that any of them were going to turn into something.  I felt the isolation and the desperate fear of everyone who doesn’t have a “real job”, the people who don’t know how they’re going to earn enough over the next forty years to keep body and soul together.  I experienced real despair for the first time in my life.  And it changed me, permanently.

So, what?

I’m not trying to make this an easy solution, because it’s not. If you’re older and at the point in your career, where learning technical skills would be harder than not, there’s no easy solution.   But I think many more people, at least those my age,  could stave off unemployment if they:

A) Picked useful college majors (philosophy or art history is a tough sell for marketing jobs unless you went to an Ivy)
B) Continued picking up technical skills that translate (for instance, a summer project before grad school that I’m working on is learning Thesis for WordPress, along with PHP and CSS,  so my site can finally look decent in every browser since Netscape 000.1 .  I’m getting there with my front page and soon this blog will receive a minor facelift, too. )
C) Watching industries to see what’s going to be popular in the next 5-10 years (data analysis, anything in healthcare, education, and, of course, Teh Webz.)
D) Craft your resume to segue into one of those fields.  Were you an underwater basketweaver in your internship?  You worked in a fast-paced industry of textiles, multitasking between weaving baskets and learning how to breathe, and were able to complete X baskets on time and on budget. So far, I’ve helped at least four people change around their resumes to look more marketable, and I think, to date, three of them have gotten at least first interviews and one ended up changing his/her job.

So, I guess the major point is to constantly be on the lookout, to adapt, to read a lot, and to follow trends closely.  There’s no easy cure for the economy, but there are definitely ways to make yourself immune to at least some of its effects.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, and someone that’s always hustling will usually find a job. Unless you’re driving a Russian ambulance. Then you’re set for life.





What is it about analyzing 20-somethings?

What is it about analyzing Generation Y that everyone loves so much (I’m talking to you, too, Gen Y bloggers) ?

Yet another article has been making the rounds, examining why we are all special and precious and therefore don’t have to work or take on any adult responsibilities.  As you can probably guess, these kinds of treatsies make the immigrant kid in me super-mad.

Another Maslow reference, another link to a study that conveniently proves what the author is trying to say and, viola! 20-somethings are lazy, precocious, and super-optimistic, which is why we have to handle them (us) with kid gloves as they go through emerging adulthood.

I hate this term, emerging adulthood.   To me, what it means is that you are rich and American and mommy and daddy are still paying bills for you, as the article points out:

While the complaints of these young people are heartfelt, they are also the complaints of the privileged. Julie, a 23-year-old New Yorker and contributor to “20 Something Manifesto,” is apparently aware of this. She was coddled her whole life, treated to French horn lessons and summer camp, told she could do anything. “It is a double-edged sword,” she writes, “because on the one hand I am so blessed with my experiences and endless options, but on the other hand, I still feel like a child. I feel like my job isn’t real because I am not where my parents were at my age. Walking home, in the shoes my father bought me, I still feel I have yet to grow up.”

God forbid a child is told she could do anything and have French horn lessons, too.  I hope she brings this up with her psychologist at her weekly sessions, paid for by Helicopter Mom and Dad.

Who doesn’t have angst, though, about that “transitional period in their lives”?  People who don’t have time to think about why French horn lessons are ruining their soul:

EVEN ARNETT ADMITS that not every young person goes through a period of “emerging adulthood.” It’s rare in the developing world, he says, where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all. The fact that emerging adulthood is not universal is one of the strongest arguments against Arnett’s claim that it is a new developmental stage. If emerging adulthood is so important, why is it even possible to skip it?

Is it really a new developmental stage?  Or is it just the fact that EVERY human being goes through doubt and feelings of regressing to childhood when they are faced with big life changes but that people who are real adults deal with them with grace and humor and not by majoring in Photography and then living at home for the next ten years.

I honestly cannot stand any more of these articles that massage our collective generation’s ego.

And then. And THEN.  There is a photo gallery of what it’s like to be 20-something in the 2010s.  Let me give you the Cliffnotes if you don’t feel like looking at 20 self-indulgent pictures of hipsters in Brooklyn:

“I am SO angsty about my future that I will now go to a coffeehouse and write about it on my MacBook.
Why, oh, why God, did I have to be born  middle-class and college-educated in America?
This is, like, the worst thing you could have done to me!”


My Secret Muscle (not as dirty as it sounds)

As I biked the last five miles of the thirty that I did on Saturday, I thought about what people’s motivations are for following through, on anything.

Well, actually no.

At that point, I was thinking more about whether to go home or to an emergency medical clinic, because I wasn’t sure if my legs would fall off.  But after I regained limb sensation, I really did think about what made people successful.

A year ago, even five months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  In fact, when I went bike riding for the first time with my parents last spring,  I barely made it 10 miles:

Internal dialogue here: I hate life.

But more importantly, I didn’t want to.  I went along because my parents asked me to, but I wasn’t really into it. I wasn’t interested in riding bikes and nothing could make me interested until I decided it was something I wanted to do for myself.

This spring, I  started to seriously work out again, exhausted and frustrated at my post-wedding weight gain (wherein post-wedding means almost two years by this point) and my inability to get back in shape.

I still don’t have healthy eating down, and haven’t lost more than five pounds, and even that fluctuates up and down.  But I do feel better and have possibly gained muscle as a result of running 2-3 times a week, training for 5ks, and every other weekend or so, biking. And people have remarked that I do look like I’ve lost weight, so maybe I have.


from the Mount Vernon Trail this past Saturday.
The beautiful post-storm Potomac River, swollen with rains and toxic runoff.

So, how do you make someone want to do something? You can’t.  You can never motivate someone unless they are self-motivated.  Basic economics even has an axiom that economists use as a base: people are motivated by self-interest.   As a rule-of-thumb, it works.

How does someone become self-motivated?  The key for me is the willpower muscle. Magazines and psychological studies often tell us that we are motivated by rewards, such as a manicure after a week of weight loss or a trip to Starbucks after the gym. Or water and rest breaks halfway through a workout or study session.   But none of that works for me.  I lose all of my concentration and focus on the reward instead of the process of obtaining it.  I really have to just do it.

And once I just do it, it becomes easier and easier.  It’s hard to describe what the willpower muscle feels like, but if you’ve ever gritted your teeth and accomplished something without distractions, you know.  For me, it’s a firm, empty feeling in my gut which nothing can get past. There is no motivation to follow it except that it’s there and the more I push against it, the stronger it becomes and allows me to do what I need to get done.

This muscle used to be crazy  in college when I was up until 12 doing homework and then had three events to organize for my various groups the next day.  It’s  been in hiding for the past couple of years since I haven’t applied to grad school yet and spend many a night watching Jersey Shore instead of, say, thumbing through higher math books.  But this biking thing, this running thing, is putting it back into shape.

And I have to say, I’m really glad to have it back because it’s one of the things that makes me, me.

Biking past the marshes in Alexandria.
Grasses as far as the eye can see.
Also, probably polluted runoff the eye can’t see.


Guy I See Going to Work Every Day

Almost every day that I walk to the Metro, I see this guy:


And he always is in such a hurry to get to work, like he is power walking instead of just walking to the Metro at 8:00 am.   And I can never figure out if he’s genuinely that enthusiastic about his work, or if he’s rushing because he’s caught up in the frenetic worry of his job.

On the one hand, I think it’s exciting to love your job so much.  On the other, if he is of the latter variety, it’s really sad.  I hope that when I’m his age, I’m more excited about my family than my job.  While my career is definitely a priority for me and something that is important to my sanity and well-being, it will never be something for which I sacrifice my leisure and family time.

For example, while I enjoy working hard and being challenged,  I would never want a job that had me traveling 100% of the time, or one where I had to work overtime 50 weeks of the year, because by the time I’m his age and look back at my life, I don’t want a world of Mondays, e-mails, and conference meetings to be what I take out of it.  I want it to be these and these and these and these and these things.

Is there a balance, especially for women?  Yes, but it is almost as much work as the work itself.