When You're Sick of Hearing, "What Are You Going to DO with Your Degree?!"

If you’re reading this, you’re probably either a humanities major or grad yourself…or you’re the family member of a humanities major or grad who doesn’t yet understand why your son/daughter majored in Religion/English/Philosophy etc.

If you’re a humanities major, I get you. Trust me. This blog and my book are written specifically for you. But let me quickly address those of you who are in the second category.

Let’s say your son or daughter decided to go to a small liberal arts college. Let’s say that son or daughter, after taking the required humanities credit classes his or her first year, decided to switch to a philosophy major from biology or computer science or business or something else more lucrative. Or maybe your daughter or son always knew she or he wanted to be a writer or a painter or something creative and artistic instead of something that would make all the money right out of the gate.

I’m guessing you’re cringing because you are just so terrified that your kid is destined to be a starving artist who will surely follow the path of drug addictions and the tormented creative genius. Or worse yet, you fear they will never be good enough at their craft and will simply be ignored…

I get it, somewhat. What parent wants their kid to struggle in life?

I know that’s why you ask your kid time after time, “But what are you going to DO with that degree?” I know you’re really asking, “How are you going to make money?!”

I want to tell you parents of creatives a few things…

  1. It’s ok to hyperventilate about your kid’s future in private, but it is NOT ok to transfer that super freakout to your kid. We have enough

  2. Have a little faith in your parenting abilities. You probably didn’t raise a lazy pile of crap for a kid (or if you did, well, you have more problems ahead than just the fact that your kid wants to live a creative life). It’s most likely that your son or daughter is choosing this life mindfully and intentionally and will work hard to keep it.

  3. If you’re still worried, buy my book for your college kid. I gotta warn you though, my book won’t defend your judging questions.

Here’s the back cover summary:

“Humanities degree? What are you going to do with THAT?!” Sounds Familiar? If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question when I was graduating college…well I would have answered, “Thanks. Now that I’m a millionaire, I’ll be doing nothing with my degree.” That question has a clear undertone:

“Your degree is Useless.”

Unfortunately, subtly judging questions don’t make us any money. When I was graduating with a BA in Religion from my small liberal arts college in small-town Iowa, I felt like I had only two options: go to law school or become a pastor. I chose neither…and decided to wing this thing we call life. I’m so glad I did.

If you’re a humanities grad with an affinity for wordsmithing and grammar, all you need to become a successful freelance editor and writer is a little business/publishing world know-how. Lucky you, I made all the mistakes and figured out what actually works. In this book, you’ll learn exactly what I did to succeed as a freelancer.

Ready to Use that “Useless” Degree?!

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So, sorry, parents. I may sympathize with your concerns, but I can’t condone your judgements and your pushing and your prauding. Ease back a little. Let your creative kid have the chance to show you he or she is serious about this life. And for heaven’s sake: STOP ASKING THAT QUESTION.

Now for those of you who are humanities majors or graduates: My PEEPS! My TRIBE! It is you I understand and love the most.

Whether you’re a student of history, religion, philosophy, the arts, women’s studies, or any other humanities department, you have a place here with me. I know you’re so sick of hearing that stupid question from the title of this post.

We humanities majors get made fun off for our assumed “uselessness” all the time. I was fed up with it before I was even two years into my four-year degree. I was also good and sick of feeling pushed to take one or two fully-lit paths following graduation.

I was a religion major…but I was a religion major WITHOUT a call to ministry. I didn’t want to lead a congregation. I didn’t want to be a children’s pastor. I didn’t want to be in Christian ministry. I didn’t want to teach religion at any level whatsoever.

And I didn’t want to go to Law school either.

I knew from the time I was in second grade that I wanted to be a writer. Actually, it was even before that. In kindergarten I said I wanted to be an author for a guidance council video. Cute little glasses wearing, bob-hair-cut-with-bangs, blonde baby Kathrin looked right at the camera and said, “I’m going to be an AUTHOR.” Baby got sass.

But when I got to college, I didn’t know how to answer that question about what I was going to do with my degree…I didn’t know how I was going to make MONEY with my degree.

I knew that it was a longshot that I would make money with my writing…and to be honest, I did NOT want my entire income to be dependent on my writing either. I knew that would totally kill the magic of my love for writing.

If you haven’t already read it, I want you to click away from this blog post for a moment and order Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t read Big Magic until I was done with my book, Use Your Useless Degree, but I love every word of it, and I feel as though it fits really well in my philosophy of how to use your humanities degree in a career.

I love how Elizabeth Gilbert talks about choosing to live a creative life. She doesn’t shove the idea of MFA programs or one specific path down the throats of her readers. In fact, she basically gives all of us permission to snub the most well-traveled routes in favor of more creative ones.

Without reading Big Magic, I graduated in 2013 without a super clear picture in mind of how I would use my degree…but with a clear aversion to the “typical” paths that most graduates in my degree fields were taking. I finally received that super expensive piece of paper with my name in cool calligraphy and a bunch of stamps and signatures, and I thought, “I’m finally free.” And then I thought, “Oh $HIT. I’m finally free! Now what?!”

But that fear only lasted a few moments. Why? Because I had something to prove.

I had heard that DAMN question so many times: “What are you going to DO with your religion degree?”

And I usually stuttered answers like, “Oh, uh, well, I’m thinking about going back to school but maybe I’ll work for a non-profit or something…I might try to teach…Or, you know, work at a coffee shop or something for a while until I figure it out.” Ugh. 22-year-old Kathrin needed to learn how to sass back like her kindergarten sassy self. Don’t worry, I got my sass back. ;)

It was like every time I heard that question I became more and more determined to really, REALLY DO something with my degree. Something specific. Something that would make me a lot of money. Something that would stem DIRECTLY from my degree that people didn’t really think a lot about…

And thanks to my professors’ encouragement, I had an idea of what that “something” could be.

I was going to be a book editor.

When I first started telling people I wanted to be a book editor, half of them said, “What dat doh?” (Ok, they didn’t really sound like that…). I would explain that I want to work on a contract/freelance basis from home editing book projects or helping authors write their books.

I knew I had to make connections and find mentors because I had A LOT to learn about the publishing industry, about freelance life, and about running my own business. I also had A LOT to learn about editing in general…I had to learn how to use functions on Word like Track Changes and how to use design software to create book covers. I had to learn about websites and spine width and self-publishing and eBook design and ISBN numbers and networking and…you get it.

My humanities degree had taught me how to learn. My religion classes had taught me how to read and write exceedingly well and how to effectively communicate with almost any kind of person out there. And I had a base of specific knowledge and experience that was unique to me. I could automatically relate to a very specific type of author because I had the theological training for it. I could speak their language—and make sure it was grammatically correct.

I had my niche right from the get-go. I not only had a knack for editing religious memoir and religious studies manuscripts…I LOVED editing religious memoir and religious studies manuscritps.

I had the passion for it. All I needed was the specific knowhow. And that was something I could figure out along the way.

I made plenty of mistakes, but I had that annoying question pushing me to keep slogging through the education phase, through getting my first editing project, and through getting rejected for my first editing project.

My mom always says I never back down from a challenge. That “What are you going to DO with your degree?” question was a challenge I refused to back down from.

Now, almost 5 years after I graduated with my BA in Religion from Simpson College, I’m a successful and established freelance book editor.

That’s what I DID with my degree, y’all. Boom. Mic drop. (Pen drop? No. Ah well, I’m not done writing this blog post anyways.)

And here’s what my life looks like now:

  • I get to work from home every single day…or from the coffee shop…or on the road. Anywhere I want to work, I can work. Pants and bras are optional…Ok, not optional in the coffee shop. ;)

  • I get to READ for a living. It’s my childhood dream come true.

  • I am able to fund my own creative writing pursuits without making that writing my sole source of income, which would basically kill my passion for it.

  • I have freedom most people only dream of finding. I create my own work day schedule, and I get to talk to some truly incredible people day in and day out.

If you’re a humanities grad or soon-to-be grad like me and all of that sounds good to you, think about this:

How about, instead of getting annoyed at the question, you use it to fuel your drive to succeed in the publishing industry as a freelance editor and writer.

And let me help you out. I’ll give you all the training you need to lay that groundwork that will get you started in your freelance editing business. Instead of it taking a few years to learn the business business and establish your skills, I invite you to skip all that by simply reading and learning from my book, Use Your Useless Degree.

Let’s do this thing, Humanities Pal.

Use Your Useless Degree will be available for purchase on December 17th, 2018. Until then, Click the button below to join my online tribe!