The What-Do-I-Do-With-My-Degree Blues

The Flying Walrus, November 2006


I need to grow-up. Graduation is upon me and I am a complete mess. All around me, people are making plans for grad school and big careers and I’m standing around, still deciding whether or not I can and should ride the TTC unattended.

In realising my problem, I have been taking minor steps to enter the adult world as inconspicuously as possible, but I still have this nagging feeling that my future colleagues are going to want to take me over their respective knees when I jam the photocopier. Of course, that fear is dependent on me getting a job where they have machines other than deep-fryers or coffee-grinders; I’m trying to avoid the barista thing[i], hence, the desire to become, or at least appear to be, more mature.

Within the past year, I have started leaving behind my juvenile habits and doing “adult” things like drinking wine from a glass instead of the bottle, which was about time because people were beginning to think I was homeless. I have also gotten rid of my fluorescent yellow ski jacket with the functional, yet highly unfashionable, beaked hood and have replaced it with a modest brown pea-coat. You know what I mean: the double-breasted kind that everyone gets when they want to tell the world that they no longer make snow forts.

Next came the wallet. I finally figured out that most self-respecting adults don’t carry their money around in pleather pouches with their first initial boldly embroidered in hot pink. And I think we can say the same thing about umbrellas: Hello Kitty just ain’t cuttin’ it anymore.

For more culture, I took it upon myself to pick up the Toronto Star and carry it around with me wherever I go. Since coming to university, I’ve always taken copies to attempt the crosswords and sudokus, but now I actually skim through the editorials and international news. Should an informed conversation arise over coffee (which I have started drinking), I’ll be ready.

I considered just forcing myself into adult situations, like getting married, popping out some kids, and taking out a mortgage. But I quickly decided against it. I’d rather just admit defeat and live in my parents’ basement until I’m thirty[ii].

With all my lifestyle changes, I don’t feel any more responsible or any more in control of my life. I feel like a kid with a sensible jacket who still has no idea what to do after university. I can’t really understand why I even have this big idea of what being a real adult is. Why can’t I just be satisfied with sustaining a decent life? I’m 21. I live alone. I have food and shelter and security and belonging and self-esteem; I am more or less self-actualized. What more do I need? According to Abraham Maslow, I should be happy as a clown.

Apparently, Maslow was never asked what he was planning to do with his degree. I suspect he never suffered from trying to impress his parents’ friends with lies about how successful he was going to be with his education. He didn’t have to; he went into psychology. Well Maslow, it doesn’t feel very good. In fact, it gives me panic attacks and nightmares and ulcers. What do I need? I need people to leave me alone about my future!

I don’t think I carry this burden by myself. There must be a few Religious Studies students out there who are feeling this pressure, because, honestly, what are they going to do with their degrees? It’s not like everyone can graduate and become the Dalai Lama. What people (mostly adults) don’t seem to understand is that a career is not why people get Religious Studies degrees.

It seems that instead of being interested in things that really matter, such as opinions and ideas about what you learn in these institutions, people are obsessed with how you intend on making money after you leave this place. Thinking critically and education for its own sake doesn’t seem to be enough for people. Surprise surprise, it all comes back to dollars once again. And it’s everywhere. I cannot count the number of times someone has asked me what my parents do, but no one really asks what they’re like. (They are very pleasant people, by the way).

I choose not to think that the value of my university education lies in my future paycheque, it’s in the way I perceive reality. If I was concerned about vocation, I would have gone to college to become a plumber. And I still may go to college, but I won’t look at my education as a waste because it isn’t directly aligned with a career.

If long term financial goals are what’s going to make me feel like I’m okay in the world, then I want none of this adult business. I’ll join Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle in Never Never Land, thank you very much. Or at least I’ll go stay with Michael Jackson; he understands my plight.

[i] My apologies to all cultured and sophisticated individuals who just happen to enjoy making tall, extra foam macchiatos.

[ii] My apologies to successful individuals who just happen to enjoy co-habiting with Mom and Pop.


One thought on “The What-Do-I-Do-With-My-Degree Blues

  1. Very well said. That was exactly me 3 years ago. Sadly, society has succeeded in pressuring me to join the rat race. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. You just have to find a job you’re interested in — not a job you necessarily love (baby steps).

    Btw, I have an Art History Degree. Try explaining that one to your parents. 🙂

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