We all know the inevitable part-warning, part-tease when talking about college majors: “You know, it’s going to be hard for you to find a job.” I find this mainly directed towards arts, humanities, and social science majors (especially my major, psychology). It can come from the internet, friends, and fellow classmates. But the worst, most disheartening source it can come from? Parents.
Think about it. The ones who are supposed to support you in all your endeavors. The ones who accept (though not necessary love) every single part of you. The ones who threaten to take you right out of the world into which they brought you when you’re being particularly stubborn one day. They guide you to walk as a baby, “help” with science fair projects in middle school, drive you back and forth between high school extra-curriculars, and then suddenly out comes a “You know, it’s going to be hard for you to find a job with that major.”
Realistically, it’s not just parents; it’s a lot of aunts and uncles who, despite also having a hand in raising you, are not as involved in your college matters and are thus less obligated to be as actively supportive. I can’t count how many times my uncle has used the same jokes to mock my major: “What, are you going to do–read people’s minds? Hey, hey, what am I thinking now? You’re going to deal with crazy people? That stuff’s not real anyway.” All I can do is half-smile, half-cringe and find an excuse to back out of the room.
Regardless of from whom the oh-so-kind observation comes, “You know, it’s going to be hard for you to find a job with that major,” (or any variation of it) is a hurtful thing to say to any college student. It invalidates someone’s interests, hard work, and life goals. (To make my writing less vague, I’ll be relating to my experiences as a psychology major.) I’m interested in people, behavior, mental health. By the end of this semester I will have taken seven psychology courses of three different durations:
- 40 minutes per day, 5 days per week, 4 weeks per month, round down to 9 months in senior year of high school
- 4 courses – 220 minutes per week, about 15 weeks per semester
- 2 courses – 160 minutes per week, about 15 weeks per semester
By my calculations, that’s about 420 hours or 17.5 entire days spent on psychology class. That doesn’t include the time spent poring over textbooks, worksheets, review guides, group projects, presentations, or leisurely reading about psychology outside of class. All this effort is directed toward my future, my desire to earn a living by helping others understand and better themselves. All this “stuff,” to use my uncle’s word, won’t matter unless I find a job.
So what can be done? I can think of three solutions to the “your major = no job” problem.
You ignore/tolerate them. This is probably the safest method, considering you typically can’t escape family. Take a page out of my book: half-smile, half-cringe, and back it up out of the room. More often than not, it’s just ignorant, albeit hurtful, teasing. If this parent/relative is not unusually cruel, they’ll probably leave the subject alone until the next family gathering.
You prove them wrong. This should be used in conjunction with #1. After backing it up out of the room, hit the books, sit up front in class, and ace those exams. Shadow a professor, find an internship, and prove that anyone who put you down is wrong. Though the reason you excel in college shouldn’t be to rub it in others’ faces, it can serve as motivation.
You face them. This can be a risky method. Calling family members out on their offenses can be misinterpreted as disrespectful talking back. But let’s be honest, when adolescents are scolded for “talking back,” it’s usually by adults who are afraid of a threat to the adult-child power balance. As the younger generation, you’re supposed to listen, obey, and accept commentary from the older generation as the ultimate wisdom. But I encourage this fighting back method for the bold, soon-to-be adults in college.
The key is to go about your confrontation intelligently. No insults, yelling, or eye rolls. Calmly, politely, curiously, but firmly call them out: “Do you mean to say my interests and efforts won’t amount to something significant? Is my dream to become a future [insert desired career here] not rewarding? Am I not capable? Will you not be proud of me if I pursue my goals? Do I have your support or not?”
Worst case scenario: you’re scolded for talking back. Best case scenario: the family member understands your feelings, apologizes, and doesn’t make anymore offensive comments. Middle ground: they’re stunned into silence at your confrontation and they change the subject, without attempting to resolve the issue.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is to do your best. It’s not revolutionary advice, but a friendly reminder. There’s not much to lose by putting the effort into succeeding in college. You learn things, make connections, and prepare yourself for “the real world” (wherever that is). You deepen your interests, grow through long hours of hard work, and put yourself closer to your life goals. On the side, you’ve proven those wrong who tried to invalidate your life choices.
“You know, it’s going to be hard for you to find a job.” Well, “hard” doesn’t mean impossible. It means the results are going to be that much more rewarding when you achieve them.