Career Advice from a Barista*

*I’m not really a barista.

But I did major in the liberal arts. I have Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Mass Communication from the University of Texas at Brownsville (it’s now known as UTRGV) and a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. Liberal arts degrees.

Degrees that, from every joke about liberal arts degrees out there, make me uniquely suitable to be a Starbucks barista.

And it’s funny, because I’d be terrible at it. I mean, I love to cook, and I’m a great cook, but I’m a messy cook. One time, cooking mole, I somehow ended with chocolate splatters ON THE ROOF of my apartment. The mole was delicious, the cleanup afterward was tedious.

I’d be a terrible barista.

But it’s a good job for some people, and the way some big-name companies work, you can also get paid benefits and even a college education. At the very least, it’s employment of sorts.

So now that we’ve confirmed I’m not a barista, I can tell you what I am. I’m a career professional with close to seven years in the “big-boy” workforce, with stints in Fortune 100 companies and start-ups. Jobs that have provided me with a good source of income that helps keep my writing career chugging along.

And I have liberal arts degrees. Two of them from a small, relatively unknown and inexpensive community college and university in the southernmost tip of Texas. The graduate degree from another border-town university, but that came much later in my career.

A lot of you are budding writers and are considering the liberal arts as an option. That’s amazing! I mean, I’m obviously biased but you should know that the liberal arts are just as important as the STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medical) and let’s be fair, if you’re bad at math and science but great at English and History, why the hell would you want to go into the sciences? Or maybe you’ve aced these in high school and in college during your basics you discovered that they’re not your cup of tea; why would you not major in something else you enjoy?

“The money.” Some of you will argue, because, well, you’re right; on average, a STEM degree-holder will make more money than someone with a degree in the humanities. But that’s an average. It’s not a given.

Here’s what getting a degree in the humanities or getting a degree in a STEM field means:

You have a college degree.

Full stop.

What you decide to do with it is what makes the difference.

Now, granted, there are some realities you have to accept as a liberal arts major. The first one is that you’ve added a statistical handicap to you. And that’s okay. What that means is you have to make adjustments so that at the end, you’re on equal or better footing than your STEM-degree peers.

Why is this important? Because when you’re a freshman in college, yeah, it’s all fun and games, but you have to keep the long game in mind. Keep your grades up. I’m not saying miss your college parties or any of the fun freshmen activities. Do those, but keep the grades up. Then as a sophomore, junior, and senior, keep that balance and start looking for opportunities. Maybe as early as your sophomore year, you’ve already pretty much gotten a more-or-less-kinda idea of what you want to do when you graduate. So start hustling. Email people, call people, make yourself heard. Talk to professors, ask them for externship leads and opportunities. Take classes that could provide you with marketable skills. For instance, if you’re an English major, high chances are you can take a class in grant writing. Follow that rabbit hole and you’ll realize that grant writers make some pretty decent chunks of money. I was a mass communications major, one of those “useless” degrees. My coursework included learning the ins and outs of Photoshop, InDesign, sales, marketing, conflict resolution, media writing, etc.

“Okay, but, I’m really, really interested in Old English Literature.”

Then go for it. You’re still going to have to hustle to find those resources that can help you find a job in that field.

The reason some people do get that perspective of liberal arts majors is people who are pining for a magical job after graduating cum laude in Parakeet Dynamics but who never did anything to further their dream of working in Parakeet Dynamics. I have little sympathy for that. Just like an English degree isn’t automatically going to make you a best-selling author.

Because here’s another reality: There is no magical job.

Every job is going to have stress, even if it’s your dream job. You’re going to have to work hard at every job you get. Loving what you do makes the stress easier to deal with, but it’s still going to be there. If you don’t love what you do but you need to do what you do to provide for your dreams and/or family, consider it temporary.

And if you love the liberal arts, major in them. It’s not a given that you’ll get a job when you graduate, nothing is. But you can certainly make yourself more attractive to potential employers if you can show them that you’ve hustled and diversified yourself.