Indulge my inner theater geek for a moment and (using headphones) listen to this show-opener song from the Tony award winning musical Avenue Q. The themes in this song—and the musical in its entirety—express the thoughts and emotions of those graduating from High School, or college, or any other time they've felt lost or at an end of an era in their life. The show and song begins with:
What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.
I can't pay the bills yet,
'Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.
But somehow I can't shake,
The feeling I might make,
To the human race.
The show Avenue Q, both in music and script, is light, bouncy, and humorous creating a conversation about important life challenges. Like most literary works they can need translation to fully understand the "story behind the story." The ideas and conversations, when "translated" apply to all areas of education. So for this moment, this musical theater song is Shakespearian text interpreted from a HR perspective.
"What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?"
"What is my life going to be?" Who will I be when I grow up?" Questions kids, high school students, and especially college graduates ask and continue to be asked throughout life. Traditional educational standards ask you to define a major at 20 years old to determine a career path for a lifetime. Graduates have the impression they're already experts in their field and should continue down that path.
College graduates shouldn't restrict themselves this way by letting 'traditional education' define a life or career path. Straying from a defined plan can be daunting but use fear of the unknown to propel exploration of other interests and passions. What other areas were interesting in or after school? Were you involved in the school newspaper? Maybe you created sets for the theater department. Perhaps working in the local community made life more enjoyable? Life's potential is what you make it; look to interests and passions for clues to next steps for post-college life and career choices.
Start or continue figuring out "what your life is going to be" through your interests and passions; confront the fear that changing paths may bring.
"Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree."
Don't despair! A Bachelors degree appears to have become the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to represent. Still, new graduates always seem under qualified for all the interesting work opportunities. Any degree or certification has elements that can be expanded upon once in the workforce. Be proud of your educational accomplishments, wear them with pride, and find the best means to practice and hone your abilities.
Make your degree work for you! Extract skills, conceptual ideas, research methods, and problem solving abilities that can be applied in a multidisciplinary context.
"I can't pay the bills yet,
'Cause I have no skills yet,"
There's plenty one can do with a B.A. in English, or any other degree; the biggest challenge recent graduates face is how to identify, articulate, and practice transferrable skills gained while getting a degree in a specialized field. How did working as a group leader for a final class assignment develop project management skills? Where can one apply the lessons about the value of time, deadlines, and effective communication learned from writing for the school paper? How can color theory skills best apply to websites, app design, and aid the user experience? In what ways does a background in psychology lead to a better understanding of human interaction in a workplace?
From previous school and "real life" work, identify transferable skills and abilities you can apply to a variety of environments.
"The world is a big scary place."
Yes, the world can be a big scary place. In the workforce-job market-business world having the ability to network and process information is key.
There is potential for networking everywhere and in everyone. Don't know where to start? Join meetups or groups with specific interests. Meeting and connecting with new people becomes a simple social event; don't worry if they aren't in your current industry—everyone knows someone else who can help or is in your field of business.
The ability to process, rapidly digest, and understand information is important in any job. In the Information Age we're bombarded daily with data, commercials, people, webpages—information is seemingly constant and endless.
"The information age has brought the noise of the infinite to us in ways that seem deceptively manageable, but often add to the confusion of our daily lives. Memory has both evolved and devolved simultaneously. Our ability to receive and assimilate a myriad of information on a constant basis has been enhanced through the Internet, smart phones, and other Wi-Fi connected devices."
- Steve Pearson, Artist
Sorting, digesting, and understanding information is a skill often learned through research and writing papers and should be practiced in everyday personal and professional settings. This skill allows one to better keep up with trends, current events, and be more knowledgeable in areas of expertise.
It's important to take time to network for more opportunities and to sort and process an immense amount of information to take away key pieces that enhance skills and performance.
"But somehow I can't shake,
The feeling I might make,
To the human race."
Excellent. Take passion, drive, energy, and channel it into tangible productivity. Maybe a decision didn't go your way or you didn't get that job offer; trace your steps back to what you originally wanted, regroup, and reassess to create a new game plan.
Be passionate, keep fueling the fire, and use that to pave your way.
This song and musical resonate with me as I work with the millennial generation. Armed with a BA degree—a background in fine arts, theater management and Spanish language—I am uniquely prepared. Figuring out how skills are transferrable to new settings is and continues to be the most difficult yet rewarding process. As it turns out, a BA degree is a potential ticket to success and equipped with a willingness and excitement to follow your passions, to discover and put transferrable skills to great use in any field!