Creating meaningful lives

by Nancy Colasurdo on December 12, 2012

When I read in The New York Times about a proposed idea in Florida regarding higher education, all I could think was — wow, it’s like taking horribly misguided parenting and amplifying it by a lot. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of ‘steering’ students or anyone in a direction that doesn’t follow their natural inclinations and gifts.


Today’s Game Plan: Why English Majors are Just as Important as Engineers

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

me December 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Seriously we really do need more engineers far more than English majors. Our Ivy League college and community are overpopulated with underemployed academics with degrees in fields that are not employable. Hopefully more parents will get involved with their kids education and steer them into the sciences, engineering and other important fields.

wayne December 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm

It’s great that you want and you want other people to pursue other goals than hard science ones. Its called the luxury of choice: if you have the luxury (i.e. the money to pay for it), you can choose what you like.

BUT, there is a huge difference when comes to WHO should pay for you to have a choice. The country needs medical people, scientists, technicians, and engineers. It also needs carpenters, electricians, welders, and plumbers. Those are the things that TAXPAYER money should go to encourage.

We don’t need anthropologists, gender and race study specialists, creative dance instructors, SOCIOLOGISTS, music majors, English majors and God knows we have entirely too many lawyers, journalists, and politicians.

Those are examples of luxury jobs. If you can afford to pay for them or get rich people to endow funds to pay for people to go into them – great.

Why should everyone else be penalized (taxed) so you can do what you want?

It may suck to have to toil at a job you hate to keep a roof over your head, the lights on, clothing on you back, and food on the table but survival is a necessity and supporting yourself so other people aren’t forced to support you is only moral and it is only right – especially in light of the fact that we as a country are broke.

We can no longer afford the luxury of pouring trillions of dollars down the sewer hole of enabling people NOT to support themselves and we should ONLY be paying to help people to learn to work in jobs that are necessary to rebuild the country and make things that the country can sell to provide the tax base to pay off our debts and support our survival.

Find a way to earn the luxury of being able to do what you want in your later years – that is how people did it for most of the first 190 years this country existed until people figured out how to legally game the system to create a dependency culture and “educated” people to lead it … and the country has been dying ever since.

Nancy Colasurdo December 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

“Me” ???? I understand our need for more people trained in the sciences, but I disagree that is the solution. Like I said in the column, it will only serve to make a lot of people miserable and out of sorts. Life coaching practices will blossom.

I appreciate you taking the time to write.


Nancy Colasurdo December 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Wayne, while I love your passionate response, I couldn’t disagree more. “Luxury” jobs? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not asking anybody to pay for an English major’s degree, but I am suggesting that “steering” a young man or woman into science when they have no pull to it is absurd. Our nation needs strong engineers, technicians, and scientists, not half-hearted, my-parents-made-me ones. Also, I’d like to ask the roomful of long-term unemployed electricians I was in last night how badly we need electricians.

If you’re in this life believing you can’t be or have what you want because you have to “toil” then, as I said in the column, that is what you created. I have certainly had jobs that were toiling and jobs that felt like a right fit along the way, so I’m not suggesting it’s 100 percent easy street here. And I paid for every cent of my education, thank you.

We’ve got this life and we CHOOSE how we live it. Sometimes circumstances force detours and hopefully we make the best of those. But to consciously choose at age 18 to spend years and years toiling for a job that isn’t at all a fit? That’s not living at all.

I so appreciate your feedback.


An engineer December 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Maybe you should ask the number of waitstaff, bartenders, etc. who have degrees in English, anthropology, modern dance, or other non-STEM majors (along with large college debts that will hinder their lives for years) what they think of this approach? Perhaps they wish someone had given them a little “life-coaching” about life and economic realities before they bankrupted themselves.

Nancy Colasurdo December 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Engineer (do you have a real name?), I would be happy to, as I am quite certain none of them would say, “Yes, I so wish I had taken the science route even though it doesn’t interest me in the least. That would make my life so much better now. What was I thinking going with my God-given gifts and trying to make a go of it?”

I appreciate your feedback, the rip on life coaching notwithstanding.


lisa December 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm

i have to say i politely disagree. i have near-worthless english degrees (undergrad / grad) that has led me to a ho-hum career where i make an equally ho-hum salary. though my “natural talent” is in lang. arts and i do work professionally in my field, i had originally wanted to work in science and medicine. i switched to “english” because it was easier for me to write useless papers than to study for physics. now i regret my choice but feel i’m too invested in my career to change. it is worth mentioning my husband dropped out of college and works as an engineer making 3 times what i make. it is a fallacy to say doing what comes natural will lead to happiness or self-fulfillment. as a “life coach”, whatever that is, i’d suspect you’d know better. I don’t see any harm in financially fencouraging people to step outside their comfort zone for the greater good.

Nancy Colasurdo December 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Lisa, I have to say, I think you’re actually agreeing with me here. Your natural inclination, if I’m reading this correctly, was to go the science route. But you switched to something you thought was easier. That is not the same as someone who thrives in English and forces herself to like science for the sake of a job.

I, for one, don’t think any degree is worthless. Ever. I think we learn from everything if we choose to. As for it being too late for you to change career paths, I do disagree with that. It is never too late to follow your passion. THAT is “life coaching,” by the way.

Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I am enjoying the conversation that has erupted around this column.


Larry December 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm

We should not limit someone’s passions, BUT, there is a practical side to life. Right now, technology jobs continue to grow, the health field is expanding, and we are filling those jobs with people who aren’t orginally from our own country. I work in high tech. We need young men and women and the shortage is real. My nephew, English graduate from University of Colorado, teaches guitar for a living, and is a teaching assistant part-time. His soon to be wife, history major, is now a manager at Target. My niece, a graduate from St. Mary’s in California in anthropology, works part-time in a clothing store. At least, they have jobs and a desire to be employed. But, they probably need life coaching too because their passions and dreams did not come true due to the real life situation of having skills fit into the marketplace. There is a constant criticism of education to educate women particularly in sciences, yet most of them flock to liberal arts, where the only job is teaching. My kids chose their path into high tech based on the outlook that they would have a job when they graduated. I appreciate your profession, and the world needs people like you and those that choose to help others, but there is a practical side to life, and I see nothing wrong with stressing that at the higher education level.

Nancy Colasurdo December 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Practicality can be found in many forms, Larry. I’ve been hearing from some people today who are doing what they love while also supporting themselves in “money” jobs. They have been thanking me for speaking up for people whose paths are not conventional. So I hear what you’re saying, but I think sometimes we overlook that there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak.

I really appreciate the thoughtful feedback.


Jeff Jeffers December 13, 2012 at 8:35 am

My son had the choice to follow me into technology or major in English, we stressed the need for an English major and CS minor because of the need for technologist to be able to converse with normal human beings.

When he graduated he was snatch up by a technology firm and has continue to excel in the business.

Yes we need engineers, but we also need English and basic skilled people (HVAC, mechanics, etc.) and all have to learn that learning never stops. Having a degree from 1967 really doesn’t help me much in the technology of 2012 unless I kept up. What I learned in college was how to love to learn.

Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

Great story and I so concur with your last line, Jeff. When I went into the work force after quitting college in my early 20s, a mentor at that job told me college doesn’t necessarily show how smart you are, it shows you can stick to something. I eventually went back while I worked in my field, so it took me longer to get my degree. But I did.

Thank you for writing.


Pat December 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

I think you are treating a person’s choice of career as a choice in a utopian society, not in the society we actually live in that is only 200 years distant from the John Smith “no work, no eat” philosophy. In a couple hundred more years, if we survive all the transitions, hopefully we will have that kind of society, where everyone’s needs are automatically taken care of, and they can “choose what they love”, and change that often when they decide they weren’t right about what they love. Wayne is right in that today society just can’t afford that, and it doesn’t serve most of the people well either.
Aside from the fact that society cannot support itself with people that just take the easy route through college, my other contention with your opinion is that “life coaching” is not accurate, and most people are not qualified to do it any more than a parent is. If a high school counselor is another name for what you are calling a life coach, then from my experience with three children you are sorely mistaken about their qualifications in respect to helping a college bound (or trade school bound) 17 year old decide what they want/should pursue for their own long term happiness. What makes a “life coach” have the knowledge to explain to a kid what he/she will be doing day-to-day in any given job and evaluating how they like it? Any given person doesn’t have the knowledge to do that – have they been in a doctor’s shoes, an architect’s shoes, a dancer’s shoes? What schools should be doing is having mandatory career exposure classes, every day of the school year, where someone from a given profession talks about pros/cons of their job (including people that don’t like the profession).
My experience is that counselors don’t have time and knowledge to do a good job of figuring out the “natural inclinations and gifts” of the many students under their “care”. Instead of doing it by asking a 17 year old kid what they want to do, we need to be exposing kids to what they could do.
I have two kids who are National Merit Scholarship Finalists. The counselor told one that she thought she should pursue a career in fine art. The other expressed an interest in being a dietitian because one of her friends’ moms (a very nice person) had chosen that career, and the counselor told her to “go for it”, without helping her to explore other options and explain the cons (LOW PAY, for example). They were both actually discouraged from even looking at engineering careers because they were “too hard”. These two kids are in the top .5% of students, and counselors are telling them that???
In my opinion, society is being done a great disservice by people put in these positions that really have no expertise to be doing the kind of guidance that you are suggesting. Fortunately for my kids there was also a school program that bused kids to a local university where engineers and scientists talked about what they did, and the kids could see what the real situation was from people working in those fields. This enable both my daughters to get pretty excited about pursuing engineering careers, where they had previously been turned off by counselors, and lack of knowledge of what was involved.
Kids need exposure to the possible before they know what they’re “inclinations” are. A 17 year old has too little basis in what the world is about to be following vague advice like “do what you love”.

Barbara December 13, 2012 at 9:49 am

Not to worry about this idea taking nonSTEM majors any time soon. As a mother of an engineer (daughter), the preparation for this degree starts in the 6th grade. Engineering is the most rigorous and competitive major on any campus. You must have EXCELLENT math skills, not to mention English too. The student’s SAT scores in Math must be above par. Therefore, it is too late to decide to pick this major your senior year in high school if you have not prepared yourself. I find it inconceivable that people, including our President, think you can pluck an engineer off the street!

Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 10:02 am

Pat, like so many other responses I’ve received, I appreciate your passionate reaction to the column. I’m not sure where you got the idea I said guidance counselors are life coaches or how many life coaches you know that you can make such a sweeping and dismissive comment of the profession. Wow.

What might be utopian is the idea that most schools are going to give students the opportunity to sit down with adults in a wide variety of professions and get a detailed account of what their jobs entail. I love the idea and I’m sure that’s why career days were born, but how often do kids get this kind of exposure? Good parents can try to do that. And there are some terrific guidance counselors who can help students see their strengths as an objective outsider.

But ultimately if they are not pursuing something they’re good at, something that holds their interest, they will wind up miserable and wondering how they got on the wrong track. Often it can be traced back to well-intentioned parents or other adults who advised them. I think all of that is good. Get a variety of opinions. But bottom line, mommy and daddy don’t have to sit through the classes and do the homework and live their lives as a round peg in a square hole as a result of the misguided decision.

I have always pursued what I loved and I have had to take all kinds of side jobs and occasional detours along the way to keep doing it. That’s my choice. And I am richer for it.


Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 10:05 am

Barbara, thanks for pointing this out. I’ve had a few readers set me straight on this!


Pat December 13, 2012 at 10:19 am

“Mommy and daddy” know better than someone who talks to the kid for 10 minutes each year.

I guess I probably did miss the whole point of life coaches. The reason I equated “life coaches” with school counselors is that in the real world I live in, high school students don’t have a person specifically called a “life coach”. The job of trying to figure out what the kid should pursue is done by someone called a counselor, who typically is not well trained and doesn’t have much time for each student. Is this different in your world?

Shodori Caliana December 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

I may be bias because I am an engineer, but the funny thing I found working for an Aviation company is that when you design something or test something it has to be compiled into a hundred page document. The FAA is an unruly beast and I have always brought shame to my english teachers and total disreguard and ineptitude in spelling and punctuation.

It seems also that in your article you mentioned that Engineering rates are being frozen because engineering is also a more expensive field. In college my books for engineering usually were three times as expensive. Being a technical degree with advanced specialties and difficulty it is a truly a pipe dream to graduate in four years. If you push yourself early when classes are easier and do summer classes a few times you can get it done in four and a half years.

The true problem is how we educate our children that a college degree = a Job. Which was probably the truth 50 years ago when a much smaller percentage of the population had the opportunity to go to school. With the advent of technology, the web, youtube, podcasts the world has become an open stage for everyone to be heard. I myself have not purchased a book to read for 14 years. I read many wonderful stories by freelance writers posted on story sites who will never publish a book, but do so because it makes them happy and can bring joy to others.

I am not saying get rid of all english majors, I’m saying is we have to start to limit the production of these professions. You have to start identifying the people that will excel early and keep them and turn the others away for their own good. You have to start telling these students what pay they are going to have and the reality of employment when they graduate.

I would have loved to be a zoologist, I would love to be a professional gamer or athlete, movie star, or President of the United States one day. But there is only so many positions open and many more talented then I to fill those positions. Even when I graduated as an engineer I was jobless right after 9/11. With my technical degree i was easily picked up by a tech company to do phone support, but my degree gave me that bump up over a non degree person. In time things improved and that job + my degree landed me a real engineering job.

And perhaps in 10 or 20 years after I have built a nice savings I might be able to then retire from engineering and move onto something else where not having to worry about the money will let me do what I want while being financially secured.

I’m glad you made it to the top 5 percent of your field Nancey to be paid to do what you love, but taxpayers want to see productive return on their investments in general education and I’m afraid science,technology and medicine will be winning that fight till the sun burns out. Hopefully humanity should be fine though because we will be traveling among the stars, instead of just imagining we can.

Shodori Caliana December 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

In response to Barbara

I am glad you acknowledged your duty as a parent to make sure your child succeeded in life and were involved in promoting their excellence in education. A parent and teachers influence at an early age to instill that drive to learn. But yes you cannot push someone into a field that is ill prepared. Even in my first year of college I could tell which students were not going to be here in two semesters. The same i believe for Art and Music… it falls into more of a gift and is not a teachable art. Its more of a guidance and refinement of whats already there.

This still does not exclude them from technical fields though. There is still alot of great jobs out there more employable that don’t involve design that technical school’s can teach but the student must still devote their time to it.

Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm

No, we have the same definition of guidance counselors at the high school level. In life coaching we mostly deal with adults. In my case, most of my clients are in their late 30s or above.

Pat, I do believe parents are excellent ‘life coaches’ in some cases, but there are also plenty of cases where they’re overly controlling and they steer the child in a direction they want rather than listening to what the child wants. I know that is a much more complex issue than I have room for here, but that’s the basics of it.


Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I so love the discussion that has come about here, Shodori. Thank you for chiming in and bringing such thoughtful points!


Pat December 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

So it sounds like a “life coach” is someone that tries to help someone that made the wrong decisions the first time around. It seems like if we did a lot better job of presenting viable options to kids the first time around (i.e. in high school), we wouldn’t have to “retread” people later on.

It’s a reality in a non-Utopian society (every society that has ever existed) that a large number of the members of that society will have to work to earn a living. At any time society has a number of jobs available (round and square holes). The people (round and square pegs) will have to find a hole to fill. Where I think we differ is that I see people as being a lot more like Play-doh than steel pegs that won’t fit in a square hole. Maybe a person can “morph” into an ellipse that will fit into the square hole. It won’t be a perfect fit, but it will allow them to survive, support themselves, and contribute to society. There are way too many holes that aren’t really desirable but are necessary for a functioning society. There are way too few holes that allow people to do exactly what they want. Until Utopia arrives, we’re stuck with that reality that has existed since the start of history.

Making it clearer what society will value (for instance by higher salaries, lower tuition as Florida is proposing) is a service to people, the earlier the better, so that people see the opportunities clearly and can decide in which direction to reshape themselves, so they don’t get stuck as something that can’t fit in any hole that society has to offer.

Telling someone to do what you love to do, regardless of how society values it, is a disservice without explaining the consequences of those choices. People need to hear that if you want to be in a rock band, unless you are in the top .01% of that group, you will probably end up being a waiter, or similar job.

Finally, we should encourage people with the capabilities to do engineering to do so, showing them that it’s a way for them to contribute that is also beneficial for them. The challenges of the future will require technology and engineering to solve, and we can’t afford not to at least make capable students aware of the opportunities for them. If all of our smart folks go into English, how are we going to invent the next power source?

Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

You’ve got it, Pat. This is life coaching. I’m so glad you wrote back because there is so much value in this post you’ve added. It helped me understand your view. I really like your Play-doh metaphor. There are people who will have several career paths along the way and they can all be enjoyable and valuable in some way. I always think of Dr. Bobby Brown, who was a professional baseball player, a physician and the president of the American League. That’s amazing, right?

I’m not an advocate of limiting people, just going with some sort of natural flow. I wholeheartedly agree we should encourage people with the capabilities to do engineering to explore it. My quarrel is with encouraging people who DON’T have that interest to go in that direction just because the degree is cheaper to earn.


TERRY December 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Life coaches are not guidance counselors. Some people who seek a life coach look to transition their “gift” whether it is art, music or writing to another level. Many people in corporate, tech and engineering jobs are exhausted, disconnected and uninspired. Coaching provides a way to fuel your passion and become connected.

Nancy Colasurdo December 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for clarifying, Terry!


Shodori Caliana December 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I have a friend who had to make a choice going to college to go into music or Engineering. He loved both he got a scholarship in the marching band and played in many small jazz bands and clubs. But still majored in engineering.

His sister had Majored in music , fluent in an assortment 10+ instruments and basicly helps a school and private lessons to get by with her masters in music.

He graduated, worked for the navy nuclear sub program , and will never have to worry about finding work with his experience now. Where states have loved trimming the arts programs left and right. And then they go after school funding.

The last thing corporations want is educated people… dumb people are cheap to pay and buy the stupid useless stuff so they stay dumb and happy. Engineering is about making something better and cheaper. Most engineers are tightwads.

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