A friend shared an interesting Washington Post article on Facebook earlier, the basic premise of which is that the world’s top economists are saying we need more storytellers.
Since 2008–aka the Great Recession–English majors are down 25.5% while STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors have seen eye-popping gains. Not to mention the fact that college enrollment in general is up. Between 2009 and 2017, though, computer science and healthcare have seen the number of students majoring in those fields almost double.
That’s crazy, y’all.
It’s also understandable.
There’s a general thought that a humanities major of any sort–but especially one in English–is basically a dead-end at worst, a long career as a Starbucks barista at best (no shade to career baristas, but it’s hard to pay off tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt on PSL tips alone). General wisdom–along with parental, guidance counselor, and media pressure–says a STEM degree gets you a job and a career faster, guarantees you better earnings, and makes you more employable.
As someone who was affected by the Great Recession, I can definitely see how that thinking would easily take hold. I have a general studies bachelor’s degree that focuses mostly on communication studies and business management with a lot of psychology thrown in for good measure. I have a master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction, which I finished in the summer of 2008. At the time it was a terminal degree (there are now a couple of PhD programs in popular fiction), so I could have chosen to go the teaching route, but that wasn’t why I got the degree; I wanted to be a better writer and storyteller, and learn more about the publishing business so that I could ultimately achieve my goal of becoming a published author (which I did!). It was a learning and networking oppportunity. Simple as that.
At the time I was working for an educational non-profit, grant money was drying up, and in 2009 I was eventually laid off due to a lack of funds. I wasn’t the only person in that situation in 2009–far too many people lost their jobs due to the recession, and it didn’t really matter what your degree had been in or even how good of an employee you were or weren’t. To put it bluntly, it sucked. For a whole hell of a lot of people.
Ten years later, I’m at an age where a decent number of my high school classmates have kids in high school or starting college. I have a nephew who graduated from high school two years ago and a niece who graduated from high school a year ago, with more behind them. I can see how parents who went through the Great Recession–not long after they were out of college themselves–would steer their kids towards more “surefire” degrees and careers like engineering, computer science, and healthcare. We don’t want the next generation to make our mistakes, just like the generations before us didn’t want us making their mistakes.
But here’s the thing–those economists are right.
We do need storytellers.
What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy. – Washington Post
We need engineers and nurses and scientists and doctors and technical visionaries and thought leaders. We also need people who can take those people’s thoughts and ideas and inventions and communicate them effectively with the rest of the world. We need people who can explain why Artificial Intelligence is important (or a security risk), how low-code can help dev ops teams create apps more efficiently, what the next SpaceX mission’s purpose is, the importance of organ donation and how one person can save up to eight lives and help enhance the lives of dozens of others through tissue and cornea donation, why it’s important that the artificial kidney actually become a thing, what it’s like to be a nurse and why they’re the unsung heroes of most hospitals and doctor’s offices, and so much more.
There’s room in this world for all of us, but I am so, so glad to see an actual economic case being made for people like me. Because we storytellers are important. Our work may not be as easy to measure or have as easily defined KPIs as some other jobs, but we’re invaluable. Yes, some people may see us as unnecessary and “fluffy,” and that’s okay. It’s their loss, personally, professionally, and economically. Because we storytellers? We have the power to move metaphorical mountains with nothing more than well-crafted words on a page.