In Sarah Stein Greenberg's talk at Wired by Design, she posed a compelling question: “What if students declare missions, not majors?”
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"An honest, brave, compassionate human being."
"No…I mean, how do you want to sell your labor?"
Existential Comics (@existentialcoms) February 19, 2015
You can find a summary of her talk in this article. The Stanford d.school posed this question to their community and the University Innovation Fellows staff repeated this question back to us at our spring meet-up. What started as a "what if" question, led me to not only identifying my mission, but also declaring why it matters much more than my major.
As a student, I've been consumed by the idea of choosing the right major. I, like many college students, take pride in the fact that I've only changed my major three times. But I've noticed that we put so much weight on majors. The logic goes: choose a good major, get a good job, live a good life. And the truth is, that might work for some people but not for me.
Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., I had a pretty sheltered life. But that doesn't mean I didn't see some things. The most prevalent of them being that I could have taken a completely different path. But I didn't. And honestly, that's probably because for me a lot of things simply went right. I had a mom and grandmother who worked their butts off for me, aunts and uncles who tirelessly assisted, siblings and cousins who taught me the meaning of family, and teachers who went out of their way for me. As early as daycare, I remember being taught to give thanks to those who helped shape you. So I can say with some degree of certainty, I'm fairly privileged and I'm required to give back. It's for this reason, my major isn't my top priority.
It's for this reason that the next time someone asks me, "What do you want to do?" I won't reply a job title. I won't tell them how I'll sell my labor. I'll tell them I want to reform urban education. I'll tell them I want to stop the failed policy spectacle that is the "war on drugs." I'll tell them I want to ensure that all people have access to fair housing, affordable healthcare, employment, safety and education. I'll tell them that I want to ensure that no demographic dictates your humanity. I'll tell them that I have dreams as big as Dr. King's, and making them a reality is what I want to do.
I imagine people are asking, "Why are you studying anything then, you don't need a degree for that." To those people, I say that I believe that is education liberates, not fields of study. Knowledge is power, not majors. The only job of a major is to tell you what courses you need to graduate. I'm in no way saying you shouldn't get a job, or you shouldn't major in what you want to be. If your dream is to be a mechanical engineer, major in mechanical engineering. But the next time someone asks you what you want to do, I challenge you to think critically about your answer. The truth is, your mission might be different than mine, and that's OK.
I'd much rather be able to say I accomplished my mission than I accomplished my major. You should consider what you want to accomplish in life. I promise it's way more important than the way you want to sell your labor.