As you can see from the title, I’m planning on making this a multi-part series. People are generally okay with reading, as long as the piece is kept nice and short. I wouldn’t wanna post a 3000 word essay on here only to have people close this tab with a discontented sigh after 1000 words.
What do I study?
Okay, for some, I understand, coming to university was the logical next step in their life. You know: Primary School, High School, maybe a gap year, and then uni. They never questioned whether or not they’d be here; they just knew. For me, it was slightly different.
There were some things that happened in my late high school career (that story is better left for another night, when my wine glass has been emptied and lack of sleep evaporates all inhibition) that left me contemplating my future. I come from a not-so-well off family, so finances was always the big troll that popped out from under the bridge whenever I tried to consider crossing over from High School to uni. Once I’d been assured that there were, in fact, many bursaries available to “people of colour” *cringe*, I considered the next hurdle that needed to be faced: what to study?
There’s this oft-used phrase that makes me grind my teeth. It goes something like this: “Take what you love and turn it into your career, and you’ll never have to go to work a day in your life.” Just to clarify what that means: basically, you take something you love doing (there’s no mention of actually being good at it) and you make it your career (how? I don’t know; ask the entrepreneur fairy) and you’ll always be happy, living in some sort of post-modern Utopia where nothing goes wrong and you always have money to buy vegan tofu and those little hoodies for your pet pugs.
I can’t be the only one seeing the absolute idiocy in this statement, can I? Well, in case you can’t see it, let’s just break it down a bit. If you still believe that this statement holds validity despite what I say next, then comment here or email me and clarify, and I may end up correcting the error in my thinking.
Firstly, “Take what you love…” Okay, fair enough. If you love money: accounting; if you love science and our universe: physics; if you love performing and the arts: drama. Seems legit, doesn’t it? But – and this is a big but – what if you don’t love anything that can be studied at a tertiary institution, especially in South Africa? What if your biggest love in the world is playing video games and smoking a bong, occasionally rubbing one out to Pornhub and watching funny cat compilations on Youtube? Yes, I suppose you could become a professional gamer (they exist), but what if you’re not actually that good at playing video games? Remember, this only discusses what you love doing, not how good you are at doing them. This kinda goes with the “… and turn it into your career…” bit. I mean, what if you’re not exactly good at what you love doing – what then? You can’t exactly enter the market when you admittedly have fuck-all skill in whatever profession you’re pursuing, now can you?
“… you’ll never have to go to work a day in your life… ” Oh Jesus. You can’t be serious. Okay, to be fair, I’ve heard some adaptations of this saying that leave this particular bit out, or change it in some way, but whenever I hear an adult of relatively good mental health telling me this, I lose my shit. Do you honestly think that just because I am an accountant with a love for my work that I won’t “have to go to work a day in my life“? Do you not think that I’ll maybe have a shit boss, or a stubborn client, or something, that makes me occasionally consider taking my friend Josh up on that offer to deal drugs for him? Even if you’re an entrepreneur and have “no boss” (that’s not exactly true), you’ll still have plenty of shit to make you feel unhappy.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m not exactly a cynic in the general sense of the word. I’m just a guy who can’t stand blind optimism. Yes, I concur that life has an abundance of wonderful opportunities for you to make yourself happy and successful, but I just feel that giving a teenager this advice does more harm than good. It puts this teenager’s expectations at a level where they expect the world to be cool and kind to them just because they’re following their heart. Keep in mind that a month ago this teenager had to ask permission to use the bathroom, now you’re asking them to make crucial financial decisions that will most probably impact their near and late future, and I say that this sort of advice is not only garbage, it’s harmful.
So what advice would I offer to anyone asking what to study?
Study something you’re relatively good at, that you won’t mind doing (even if it gets boring at times) for what could be the rest of your life, that will earn you a salary upon which you can comfortably live.
Not exactly the cushiony, sugar-coated statement most of us would be expecting, but c’est la vie.