I Graduated With A History Degree... And I Turned Out Just Fine
Hey, History Majors! It's going to work out. You'll be fine.
I got a lot of pushback for choosing to study History in college. My extended family would constantly question me during the holidays as to what I was going to do with a major that didn’t really have a designated “path” after graduation. My parents were a little more understanding of me following my passion, but I can’t say that they didn’t also have their doubts. I appreciate that they did not try to change my decision; however, I vividly remember it being stressful. I wasn’t headed to med. school, I wasn’t graduating with a business degree (which I might argue also doesn’t have a path, but hey, who’s counting), and I wasn’t about to become the next big coder. I also didn’t go the science or engineering route and when I stop and think about it, by the time I got to senior year of college, I really had no clue what I was going to do after graduation. So, when people would ask me what I planned to do next, I usually told them I was going to law school... more because that usually stopped their questions than because it satisfied me. However, after repeating it enough, eventually I convinced myself that I should pursue that path. I mean fancy suits, legal jargon, and big salaries? It didn’t sound so bad. Today, I still have all of the LSAT books piled in my closet. A memorial to the life that could have been.
I did eventually graduate from school and was forced to face the real world. Upon coming to this realization, I walked down to a local steakhouse in Nashville and got a job as a waiter, with a plan to study LSAT books for the next year and then apply to law school. I absolutely hated the restaurant I worked at. It was miserable, but it paid extremely well. I hated it so much that I eventually started to apply for real “corporate” jobs thinking that I could just continue studying for the LSAT while working. I ended up getting hired by an international Fortune 500 company to do sales. I was a traveling salesman. In fact, I was selling giant tanks of industrial gases (Argon, Nitrogen, Oxygen). Chemistry was never my strong suit, so I couldn’t tell you what their periodic table signs were. My friends all thought this was the most random job ever. Surprisingly, I actually loved it. My job was to try and sneak into industrial buildings and meet with the employees who were using the gas tanks and try to sell them my company’s product. It required a lot of guts and taught me a lot about striking up small talk. I also saw so many different companies and learned so much about what goes into the things we use every day. You may already know it, but the reason your chip bags are always half empty is because they pump Nitrogen in there. I know because I tried to sell a bunch of chip packagers the tanks of Nitrogen! Also, I can tell you firsthand that you should never see chorizo being made in real life. It’s not worth knowing how they do it. I also once tried to walk into a cryogenic facility where they froze people... Let's just say that's frowned upon.
After 6 months, I left that job. I randomly bumped into a roommate from college at a football game. He introduced me to his dad’s friend who eventually helped me get a job in Houston, Texas working for a consulting firm in the Oil and Gas industry. I had never lived more than about 30 miles from home. This was a great chance for me to be adventurous, so I jumped at the opportunity. I packed my bags and moved to Houston. I only had two weeks to make the move, so I had very little time to plan anything. I took only what I could fit into my car (which I literally bought the day before) and I moved to Texas. You know how they say everything is bigger in Texas? Well, I can’t actually agree with that. I knew one person in Houston, a friend from college, and because I moved there with no real plan or place to live, I ended up moving into his closet. Seriously.. a closet. It was right off the living room and was just big enough to fit a futon and my clothes.
It wasn’t luxurious, but it was an experience I will never forget. I loved living in a big city, but Houston wasn’t all that good to me. Bad luck followed me there. I was rear-ended four different times. One day I was rear-ended twice in a single mile stretch of road. Furthermore, I was robbed on three separate occasions. One day I went to do some work at the Rice library and in broad daylight someone broke both of the passenger windows to my car to steal a duffle bag of my dirty gym clothes. I ended up paying $500 to replace that duffle bag (ok, so I never replaced the duffle bag, but the windows did cost me $500).
I made the mistake of leaving my car unlocked on another occasion and someone destroyed it and stole some gift cards out of my console. The third time I got robbed was the worst... I was running in the park one evening. The sun had just barely gone out of sight. It was about 7 PM and three kids stepped into my path. I say “kids” because I couldn’t imagine they were older than about 14 or 15. The kid in front of me pulled out a pistol and put the cold barrel into my chest. The other two kids came up behind me and patted me down. They took my iPhone, but fortunately that was it. In a situation like that it actually does kind of play out like a movie. I was very calm and actually had to talk reason into the kid with the gun as his trembling hand pointed the gun at me and his shaky voice uttered directions to his friends. He was paranoid that I was going to try and resist the robbery and try to fight them. That moment made me think a lot about what I wanted to do in this world. I still feel bad for those kids, knowing that it will be so hard for them to lead a good life after getting involved in crime at such a young age. You can get another iPhone, but you only get one life.
After all the things that had happened to me in Houston, I started to think it was time for me to head somewhere else. This timing coincided with a very bad turn in the oil and gas market. Oil prices were tanking and my consulting company was laying people off left and right. I started applying for jobs in a new city... Chicago. I took a vacation to Chicago shortly after I began applying and I knew it was the city I wanted to live in. I loved it. Even the bitter cold. I had set up my flight home from Chicago so that I would land in Houston at 8 AM on a Monday morning and then would immediately head to work from the airport. Not going to lie, I was exhausted and still recovering from my vacation weekend in Chicago. My best friend who went on the trip with me dropped me off at work. As soon as I walked into work I knew something wasn’t right. I just had a bad feeling. One of my bosses invited four of us into his office. All of us had recently received a promotion though, so I thought no way were we about to get laid off, but only the night before I had been talking to my dad about how I was worried they were going to get rid of the entire consulting arm of the company. Luck hadn’t been on my side, so I wasn't feeling good about it.
I got laid off before I even had time to make my morning coffee that day. The best part? My friend had dropped me off straight from the airport. I didn’t even have my car that day. I had to call a cab to come and pick me up from work. Just adding a little insult to injury. I was standing out in front of the office just sitting and waiting for a cab right after being laid off… I’m sure it was great gossip for the employees who were worried that they were next. Fortunately, I had already gotten a jump start on finding a job in Chicago and it was actually thanks to one of my friends from college that I was able to get a contract position at a startup that sent college students abroad to intern at foreign companies. I loved it. I loved working with college students and I loved the startup environment. I even had a chance to go to Mexico City with the the City of Chicago and 1871 (a startup incubator) and participate in a startup exchange program. I made some awesome friends in Mexico. Not sure what they actually did for work… but they did support the startup community. They also kept toasting me and we took an untold number of tequila shots that night. I suppose it is possible they had told me what they did at some point. All I know is that the two guys on either side of me have that "don't mess with me kind of stare." So, I'm glad they took a liking to me.
After I finished my year long contract at that startup, I ended up going to a startup consulting firm to do Learning and Development. My current role is to help college students transition into the corporate world and also to help create new and innovative products for the company. But my love for history never left, even after I stopped taking classes in college. I’ve been pursuing history in one way or another since I graduated. So, all that bad luck that happened to me in Houston? Well, there were some good things that came out of it. I got assigned a project at my consulting firm where I had to create corporate trainings for a big company. Through the project I was introduced to script writing, animating, and doing voice overs. I loved it. I eventually transitioned all of these new skills into the work I now do at Innovative History.
So, why should you care? And why did I just give you a breakdown of my work history? Think about it. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I graduated with a History Degree I never would have had the chance to explore so many different “paths.” The fact that I didn’t have any direction coming out of college gave me the opportunity to experience different jobs and ideas and even cities. Also, I never would have thought that I would have been interested in animation. Not in a million years had it not been thrust upon me. Ironically, it’s also a lot of my friends who chose clear, distinct job paths that are having the most trouble with their career decisions today. Once you get an engineering degree and work as an engineer for a few years, it’s a lot harder to justify a transition to a new career.
All in all, my history degree gave me the necessary tools I needed to go into business. It helped me refine my reading, writing, presentation, and interpersonal skills. And I definitely never lack interesting history facts to bring up at any given party or even an interview. However, it was what my history degree didn’t give me that actually made it the most valuable. Because the degree had no clear-cut path, I had ample opportunity to explore many different directions and, ultimately, find one I love. I couldn’t be happier about the decision I made and I can’t wait to see where else my History Degree will take me. So History majors, hang in there and remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, Henry Ford failed multiple times before he succeeded, and the Titanic was supposed to be the ship that never sank. Things don't always happen as planned, but it's all going to work out.