Stereotype of success restricts goal-setting, happiness and human potential



While on vacation with my family over the summer, my youngest sister and I ended up discussing college majors. Now, my youngest sister is 15 years old, so her understanding of college and majors comes from secondary sources such as TV shows, older siblings and societal stereotypes.

As we were talking, she began to speak of what she called “flimsy” majors. When I asked her what that meant, she said subjects like English, History, Philosophy and the like. When I told her that my major was Humanities, she chuckled. That angered me and rightly so, I should think.

I will be honest. Sometimes I want to lie about my major. I love Humanities to death, but there is certainly a stigma.

At some point you just get sick of that somewhat confused look and the ensuing question of “What are you going to do with that?” And many people subscribe to the stigma, certainly more than my sister. So what are some of society’s stereotypes?

To name just a few, you have the “What does it matter?” question for philosophy, the “You can’t do anything with that” argument for history and anthropology or the “You

really studied nothing” argument for English. These ideas come to us at a very young age and stick with us into our own careers.

This conversation got me thinking about the difference between “should do” and “want to do.” There’s no doubt that these two sometimes align; we may in fact desire exactly what we should do.

Other times of course, we do what we probably shouldn’t do because that’s what we want. I’ll come back to these questions at the end of the article.

Now, allow me to make a slight detour in order to get back to my point. Ever since birth, we have been told that we can be whatever we want to be; doctors, artists, astronauts, superheroes and even presidents. The world is more or less full of infinite possibilities.

Even in college, there are an overwhelming number of professors and mentors, as well as numerous inspirational YouTube videos, full of ancient wisdom and wise words such as “do what makes you happy.

If you only pursue money doing something that you hate, then you’re only going to be miserable. Even the document which spurred us to our independence urges us to pursue that which makes us happy.

However, that there is a second, albeit less talked about, message: the message of making money. I mean, think about the last two years. Obama has called for more finance majors and engineers than ever before. Math

and science programs in schools have seen increased amounts of funding.

Last year, Florida state universities were considering making science, business and engineering classes cheaper as to direct students to more profitable majors.

There is something going on in the nation that I’m not sure I can really condone or understand, and it’s bad. It is putting a utility value on education.

So, American culture provides us with two messages; one that says do what makes you happy, which means not having money as your end, and another message that says make the most money. And these should seem like contradictory messages.

What it ends up saying is that one should do what makes him or her happy as long as there’s money to be made with it, but money cannot be the only reason for doing it. And an ideology such as this can only lead to confusion.

It makes people choose majors not because they are particularly passionate about them, but it’s what they are taught that they should do.

And here’s that question again; is it better to do what you should or what you want to do? Can we even say there is a proper “should”?

It’s an uncomfortable idea, especially if you consider it in light of careers, majors and livelihoods. Because the second that

should is equated with jobs that make more money, then any hope of the first message ringing true goes out the window. The point becomes moot and all you’re left with is the capitalist approach.

I’d rather consider it all a matter of wants. You either want your college experience to be like a vocational school, straightforward and direct while learning a very specific skill, or you want your experience to expand your viewpoint and your cultural understanding.

And neither is more valuable than the other. They are simply modes of experience and learning. So, ultimately, there is no proper should. And knowledge, as an entity in itself, can have no utility or monetary value; its value is the fact that it contributes and expands knowledge.

I’d like to end with something my father always tells me. On nights when my anxiety gets the best of me and I worry about my future and question if I am anywhere near where I am supposed to be, he tells me that it doesn’t really matter what you major in, just that you did well in it. Because there’s no telling where you’ll end up and success is really just a matter of opinion. But it’s far too often that we seek to give success a definition.


Brendan Krovatin is a junior humanities major from Glen Ridge, NJ. He can be reached at bkrovati@villanova.edu. 



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