“So, what’s your major?”

College students will conjure an answer to this question millions of times in the 3, 4, or 5+ years that they are in school. Parents.  Advisors.  Classmates.  Faculty.  Creepy dudes at quarter beer night.  They all want to know.  Why?  Well, best as I can tell, because that’s what we’ve always asked.

See, when a student indicates that they are interested in and/or capable of post-high school study, forces descend upon that poor soul to convince them that the most critical decision they have to make is what to major in. Wars shall be waged.  Civilizations built and destroyed.  The entire space time continuum rests upon the satisfactory answer to what courses you will take in school.

At the earliest it could be a parent or elementary school teacher. At the very latest, your high school guidance counselor starts in on you.  Then your advisor chimes in.  Then the rest of the world.  Declare a major.  Find your specialty.  Now! Now! Now! Go! Go! GOOO!!

Well…..that’s bullstuff.

Your major is no more important than your underwear. No one (outside of those with a sincere and personal interest) will want to see your underwear.  Even then it’s usually just a point of reference.  If they are TRULY sincere, they probably won’t let a poor choice dissuade them.

Your underwear (like your major) does serve some functions. It makes a statement about you.  I am creative.  I am whimsical.  I am stogy and/or conservative.  You can generally tell which side of the box people think from based on their choice of skivvies.  It also provides a baseline for and influences other more visible decisions.  Not sure what color slacks to choose?  Start with the color of your undies and work out from there.  Thinking of wearing white?  Work in from there.  Your major will influence the clubs you join and classes you take same as the groups of people you identify with and classes you enjoy can influence the major you choose.  Finally, it provides protection.  A “layer of security,” if you will, from unexpected accidents and incidents.  What did your mother say?  Are yours clean in case of an accident?  Your underwear and major both ensure that if something unexpected happens, the mess won’t be too hard to clean up.

And like a major, there are those rare cases of people who lead a reasonably normal or even highly successful life going without. Steve Jobs didn’t have a major.  Neither did Bill Gates.  Or Richard Branson, or Dave Thomas.  Notice something else about this list?  Yea, they’re all guys.  Not sure what that means but I’m thinking it’s time to pivot…

See, the secret truth is, your underwear isn’t all that critical because no one sees it. Your major doesn’t matter because the people who will hire you don’t care about it.  After talking to hundreds of corporate recruiters, hiring managers, and business owners, what matters most is that you show up every day on time and not suck.  Your major?  Well, they do want you to have a degree.  But instead of your major, they’d rather know what you’ve done while you were in school and how that relates to what they need to get done.  They say they hire attitude and train skills.  Getting a degree, then, shows the employer that you can think, learn, and finish what you start.  It DOESN’T ensure that you can calculate the time value of money or recite a list of “P’s.”  It doesn’t even ensure that you’d know what to do with those concepts if you can barf them up on demand.  Boxers or briefs?  Sorry folks, no one really cares.

Now there are notable exceptions to my rule. For example, if you are going to work in the extreme cold then you DO need a particular kind of underwear.  LONG.  Same as the major you need if you want to be an Electrical Engineer or Accountant.  You need to major in…Electrical Engineering or Accounting.  But even in those fields you usually have at least a year of Gen Ed classes to take before your first Engineering or Accounting class.  You need to decide, but not as early as you’re led to believe.

So relax! Spend a year figuring out what you can actually do.  From there, go find something you like.  Something that interests or even excites you.  Pick something comfortable that makes you dance in front of the mirror every morning.  Make a smart decision that you’ll stick with based on your interests and acumen.

Then layer something more meaningful where people can see it. Talk to people who interest you about what they feel is important.  Find activities, internships, and people who can help you decide what you want to do.  Then get more experiences and meet more people just like the ones you like.  Do that stuff over and over and commit to doing it well.  If you work full time, ask if you can do it at work.  (If they won’t let you, then maybe that’s not a place you want to do it for long!)

What you’ll find out is that your major ultimately didn’t dictate your career any more than your underwear dictated how you looked when you showed up!