By Mary Arczynski, Guest Consociate Media Blogger & Recent James Madison University Graduate, Double Majoring in English and Economics
It’s a question that comes up frequently.
In a world of specialized jobs, concrete career paths, and specific job requirements, why did I choose to study two seemingly disconnected majors like English and Economics? The answer: because I like to read, I like to write, I like math, and I like anticipating the behavior of others. They also happen to be the subjects I am passionate about and feel competent in. But most importantly, the two majors challenge me as much as they challenge each other.
Double majoring in English and Economics makes sense because it is not expected. As a study combination, it surprises and intrigues people.
Proficiency in writing and editing is the beneficial skill of an English major that is regularly mentioned to me. It is true that an English major requires a lot of writing practice and that this is a beneficial skill in almost any profession. But, English is also very interpersonal. Every time I open a book, I examine the inner thought process of an author.
Instilling a passion and dedication to reading creates a socially and emotionally aware individual.
It constantly exposes one to other cultures, religions, geographical settings, and logical thought processes. I believe it to be a safe assumption that in a person’s career, one will work with many people who come from an array of different backgrounds in any or all of these categories and more. Books, fiction and non-fiction alike, provide insight into the experiential context of other peoples’ lives that one cannot physically experience his or her self. Furthermore, reading and textual analysis increases cognitive abilities on a micro and macro level. An English major focuses on word choice, sentence structure, character development, historical setting, etc. At the same time, a reader must pay attention to the overarching themes of the novel and the questions, “why does this book matter,” and “how does this book change my outlook on the world?”
Economics gives me the hard skills I need to succeed in the business world. It requires a sense of mathematical ownership and acceptance of current truths. There is a certain amount of rigidity and discipline that comes with the mathematical side to Economics- not every answer can be right. Economics teaches that in the world there are an unlimited number of wants with a limited number of resources. It shows current inefficiencies in resource distribution and creation. It gives me an appreciation for the excellence and innovation that competition demands. It also teaches anticipation of the actions of others by examining cause and effect, and the correlations and causations of natural and human occurrences. Studying economics gives me the sensibility and courage to accept the world in a real way, as it is now. This acceptance allows me to think of tangible, constructive solutions to problems in business, life, and the problems of the human community. Furthermore, from a functional standpoint, it shows me to appreciate each person as a valuable resource.
So, how does interdisciplinary study apply to the business world?
The most important benefit of an English major entering the business world is idealism. Books provide social commentary, and challenge society to be better by fostering goals. Economics instills a very pragmatic way of thinking—which is important for an idealist. But pragmatism alone does not lead to large-scale advancements just as idealism alone achieves nothing. Pragmatism can create a pattern of complacency in its practicality, whereas solely being idealistic paralyzes decision making, because people and businesses cannot perfectly achieve their goals one hundred percent of the time. Interdisciplinary study has given me knowledge and proficiency in the soft skills of reading and writing, and the hard skills of math and science, but more significantly, it has made me a pragmatic idealist. I have expectations of bettering society, and I use economics to think of practical step-by-step measures to bridge the gap between idea and reality. I realize that not everyone can have the same number of resources, but I also do not lose sight of the emotional part of humanity that we must embrace in order to progress as people, a business, or as the human race. Economics shows where the world is now, and provides options for how to take the next step. English fosters the cognitive ability that creates finish lines for these logical, pragmatic steps, finish lines that may or may not ever be reached, but will be run toward nonetheless. When one has the means and the end, success in business and in life is inevitable.
By no means am I implying that everyone in the world should be an English and Economics double major. Rather, I encourage others, especially those in the business world, to break the mold of what is stereotypically “useful” in certain segmented career paths. Different fields of study have a lot to learn from one another, but unless experts can meet each other halfway, then bridges between different subjects are hard to cross and the comparative advantage of different fields of study are not used to their full advantage. The people that can embrace and accomplish many different methods of thinking are the life-long learners, the adapters, the innovators, and the leaders. They put themselves in the way of success because they do not aspire to what is expected, but rather, aspire to create and excel past our current society’s expectations.