Caroline Beaton is an award-winning writer, millennial expert and brand consultant tackling the psychology of millennials at work.
It’s not easy being told you’ll never make it. Yet thousands of English, Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology and History majors hear just that. I did. I heard it so much I decided the moment I declared my Creative Writing major that I’d be a lawyer.
Then I took a job as a legal secretary right out of college and realized no-can-do.
As I searched for new directions, I tried defaulting on “skills” I acquired in college. But I couldn’t use Excel, I couldn’t sell stuff and I couldn’t cut hair. For all of my Millennial-ness, I couldn’t even use social media. I finally understood the meaning of “marketable skills”: skills you can use to market yourself with. I didn’t have those.
If you’re graduating with a humanities major, you probably don’t either. What you do have are abilities to think critically, write persuasively and integrate and apply disparate, complex ideas.
It sounds fluffy, but if you really do have these “soft skills”, you have the necessary foundation to gain technical skills.
Here’s the formula I used to make a living from my Creative Writing degree
Find professional roles (via freelancing and/or full-time traditional employment) where you can apply your soft skills in order to acquire hard skills.
Let me explain. When I became an editor at Elephant Journal, part of my responsibilities included directing Elephant Academy, an online apprenticeship in social media, writing and editing.
When I accepted the position of Director, I had never:
- run a webinar or led a class by myself
- written a four-month curriculum
- made a syllabus from scratch
- run an online community
- managed teacher’s assistants
- marketed a program
- written an application for students
- reviewed applications
- set and managed program fees
- prepared course materials
But I did have these soft skills in spades:
- fanatical organization of systems: my life, routines, inefficiencies
- solid written and oral communication skills, ability to make myself understood
- eagerness to learn
- openness to critical feedback
- work ethic
- intrinsic motivation; desire to get it right just for the sake of it
- reasoning skills
- perceptiveness of people around me; how they feel and how they see me
- leading others, getting along with people, listening, directing conversation, getting to know people
- weeding through what’s not important; seeing the big picture
I applied these soft skills to doggedly acquire the necessary hard skills for the position. By the end of my tenure at Elephant, I excelled at every one of the bullets in my first list, and I used this mastery to market myself elsewhere.
Make no mistake: soft skills alone don’t prepare you for the daily logistics of any position. They may not even land you a job, particularly if you put “good communicator” on your resume.
It’s worth considering how to use what you do know—and like—to learn more
Fiverr® is a great place to turn soft skills into hard skills, even if you have a full-time job. Maybe you feel under-challenged at your day job, or your tasks aren’t relevant to what you really want to do. Whether you’re trying to make a living exclusively from Fiverr or using it as a side hustle, create Gigs® that cater to your soft skills while cultivating hard skills.
If you are indeed a good communicator, for example, offer copywriting Gigs even if you haven’t done copywriting before. It will likely take you much longer to write copy than it would a professional copywriter, and you’ll consequently be paid less. But there’s no other practical way to learn copywriting—or anything.
If you want to be [fill in the blank] do [that thing]
At least that’s what I did. I offered copywriting and content marketing services and did them over and over again. Now copywriting and blogging comes easily to me (and I enjoy it as a result). These hard skills also translated to building and marketing my personal brand. I realized that if I could do this stuff for clients, I could also do it for myself.
Now, I’ve built up enough of a presence through social media and online publishing that businesses come to me for brand strategy and high-end content marketing services. But it didn’t happen overnight. I did the thing again and again. And I always remembered my foundation: work ethic, vision, restless need to learn, eagerness for feedback and authentic, human connections.
Your liberal arts degree is only a waste if you choose to do nothing with it. Today, write down all of the invaluable, fundamental capabilities you acquired in college. Challenge yourself to devise new roles and ways to use your core abilities to create hard, marketable, transferable, valuable skills. With effort and impatience to do and be better, your education will convert.
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