The Options are Limitless, So Let’s Act Like It

A couple of years ago, I was at the gym when a guy friend of mine at the time asked me how much I can bench.

I shook my head and said, “Dude, I can barely bench the bar itself. I don’t do much of that exercise.”

He looked at me like I was crazy, as though he was wondering what I was doing at the gym at all if I didn’t bench press. He advised that I should be in order to gain more muscle in my chest, that I need to bench if I’m going to make progress.

I kindly thanked him because he had a point – bench press is a good exercise to work the chest muscles. But I had other fitness goals at the time that didn’t require such an exercise to be a regular addition to my workouts.

I clarified to him that my goals are mostly to lean down and tone (this was before I wanted to pack on muscle and compete). I wasn’t interested in powerlifting and reaching ungodly personal records. Being in graduate school at the time, I was lucky to get in the gym four times a week, so my main goal was to maintain my size.

You see, his advice to bench more was good… if it had been part of my fitness goals. That’s the thing about fitness – not everyone is interested in bulking. And just the opposite, not everyone in the gym wants to lose weight.

Just because you’re physically in the same gym, it doesn’t mean you’re in the same place mentally and ambitiously. That you’re there to do the same thing, to accomplish the same goals, or to attain the same physique.

That’s why I laugh when people find out I’m actually not that fit. Like I can’t run a marathon right now or even jog two miles without stopping to catch my breath. I get some comments like, “But you work out a lot,” and “But you’re so small.”

Yes, I work out… but I lift weights. I go to the gym to lift weights.

Yes, I’m (kind of) small… but not because I do a lot of cardio.

I eat (pretty) healthily. I walk around quite a bit. I don’t take long breaks between sets. It’s a combination of a lot of things.

I point this out because it seems that we sometimes lump a group of people into one, when really, we’re all different. And we should be treated as such.

A similar thing happened when I told people I was getting a master’s in English. I got a lot of, “So you’re going to teach?” and “So you’re going to teach?” (Yes, I repeated it because that’s basically all people asked me over and over again.)

As if all you can do with an English degree is teach. This is certainly one possibility, and an admirable one. I did teach as a TA and an adjunct, actually.

But there are so many other options with such a degree. People have many reasons for going into the English field. Some law schools have even started seeking out English students to apply for their programs because of our critical thinking and research abilities.

You could go into journalism, technical writing, marketing, etc. etc. The list is pretty lengthy under such a broad field, just like fitness includes joggers, Crossfitters, and weightlifters. There are many subcategories as well. For instance, weightlifters can include bodybuilders and powerlifters.

After a while, I started to drop the “English” entirely and just tell people I’m getting a degree in Professional Writing. That really stumped many of them. I could see the confusion in the crease of their brows and shuffling of their feet. “Well, what’re you going to do with that? Write?”

Why, yes. Yes, I want to write for a living.

Don’t look so shocked, Michael.

I went to get a degree in writing so that I could write. But there were others in my program who had goals of getting into copyediting and marketing.

Just like with fitness, not every English or writing student has the same goals. Even the writers in our program were different. Some wrote poetry, while others wrote Sci-Fi and satire. Some did fiction, while others focused on nonfiction.

There are so many options to open our minds up to. This goes for both sides. If you’re the English student, don’t limit yourself to one path. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that you can’t do something different, that you can only do one thing with it. If you want to teach, fantastic. Teach the heck out of it… but there are also many options when teaching. You can teach composition, literature, or even creative writing.

Research your options.

On the flip side, if you’re the one asking the English student what they’re planning on doing with such a degree, ask them with an open-ended question. Don’t limit the conversation. Don’t limit that student and reinforce the cycle that people don’t have their own unique goals.

We’re not the same.

You’re not the same as the person sitting next to you, or the one at the gym on the treadmill while you’re doing bench press. Just like there’s no one right path to success, there’s more than one thing you can do with an English degree. This applies to other degrees as well.

Don’t limit yourself.

Open your mind and think outside the box. Let’s create a world that thinks outside the box and breaks the mold. Do you, people.

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