Full-Time Philosopher or Future Cab Driver?

By Jule Windeler

At the drugstore where I work part-time we sometimes get interns. Most of them are teenagers who have to do some kind of internship for school; the work is meant to “prepare them for their future” and to be a “valuable experience.” I guess teachers sometimes just need a break.

Today, a young girl is helping me stock the shelves with shower gel and nauseatingly sweet-smelling bath products. We don’t have much to say to each other, but we engage in the obligatory small talk anyway.

The girl frowns. I have just told her about university and the subjects I study: English and Philosophy. She lets out a nervous laugh; she probably expected me to say, “business administration” or “something with media.” Maybe she even hoped I’d say “law.” Then she could have replied with “cool, now I know where to find a lawyer if I ever need one.” I guess there is a slightly lower demand for philosophers.       

“So…,” the girl says, “what do you do with that?” If I got a few bucks every time someone asked me that question, I wouldn’t even have to think about future job choices anymore. Most people don’t have a very distinct idea of philosophy; it is this abstract term that everyone has heard but never really thinks about. “It’s just something lazy students take in school for an easy A.” Some also start citing famous quotes, proud of remembering them: “I know that I know nothing. Wasn’t that Shakespeare?” Close. But there is one thing that everyone agrees upon and that every philosophy student hears at least once throughout their academic career: “Philosopher isn’t a real job. If you study philosophy, you’re just gonna end up as a cab driver.”

English, on the other hand, is something that most people at least have a concept of; that is, if I actually call it “English.” I have long since stopped using the actual name for my subject— “Anglophone Studies”—because a surprising number of people have responded with a confused “huh?” Once, the word “Anglistik” (which is German for “English studies”) was understood to be the official term for “German studies.” So, now I study “English.” Which leads to the next question, bound to come up in every conversation about my subjects: “So you’re studying to become a teacher?”

No. I specifically don’t want to be a teacher, even though many people can’t wrap their heads around that. “But children are so cute,” they say. “Teaching is so rewarding.” As a matter of fact, I spent an entire year working at a school, and that’s how I know that teaching children is not for me. But, apparently, it is my only option (next to cab driving, of course). “What else are you going to do?” they say.

“I don’t know yet,” I usually reply, and then the other person gives me this look that is half shock and half pity. They think I am making a huge mistake. They think I am blindly following a path that leads nowhere. They are wrong.    

I say “I don’t know yet,” not because there are no options. It’s the opposite; there are too many options, and I haven’t yet decided on one. Studying a language doesn’t mean memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary. Instead, my studies mainly revolve around history, culture, and writing. And—one of my greatest passions—books. I could work as an editor for a publishing company, or I could go into journalism and write my own texts—about literature, for example. I could also work in translation, starting with user manuals and working my way up to translating bestselling novels. Or I could get a doctorate and start teaching university.

The girl’s question still lingers in the air. “What do you do with that?” But I am tired of explaining. “I don’t know yet,” I say, skipping to the end of the conversation and earning another pitiful look for my mental collection. Only that I don’t need her pity. I love what I’m doing; and if worse comes to worst, I can still start my own cab company.