I have two degrees in English and Journalism that I, and a lot of society, unfortunately, have speculated are useless. People don’t consider humanities majors to get jobs in medicine, law, business, engineering, programming, or any immediately lucrative field. So the assumption is non-STEM majors or careers have little to no societal value. While I have only ever wanted to write, much of my work history consists of low-wage jobs in retail, factories, and warehouses. These jobs are not in my chosen field, but they have a lower barrier of entry than the occupations I would prefer, and they allow me to pay bills. Not only is the worth of my education frequently in question, by myself at the very least, but my work history provides me little to show for my degrees. Therefore, I feel as though I am not considered successful by capitalism’s terms.
Viewing myself in low regard because of my occupations has led to me shying away from relations with people in higher job positions than myself. I have been conditioned to believe that since I am not successful, I am beneath notice. I have rarely ever worked jobs that “real” adults have, meaning well-paying professions which require degrees and years of experience to land. Despite having a decade of work experience, two degrees, living alone, paying taxes, and voting I’ve never felt like I would be one of those people considered to be a real adult. Consequently, capitalism has led me to tie my personal value to my job status and wage, which are things I connect to my level of success.
This has also led me to have difficulty with handling rejection and criticism when it comes to my writing. Writing is my passion; it is the one thing I have consistently dedicated myself to. If I’m not as good at it as I think or want to be, then what good am I? I haven’t bothered to evaluate the skills I have acquired through my years of work experience as being useful, because they are not connected to lucrative, “respectable” jobs. And if I don’t have a useful skill set, I feel as though I am useless.
This frame of thinking has also led me to question whether pursuing a life in writing, something I love, is even worth my consideration. I had also come to look down on others not working towards a career in a “respectable” field, those who settled for a job that only paid their bills because they cared more about their personal lives. But such judgment has only ever led to the dismissal of those less privileged as well as my own self-loathing because I was not where society deemed I should be for me to “count.”
Buying into this narrative has caused me to not only dismiss my own value, but also the value of others. I have been guilty of using society’s arbitrary standards of success to determine the worth of others, regarding whether or not I’ll entertain platonic and romantic relationships with other people. This perspective is both shallow and harmful because of how it degrades our own self-esteem and how it devalues those who have not had the same opportunities to pursue conventionally successful jobs. Or whose cultures or upbringings have not placed the same undue importance on professions our colonialist, capitalist society values. And when we devalue others, we inevitably dehumanize them.
We continue placing this importance on empty status markers like wealth and power, even when those considered to be successful have insisted they don’t matter. Maya Angelou, a poet laureate who was considered successful in a field I care about, defined success as “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” As a writer, liking what I do is of utmost importance. If I work on writing only with the goal of achieving success as society understands it, then this voids my creativity of its true value.
Writing or creating any art with the idea it needs to be marketable renders it inauthentic. It adds pressure for the work to be consumable and risks stripping the work of the elements that hold any personal meaning. When we create anything with the exclusive intention of appealing to a demographic, or a publisher, or a market, we are denying ourselves personal expression. But what exactly is the point of art, of creativity, if we can’t use it to express ourselves or our circumstances?
I want to be able to make a living doing what I love. However, I do not want to be beholden to the idea that the value of my work is based on how much money, views, or likes it earns. I do not want to measure my own worth based on my success in achieving these status markers. I am not any less of a writer because I have only ever published short stories and articles. I am not any less of an adult, or a person, because I don’t have my ladder against the wall like capitalism says I should. I don’t know if I consider myself successful at this point in time. But I am continuously learning that ultimately, capitalism’s definition of success doesn’t matter. Success as we understand it does not ever determine our value.
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