Life After English, Part 2: Advice from a Has-Been (and Some Quotes from Actually Successful People)

At this time last year, just a few short months into my position as Coordinating Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and a few even shorter months after graduating from the Master of Arts program, I was surprised to be asked to deliver another speech for a “Life After English” event (see here for my first speech about my early experiences in an MA program) about my experiences in the “professional” world, or something. Although I’m pretty sure I ended up winging most of the speech at the time, I thought I would post the material I had prepared, in case someone at the English Department at Carleton University is (for some reason) thinking about asking me to talk again at one of these events. Enjoy!

First off, I would like to thank Lana Keon for contacting me about this event, not to mention everything that she does in the department, and thanks to Professor Brian Johnson for asking me to speak here today. When I was asked to speak about the last few months after completing my MA in English, I said to myself, “Self, you just gave a talk at this Life After English event last year, speaking as a student currently in the Masters program. What the heck are you going to say this year?”

Well, I thought about talking about volunteering to gain experience. Then I thought I might sound a bit like that jerk governor of the Bank of Canada. So, then I thought I’d talk about the intricacies of Christopher Nolan’s space-travel nail-biter Interstellar, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything at all. So, finally, I landed on just telling a story… a boring, semi-literary, largely narcissistic story.


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde


That’s the story I want to tell you. Well… with some exposition. I want to tell you the story of how being completely myself and only slightly other people throughout my university career has resulted in a job with a nationally distributed poetry magazine and with other writing contracts keeping me busy and using words in a slightly similar way to writing essays.

In the three or four months since I’ve finished my Masters Research Paper (one thing I can tell you with certainty is that the distinction of passing time does not improve post-graduation), I have been working with Arc Poetry Magazine as their coordinating editor, which isn’t so much of choosing what gets published, or even (surprisingly) editing work, as it is a job that requires knowledge of magazine production, organizational skills, and kick-ass email composition. I also started working at a small paper boutique in the Glebe, which is irrelevant to anything to do with my degree except for the funny little coincidence that books are made with paper. And most recently I have also taken on other writing jobs for a company that specializes in Search Engine Optimization, which is a funny little skill that doesn’t make very much sense until it does. All of these jobs that have been seeming to fall into my lap when I haven’t been looking, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not qualified. I also never expected this relevant employment. Someone could say I’m lucky and not be too wrong. Someone else could say I’m tall and not be the first one who has ever told me that.

The technical skills I learned in my English degree (i.e. the ability to write clearly and convincingly, using proper grammar, spelling, etc.) have not earned me any great praise in these three jobs. It might just be me, but these skills are expected from anyone who is educated higher than a fifth-grade level. It might also just be me, but I expect a lot from ten-year-olds.


“It’s not what the world holds for you. It’s what you bring to it.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


The one thing about my English degree that has served me best in my post-graduation employment has been the commoditization of my genuine interests in things that I only could have learned about in the study of English. The theoretical and generic avenues I chose to pursue through a genuine interest in Canadian poetry and other forms of literature have been the largest proponents of my success at finding a job in my field post-graduation. It was because I have a passion for poetry that I focused my education on poetry. Even further than that, it was because I have an interest in publishing and magazine production that when an opening at a Canadian poetry magazine popped up, it was a sure thing—a perfect fit—for me to fill that role in the editorial team.

That’s the one thing I hope to encourage you to take away from my little talk today: you should never assume you’re entitled to anything, but never think that you aren’t qualified for something.


“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” — Charles Bukowksi


You are always going to be the best judge of what you’re the best at, so why not pursue activities that interest you, cater to your tastes and abilities, and further your experience in some way. When I said earlier that it seemed like things fell together without much effort, I was exaggerating slightly; a perfect job is never going to literally fall into your lap… because that might be dangerous and even fatal. What I am saying, though, is that you shouldn’t be afraid to specialize yourself and pursue your personal interests because being unique, knowledgeable, and passionate truly are endlessly rewarding qualities to possess in the professional world, and in life!




“A single fantasy can transform a million realities.” — Maya Angelou


“The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.” — Wallace Stevens


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” — Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!


“Each new hour holds new chances / For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever / To fear” — Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”


“To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight: and never stop fighting.” — e.e. cummings, “A Poet’s Advice to Students”


“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” — J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement speech, 2008


“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” — Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity


“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody—no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.” — Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You


“Our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon.” — John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


“The human face has limited space. If you fill it with laughter there will be no room for crying.” — Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance


“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” — Jack Kerouac, On the road


“The things that make me different are the things that make me.” — A.A. Milne,Winnie-the-Pooh


“A life without challenge, a life without hardship, a life without purpose, seems pale and pointless. With challenge come perseverance and gumption. With hardship come resilience and resolve. With purpose come strength and understanding.” — Terry Fallis, The High Road


“You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.” — Yann Martel, Life of Pi


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