In his book The Know It All, A.J. Jacobs, one of my
favorite authors, wrote about his desire to be a Renaissance man like
Johann Goethe. Goethe is probably best known as the author of Faust,
but Jacobs notes that he had more than 18 unconnected careers in his
lifetime; everything from botanist, to mine inspector, to lawyer. Jacobs
goes on to lament about what has become of today’s career expectations,
half-seriously and half-jokingly, telling readers that today’s job
seeker cannot just be a mollusk scientist but instead must concentrate
on his or her specialization, something like a northeastern digger clam
reproductive scientist. Ha!
I wouldn’t go quite as far, but Jacobs’ point isn’t one to be taken
lightly. So often, we advise students to choose a singular career path
at a young age to be successful. As a high school student, I too felt
that pressure. But thankfully I ended up at Albion College where I was
able to, as Jacobs puts it, “snack off the pupu platter of life.” While
my main dish was politics and policy, it was flanked by myriad courses
ranging from environmental science, to communications, and even piano.
Public policy is inherently a liberal
Education and employment aren’t much different from a meal; each
happens in context, not in isolation. It’s rare that I eat a burger
without fries much as it is rare, nearly impossible, that I face a
political or public policy challenge that doesn’t concern
subject matter that requires me to use my background in other subjects,
such as science or communications. Public policy is inherently a liberal
The first test of my liberal arts education was as an employee in
the government relations division at Kellogg Company. It was actually my
background in environmental science and understanding of how ethanol
policy affected domestic food prices that most affected my work during
my employment, not my knowledge of political science. My scope of
knowledge was advantageous then and remains so today.
Six years later as a strategic policy advisor for Governor Rick
Snyder (MI), my liberal arts education has only become more relevant. My
education has given me the skills needed to be a policy generalist,
with the good fortune to work on many varied public policy areas from
local government to economic development to public safety and more. It
also has given me the ability to connect varied subject matter, think
critically and quickly, and confidently explore unfamiliar subject
matter. Best of all, it prepared me for a career helping the people and
the state I love.
My varied skill set has prepared me with transferable skills for an
ever-changing economy. As a result, I’m confident that I won’t become
bored like some of my peers who find their taste for their work dulled
after years of the same.
Although I’m sure there is a place for the mollusk specialist,
today’s economy, history, Goethe, and A.J. Jacobs make a compelling case
for the occupation of Renaissance woman.