Career Advice for Artichokes

Like Field of Dreams, Marina Keegan’s 2011 article “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” has been a long-time favorite that’s benefited from repeated interactions. Like a high-school history teacher said of the film, I’ve found that “Artichokes” means something different each time I read it.

I re-read it again a couple of nights ago after talking with a friend, who — like so many of my friends — is living the questions Marina poses in “Artichokes.” Which types of roles should privileged, passionate young people be looking for, and why?

Most of all, how do we know which ones to choose?

Though we each have more questions than answers, one thing seems clear: many people who are lucky enough to face an unprecedented variety of unprecedentedly amazing choices are feeling woefully underprepared to face — let alone to make and re-make — those choices in ways that feel effective and ethical.

I’m strongly in favor of classically liberal education for this kind of person. (I certainly wouldn’t trade my own.) I don’t think the point is to “get practical” by shunting humanities students into STEM, finance, or consulting.

Where I think we’re dropping the ball, however, is in not effectively connecting the dots for this kind of person. First, even English majors (or artichokes) will have to turn pro at some point, and that will require a series of choices. Second, the point of a liberal education is not to spend one’s twenties floating lonely as a cloud, but to face these choices with all the rigor and resilience a liberal education is meant to impart.

Third, there is an ocean of good and useful advice out in the world for people who want to be mindful about balancing income, impact, and interest. But I have yet to meet a peer who has raved about how well a career advisor connected her to the resources of the creative economy.

It’s time to change that. Not just at 22 and 23 and 24, but at 27 and 28 and 29 and beyond. Because not knowing how to face the choices others would kill to have might be the greatest disservice of all.


In memory, first and foremost, of Marina.

And in gratitude to Seth Godin, Krista Tippett, Debbie Millman, Mark McGuinness, Michael Bungay Stanier, Naomi Dunford, Joceyln K. Glei, Jeff Hittner, Khe Hy, Shane Parrish, Casper ter Kuile, Scott Perry, Louise Karch, Margo Aaron, and many other creative heroes living their way into the answers and teaching what they know.