In my freshman year of college, I decided to take an Anthropology 101 class. All I knew about anthropology was that it was the study of humans. I figured that we would learn about ancient empires, fascinating artifacts, and weird rituals around the world. And we did, but we learned something more valuable.
What makes people tick.
Or at least, we tried.
Still, asking that core question — why do humans do the things they do? — was transformative for me: It taught me to dig deeper (pun intended) into every situation. It showed me that my initial assumptions were likely wrong. It gave me the tools to unpack every situation — even painful ones.
And that’s how I started my career as a writer and marketer.
In anthropology, you learn to think of people as walking amalgamations of cultural input and biological impulses. As the saying goes, no man is an island. We’re all bits and pieces of our genetics, our society, our mental quirks, cooked up in an illusion (delusion?) of self-importance and a desperate need to find the meaning in everything. Or rather, make it.
Understanding the human phenomenon, or at least trying to, is a crucial step toward being able to better connect with them. Marketers have known this for years and have often hired anthropologists to advise them. What cultural cues can you tap into to ensure that your ad has an impact? What aspects of language resonate most with your target audience? Anthropology has the power to answer these questions.
Unfortunately, despite my extensive education and research experience in the discipline of anthropology, despite the fact that I use what I learned in anthropology every single day, I face a disheartening problem.
As with many scientific fields, anthropologists tend to look down on those in their field who choose non-academic careers. Some mock anthropologists (like me) who decide to research their own culture. Even those outside academia are quick to dismiss people who have PhDs yet aren’t professors.
These gatekeepers misunderstand the point of education.
I am who I am because of the years I spent immersing myself in theory, history, and the high-level discourse surrounding all things human. I learned how to predict other people’s responses, which helped me refine my interview skills. I developed a raging curiosity and an ability to instill it in others, which helped me deliver a compelling presentation. I discovered the questions I didn’t know I had, which helped me become a better writer.
Most importantly, I learned to regard everyone I meet as human.
Also, insisting that someone’s major and job title share the same word simply contributes to the false assumption that certain degrees don’t get you jobs. I’ve had people insist that my situation proves that it’s stupid to declare a major in anthropology “because you won’t get a job after you graduate.”
Make no mistake. I am now an award-winning writer and marketer who makes good money because of my anthropology education, not despite it.
Sometimes, I wonder how my life would be had I sought a traditional academic route. I’d probably still get complaints about my career choice, this time from people whining about how being in the Ivory Tower has no impact on the “real world.”
Then I come down to earth and have people tell me I’m not a real anthropologist, let alone a real scientist.
I can’t win in that regard.
Where I have won is that I’ve transformed my education into a lucrative career. And I’m that much closer to finally learning what makes people tick.
I’ve won a lot. Thank goodness that I checked the “Anthropology 101” box on my course registration sheet in that curious moment 16 years ago. With my education, my skills of discovery, and my raging curiosity, I’m equipped to take on the world.
After all, humans are all over the planet.