When choosing a course of study or changing a career, these are good reasons to be intrepid
Brock Leach and Mike Sandrock have charted vastly different careers, but they made similarly bold choices at key points in life.
As graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences, they were trained and empowered to deal with complexity, diversity and change. Both initially studied disciplines with a presumptively high market value. And when the time came, both answered their callings by following their hearts and seizing the day.
Leach earned a BA in economics magna cum laude in 1980 from the University of Colorado Boulder. Fellow CU Boulder alumnus Sandrock earned a BA in molecular biology and in humanities cum laude in 1986. Both later earned MBAs.
Leach then built an impressive career that included stints as CEO of Frito-Lay and Tropicana and as Chief Innovation Officer at PepsiCo. Then, he left the corporate world and enrolled in seminary, ultimately becoming a minister and leader in the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Sandrock worked in biotech, then in business, but left both career paths to follow his real passions: writing and traveling. He is a successful journalist, book author, philanthropist and member of the Colorado Running Hall of Fame.
Doing what they loved wasn’t an obvious or easy choice. But it was a terrific choice. Their stories underscore another reason to celebrate the liberal arts: They open doors to new worlds of opportunity.
Whether the graduates studied education, engineering, natural sciences, social sciences or humanities, nearly half said they had enough money 'to do everything I want to do'...(and) 90 percent of respondents said they were within five years of living 'my best possible life.'”
In recent months, I’ve highlighted ample evidence that people who earn liberal-arts degrees—or choose careers that employ a liberal-arts education—earn satisfying incomes, particularly as they reach their peak-earning years. I’ve also noted that a liberal-arts education fosters critical-thinking and writing skills, as well as perseverance and self-discipline, skills and traits that employers want and will pay for.
The choice is not between a meaningful but impecunious career or a dreary but lucrative one.
Also, stories of people like Leach and Sandrock add another factor to the equation: Compared to those who choose a career that does not reflect their passions and values, people who do what they love enjoy higher levels of productivity and happiness.
For instance, a 2018 report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences found that graduates’ feelings about their financial situation were substantially similar, regardless of major. Whether the graduates studied education, engineering, natural sciences, social sciences or humanities, nearly half said they had enough money “to do everything I want to do.”
They also reported other benefits. By mid-life between 70 percent and 80 percent of them agreed with these statements:
- I am deeply interested in the work I do.
- At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
And regardless of discipline, 90 percent of respondents said they were within five years of living “my best possible life.”
When choosing a course of study or changing a career, these are good reasons to be intrepid. This is a lesson from Leach and Sandrock: They followed hope. They showed audacity. They seized the day.
So can you.
James W.C. White is interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.