You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education by George Anders – My six lessons and takeaways

I think this is a confusing time. Should a young adult, planning for the next five decades, become: a computer coding expert; an expert in the STEM categories; or, is it time for a resurrection of the oft-denigrated liberal arts — moving from STEM to STEAM?

Now, I have to be careful here. In the days of the dominance of classical education, there is a lot to disappoint, even condemn: slavery, the abuse of workers, slavery… But, maybe it was that classical education that led reformers to much-needed change that took decades (centuries) to bring about.

To the more immediate challenge, is a liberal arts education useful, or useless? I confess my bias – I have such an education. I have a degree in Theology with a minor in Greek, and another Theology degree, and then I completed the course work, and passed exams for a sadly unfinished PhD (unfinished because of an unfinished dissertation) in Communication: Rhetoric and Public Address.

George-Anders-Books-Inc.-BurlingameSo, it is not a surprise that I am a fan of You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education by George Anders. I presented my synopsis of this book at the October First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. I liked the book; and, though I acknowledge my bias, I think it is worth a very careful look. I think it is especially valuable for young adults deciding what to do with their life, and for people who are looking to hire the next “rare find” (The Rare Find is an earlier book written my Mr. Anders).

In my synopsis, I shared four reasons why this book is worth our time:

#1 – You, or someone you know, is trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up. This book can help.
#2 – This book makes the case that the “useless’ liberal arts education is not that useless after all. It is, in fact, very valuable; and maybe, increasingly valuable.
#3 – Read between lines, and this is a book about developing and maintaining a serious work ethic.
#4 – And, read between the lines, and this is definitely a book about: soft skills; creativity; clear communication; problem-solving…

Here’s some clear wisdom, from the book: The central insight is this: The more we automate the routine stuff, the more we create a constant low-level hum of digital connectivity, the more we get tangled up in the vastness and blind spots of big data, the more essential it is to bring human judgment into the junctions of our digital lives. 

Mr. Anders holds a high, noble view of work. He quotes Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “I don’t like work—no man does—but what I like is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”

And, he cites findings that people with education in the liberal arts are actually the most fulfilled people in their work. (And, maybe, they are also the most fulfilled in their lives, with their liberal arts undergirding).

Here’s my summary of the book:

The Liberal Arts are not useless, in spite of the current bashing of the liberal arts.
Reading great novels; probing the lessons of history, and the depths of the human person through psychology, are increasingly valuable in the creation of and the fulfillment of many jobs – and many new jobs to come.
So, if you are a graduate in the liberal arts, do not despair; you can do anything!

The book is filled with stories about how people trained in the liberal arts perform needed work, especially with their critical thinking skills and their creativity and inventiveness, in multiple work arenas. Here are some key points:

So, what is transferable? (from English majors, Psychology majors, and other Liberal Arts fields): — Exploring multiple viewpoints
; Clear communication skills
; Inventiveness (think “creative writing”); Problem-solving (flowing from empathy).


The Liberal arts are:

• Not “engineering” (consider: art vs. science)

• Valuable for clarity – for clear communication 

• Valuable for “connecting” – (e.g., disparate ideas)

• Valuable for persuasion (and for reassuring)

• Valuable because of the broad-based knowledge of a good generalist

I ended my synopsis with my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 — Embrace the liberal arts yourself, and liberal arts graduates… We do need more than just engineers. 

#2 — The Liberal Arts invite a life of exploration. Explore! (And, it is never too late for your next journey of exploration). 

#3 — Don’t forget the VUCA world. In a world of ambiguity, the intellectual journeys prompted by the liberal arts can be 
quite valuable. 

#4 — Don’t forget empathy – including for the many over 35 who will be frightened by, and left behind by, the next new 
technological arrival. 

#5 — Become a helper (a mentor; and good alumnus for the current new crop of graduates). And, seek help when you need 
it. (And, you will need it). 

#6 — Become an exceptional storyteller! 

This is a book worth reading, regardless of the current chapter of your life. It will stretch you, challenge you, and open up some maybe long-forgotten thoughts regarding some of the “bigger” questions.

I recommend the book!


George Anders provided a wonderful “further reading” list at the end of the book, in a section that he called “snacks.” (Some of these “snacks” are actually full-course meals on their own!). Here is his list:

• You Majored in What by Katharine Brooks
• Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni

• Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
• Quiet by Susan Cain
• Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz
• Grit by Angela Duckworth
• Mindset by Carol Dweck
• Originals by Adam Grant
• The Lost Art of Finding Your Way by John Edward Huth
• The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti
• Drive by Daniel Pink•
• Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
• There is Life after College by Jeffrey Selingo


Note: At the First Friday Book Synopsis, we have presented synopses of Designing Your Life, Quiet, Grit, Originals, Drive, and Lean In, and now You Can Do Anything (and, The Rare Find).

We make our synopses handouts, along with the audio recordings of our presentations from the First Friday Book Synopsis, available to purchase at the “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page. (You Can Do Anything will be available soon). We have many titles to select from. It really is a fast way to get the key content and transferable, frequently actionable principles of some great, useful busienss books.

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