One of the things I love about the end of summer and start of fall is that feeling of new beginnings: it conjures up freshly-sharped pencils and crisp, blank notebooks, a bright backpack and a brand-new pair of shoes. I always loved going back to school: I would spend hours deciding on the perfect first-day-of-school outfit and the perfect agenda, daydream about all of the exciting things that would surely happen that year.
It’s been 10 years since my first day of high school, five years since I graduated college and started my first “real job” the day after Labor Day. My career ladder has been more like a jungle gym, less linear and more full of zigs and zags than I ever could have anticipated. I moved schools often as a kid, and I think that ability to step into yet another brand-new classroom and completely believe I could make a friend is one of the reasons why I’m willing to take more risks now.
I graduated magna cum laude from California State University, Chico: I alternately describe it as a top Playboy party school or a quaint college town or one of the best journalism programs in the nation, depending on to whom I’m speaking. To be honest, it was a lot of bang for the buck: I had small classes, engaged professors, cheap rent and the quintessential “college experience” complete with keg parties and red cups, all delightfully subsidized by the taxpayers of California.
Chico alumni like to joke about our reputation as a party school, especially when intermingled with the fact that most of us have good jobs and good apartments: we’ve managed to graduate from this tiny, middle-of-nowhere town and make it in the big, bad world. In New York City alone, more than 10 of my closest friends graduated from Chico around the same time I did: several are killing it in the competitive PR/marketing world, one graduated from NYU law school, one is getting his PHD at NYU, one works at a record label. We joke that going to Chico doesn’t mean much, but if you graduate: it means you can socialize and still study, that you know how to balance work with parties.
A lot of what I do in my day job is essentially relationship building. It’s about connecting with the right people, about creating a rapport, about figuring out a mutually-beneficial project. It’s why I drink so many lattes and go to so many happy hours. It’s why I believe in hand-written thank-you notes and picking up the phone to deliver big news, good or bad. Strong relationships–whether it’s a friend or a co-worker or a boyfriend–thrive on eye contact, laughter, shared experiences.
It’s easy to hide behind a computer, to rely on text messages and Twitter and double-tapping on Instagram. Great work is done on computers, wonderful writing is finished when you’re squirreled away from distractions. But if there’s one thing that Chico taught me, it’s that nothing is as good as a good party. Good parties encourage you to say hello to a stranger and throw you in a room with friends you haven’t seen in a while; they encourage you to laugh and talk and maybe take a risk. Even if you don’t remember the details, you remember that fuzzy happy way that you felt.
As Tom Petty so wisely said (and advice I’d wish I’d taken more: not once has a job asked for my college GPA to validate all of those hours spent in the library!): “I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”
This back-to-school season is throwing all sorts of life changes at me, and I keep conjuring up that feeling I had as a kid on a first day of school: a little bit nervous and a little bit scared but also pretty stoked for a shiny new classroom and all of those potential best friends.
And I’m also remembering that as a Chico State grad, there’s an obligation to work hard and party hard, but also to put people first. That people might not remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel–and that it’s truly not what you know, but who you know and how you make them feel. And it’s those lessons that make me pretty darn grateful I graduated from a party school.
What’s the best life lesson you learned in college?