When we were young, we knew everything. We were merely freshmen.
I'm thankful for perspective.
As I build my business, trying to do fulfilling work for a roster of clients whose businesses I care about and whose success I'm invested in, I often feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants with every Skype call and coffee meeting, every new proposal I write.
It's not just me — I think it's something a lot of people feel, at least among my friends, like we're all just making it up as we go along.
I flew back to Kansas City a few weeks ago because I'd been invited to speak at the University of Kansas Journalism School's J-School Generations event, which brought alumni back during the week of Homecoming to meet with students and talk about their real-world experiences.
How I was selected to join these alumni is and will always be beyond me, but I'm never one to turn down an invitation to talk about myself — especially to an audience of impressionable youth.
That audience ended up being a lecture hall with 350 freshmen in stadium seating, wearing hoodies and dragging their feet as they turned in their writing assignments for the week. The class: Journalism 101, Media & Society. (How well I remember it! I started late, having abandoned a semester-long dream of being a family therapist and smacking my forehead when I flipped through the course catalog and realized I should have been focused on words all along.)
Bits of what the three of us alumni said during class would be on the exam, the professor said. The others, one who owns her own PR agency and another who works at Google, even taught me things, but I shudder to think any "words of wisdom" I shared could end up fodder for the final.
I said my piece on trade publishing (where I spent three years before fumbling and bumbling into my own business); I talked briefly about my serpentine career path. I cursed more than I should have. I laughed at my own jokes more than I should have, too — it's part of my charm (…?) — but for the most part, the students were laughing, too.
Then they started asking questions.
And I realized, somewhere between explaining exactly what I do to a student who wanted to do something similar and wanting to fall down crying when a girl in Uggs approached me after class just to say, "You're amazing"…
Shit. I'm the expert here.
Somewhere along the line, I had to create a LinkedIn profile from scratch, and it was all brand new to me. (Hell, in 2004, Facebook came to campus and all we did was poke each other. I never would have guessed I'd be getting paid to help businesses "engage" there eight years later.) And suddenly, I was standing there talking to hundreds of students with no idea what LinkedIn is (who grew up with Facebook and have so much more to learn), realizing I'm not making it up as I go along. I'm picking it up as I go along.
I didn't come back to Chicago suddenly having all the answers, but I did return with a confidence that I know a hell of a lot more now than I did as a
fresh-faced pimple-faced first-year student at the University of Kansas, or even a graduating senior ready to storm the tiny world of North Kansas City community newspapers — then New York and eventually Chicago.
I mingled at a cocktail reception with professors whose knowledge I marveled at just a few years ago, feeling closer to an equal than I ever imagined.
I actually know more than I give myself credit for. We all do.
Life isn't a lecture class with a textbook; it's a big, weird book club reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. So far, my plot line is advancing pretty nicely. But I have stumbled, and I will again…and half the fun is turning back a few pages and seeing how you fare the next time around, knowing that one move or another just didn't quite work out.
I learned a lot in college, but the number of things I've learned since then — without even knowing it — is pretty astounding.