A few (more) things I’d tell my students

As of Friday, I’ll have been running College Town for seven months. In January, I’ll begin my sixth semester of teaching.

(Pause for incredulation about the passage of time.)

I try to give all the students I work with practical advice — like how to write a cover letter, or how to shape a story idea, or why it’s always a good idea to send some kind of thank-you note.

These are often prompted by circumstance, when a student is trying to make a specific move professionally. But because of that, I often never get to tell kids the other stuff — the big stuff that you learn on a random Tuesday when you’re not doing the scary job application thinking.

These are those revelations, for me.

Read. Everything. All the time.

For pleasure, and to learn how to be a better writer, but also for information. Because it is super annoying to your professor and/or editor when you ask a question that they’ve already answered in an email or the syllabus.

In the same vein: If you have a question, try to figure it out yourself before you ask someone.

This is inspired by/derived from my mother. When we were little and would ask her something we could figure out (or do) ourselves, she’d always say, “What would you do if I weren’t here?” I didn’t like it then. Now, I wish I could shout it at coworkers who don’t seem to understand why Google was invented.

Plus, this is an easy way to seem smarter than you really are. A former coworker of mine once asked why I always seemed to know everything. I smiled demurely, ready to offer a not-so-humble “Oh, stop,” when another coworker leaned over and said, “She just Googles stuff.”

No one is going to just stumble on you and your work and offer you what you want.

I still have to learn this myself. I like recognition, but I’m also a perfectionist, and so I’m hesitant to share my stuff unless it’s The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done. (I also try not to be what I consider annoying on social media.)

But that’s really dumb. No one is going to see my work unless I show it to them — or offer me a job unless I tell them I’m looking, et cetera. Another way to view this: Think of that one person you know who’s constantly bragging about themselves and their work on social media. Does that person drive you nuts? Yep. But do they always seem to have countless opportunities pop up? Also yep.

My advice: Hide them from your Facebook feed, suck it up and tell people what you’re doing.

Think about what you actually want to do — not necessarily what looks good on paper.

(This is a little sappier.)

In my first semester of grad school, I was hanging out with some friends after a Carolina basketball game. One of them — the only other girl at the table, whom I’d met about five minutes earlier — was getting ready to graduate from undergrad. All of us started talking about senior year of college and making the transition, and this girl very quietly started crying.

No one else at the table noticed. But I saw her, and I immediately remembered how it felt to be in her shoes. I tapped my seatmate on his shoulder (I actually think I pushed him out of the booth; sorry, John), slid in next to her and asked what was wrong.

She had three potential job offers. Two were at big-name papers. One was at a place that, while still impressive, didn’t carry quite as much weight as the others. As we talked, I realized she wanted to go to the third paper, but she felt like she shouldn’t — or couldn’t. And suddenly I was 21 and terrified again, making the decision to take my first job out of college — a job that (in hindsight) I didn’t actually want and would quit in three months.

I told her all this, also crying at this point, because I cry at everything and because I was feeling her worries so clearly. She visibly relaxed, and we both started laughing at ourselves, crying while surrounded by boys who clearly knew something was up but were not about to butt in.

The next night, I saw her at a party. She walked in, walked up to me and told me she’d decided to take the third job. Two years later, she’s still there and doing some amazing work.