What I'd Tell My 21-Year-Old Self

Words of wisdom for college students (and recent grads) looking to become media pros


One of our favorite things to do as a company is to take several mornings during the course of the year to visit our old stomping grounds at Temple University.  We are lucky enough to have built strong, long lasting relationships with many of our college professors, who now look to us to offer a bit of insight to their students on what we’ve experienced in our five years of running a business right out of college. 

Most of the students in the class we speak with aren’t thinking about starting their own production companies – as we weren’t back then – but we are always blown away by the engagement and quality of questions that come from the students about what to expect in the real world, how to become good media producers, and even how to run your own business.

Every time we speak to a class, it feels like we’re always forgetting to tell them something that we may have told a previous group.  Every day is a new learning opportunity for us, and we love the opportunity to pass along a little bit of the knowledge we’ve gathered over time.

Now that it's nearing the end of June and many college students and recent grads are looking for work, I figured it would be a good time to compile some of the thoughts we share with students on the real world and how to succeed in it.  So without further adieu, here are a few of the things I would’ve told my 21-year-old self (other than don't eat so much and get some occasional exercise):          


            You don’t know what you don’t know.  That’s probably the biggest one.  It’s funny how cyclical life is.  Every level of life starts from the lowest rung of the ladder, and with age, we climb toward the top.  Think about it.  High school freshman – bottom.  High school senior – top.  College freshman – back to the bottom.  College senior – top of the world.  But the same is true in the real world.  College graduate – back to the bottom once more.  Just because you’ve got a degree doesn’t mean you’re a genius who has had all the life experience in the world.  You’re going to find out quickly that’s not the case.  In life, you always go back to the bottom and climb your way back up.  Don’t be a know-it-all.

         Remember that “networking” word?  It’s no joke.  I know everyone is afraid of it.  I was too.  But networking is a part of the young professional’s life, and if you want to be successful, you’ll get started today.  What you don’t realize is that networking begins in your classes.  When I was in college, I worked on Temple Update, a weekly 30 minute news show that we thought was just the greatest thing ever.  While the final product probably wasn’t as great as we thought, the experience sure was.  And that’s because of the people.  These are people that I still talk to, work with, and depend on frequently.  But I know dozens – I mean dozens – of stories about how one person from Update helped another get his or her first job in television, recommended someone for a promotion, or worked together at stations all across America.  Start networking now, and start by looking at the people to the left and right of you.

           Be an intelligent consumer of media.  That doesn’t mean watch TV and say, “this is good” or “this is bad”.  That means really try to understand what’s on your screen and how it got there.  There are so many students who ask us to look at their work, and when we do, it looks like they’ve never turned their TV on before.  Think about how lucky we are to be in a medium where you can literally turn on the TV and see how professionals do what you want to do.  You can’t turn on the TV and learn how to be an accountant, but you can turn on the TV and see how pros shoot, light, edit, report, write, and so forth.  If some of your videography doesn’t look similar to something you’ve seen on TV, you’re probably not following the conventions or techniques you’ve been taught.  Yes, it’s perfectly fine to break conventions – but only after you’ve mastered them.  Conventions are conventions because they work.  Don’t reinvent the wheel before your time comes.  You come off either pretentious or lacking the necessary skills to succeed.

Young, invincible, naive. Can't blame a college grad for feeling that way. But the real world will make you grow up real quick.

Young, invincible, naive. Can't blame a college grad for feeling that way. But the real world will make you grow up real quick.

         Wear many hats.  If you know anything about the media business, you know that it’s ever evolving, and staff positions are more condensed than ever.  You have to be able to do many, many things.  There are so few jobs that exist that operate in a vacuum.  If you just want to be on-air, and don’t want to learn how to shoot, edit, write, and produce, you might want to hop in a time machine, because your time passed 20 years ago.  Embrace the change and take it on headfirst.  As business owners, we are, on any given day, videographers, writers, producers, talent, marketers, copywriters, accountants, lawyers, web designers, graphic designers, teachers, students, collaborators, and much more.  Not saying that’s going to be your life, but be prepared to expand your horizons and learn something.

         Know what you’re worth.  You’re young.  That means you’re cheap, right?  Well, unfortunately, most of the time, that can be the case.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what you’re worth.  If you’re searching for your first job, you are not going to have much negotiating power when it comes time to talk salary.  But your first job is your first chance to prove to others how much you’re worth.  How much are you going to step out of your comfort zone to become good at a new program?  How are you going to show that you’re more dedicated and passionate than others?  How much do you want your ideas to get noticed?  Take the little steps to show decision makers that they made a right one by hiring you.  That pays off in the long run.

         You’re not the only one.  So many students we talk to seem to think that they have a situation or thought process that is dissimilar from everyone else’s.  Chances are, someone has thought the same things you have.  When you apply for jobs, think about the thousand other applicants.  To think you’re the most qualified one is naïve.  Bring something else to the table.  What can YOU do different than others?  What will YOU do for the company?  Your first job is not about you.  Rather it’s about how you can help the company you’re working for.  What hole are you filling for them?  And why you instead of someone else? 

         One day at a time.  The biggest mistake anybody makes in life – and this goes for people young and old – is to panic and worry about planning every single detail of your life.  Students we work with seem to have this plan for how long it’ll take them to get a job, how long they have to stay there before they get their second job, when they’re getting married, buying a house, having a family, etc.  It’s too much, guys.  You’re going to stress yourself into panic attacks.  Not only that, you’re going to feel disappointed when life throws you that first curveball that you’re not expecting – and trust me – it will come, whether you choose to believe it or not.  Instead of stressing over things you can’t really control, no matter how much you try, just let life happen and learn along the way.  It’s the hardest thing to do, especially as a young person, but if you just keep moving, you’ll get all of the things you want accomplished and then some.

            "No" gets you one step closer to "Yes".  I was just reminded of this a couple of hours ago.  We were sent a rejection letter for a project we were bidding for.  No matter.  That "No" is fine because we don't have time to sit around worrying about rejection.  We've had five years of "Noes", and we'll have "Noes" as long as we remain in business.  It's part of life.  Learn to accept "No", ask for constructive criticism from those who reject us, figure out how to improve, and take one step closer to a "Yes". 

Your turn!  For students and recent grads – what do you want to know that we might not have touched on?  And for those pros that can offer a little advice – what would you tell your 21-year-old self if you had the chance?


Contact Rob Czyzewicz