This time each year, I start hearing from young people who want to intern at the JFP over the summer (last year we had 19) and from former interns who need a reference or career advice. A recent intern, for instance, wrote this morning: "After writing for the Free Press, I decided that journalism might be the career path I would like to take." The Murrah grad was accepted into an excellent J-school and wants to discuss "different routes" she can take as a journalist. "Your time and counsel would be very much appreciated," this savvy young women's email ends.
These requests always get me thinking about what I really wish I'd known myself years ago. What advice might have made my life and choices easier? What would have helped lower my stress and frustration over the years? What "real" tips can I give? So I started jotting down those lessons in my pink moleskine.
Here they are, in no particular order:
• Learn to manage your time and to do one thing at a time. Block out time in your calendar to do what you need to each day so the undone tasks don't drive you nuts when you're supposed to be relaxing.
• Fight monkey brain by writing down everything you need to do; never try to keep it all straight in your head. If a task takes less than two minutes, do it right now.
• Pick up after yourself and put your stuff away (at least weekly). You'll be loved and respected more if you're not a constant slob.
• Be proud of where you're from. I left Mississippi in shame after college and, 18 years later, found my way back with pride. Defend the state as needed against dumb attacks--but never give us a free pass. Help fix us, instead.
• If you leave, be sure to bring back what you learn at some point and share it with us.
• Each one teach one. Don't ask people to do for you; ask what you can do for them. Then they'll help you. Works every time.
• Be more than the sum of your upbringing--whether you went to a white "seg" academy or an all-black school. Embrace diversity.
• Ask other people about themselves. They'll adore you. It's all you need to know to be successful at an event or party. Try it.
• Learn to listen. Actively. Never text when someone is talking to you. Look them in the eye. Think of nothing else but them.
• Seek out big ideas throughout your life. Learn to think. Question. Never stop educating yourself. Talk about ideas, not people.
• Never be an age bigot. Enjoy the company of people from toddler to senior citizens. How? Ask, listen and invite all ages to events.
• You don't know everything. Really. No matter what your parents tell you. Seriously.
• It's not about you. Age teaches how dumb self-focus is. People are much more worried about themselves than about you.
• All jobs suck in some ways. So be willing to stick with one long enough to get really good at something (as in years, not months).
• Studies show it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be genius at something. Work it.
• Not everyone gets a trophy, or a promotion, or a raise. You must earn it, and that takes time and working with good mentors.
• Pick your battles and never burn a bridge unless you have to. You likely will need to cross it again. Make sure it's still there.
• Learn to be mindful. People only work well when they're fully present. Seek to be in the "flow" of everything you do, even dish washing. Take time to notice everything.
• Never eat alone, at least not often. Cultivate wide networks by offering to help all sorts of people. Follow up. Rinse. Repeat.
• Email or call every person who gives you a business card--within 24 hours.
• Send a handwritten note and stand out because you take time to do things right.
• Live and work with passion. Even argue with passion about what you believe in.
• Have a strong voice. Leave the high-pitched tone back in homeroom. (Ladies.)
• Take time to breathe, and live green.
• To borrow from the first lady, don't eat every day like it's Sunday dinner. Practice eating healthy food, and you'll start to enjoy it.
• Exercise every day. Walk. Bike. Stretch.
• Smoking is gross. And it leads to the worst kind of death imaginable. I know.
• Surprise the world--especially if you're a member of a group they expect little from. (And as a Mississippian, you are.) The best way to rebrand our city and state is to be great.
• Forgive people, especially your parents. Anger will hurt you the most.
• No one else enjoys your hangover.
• Say please and thank you. A lot. But don't overdo "sir" and "ma'am" with people under 60. Makes you seem, well, like a kid.
• Your procrastination is not anyone else's crisis. Don't turn in work late and then expect everyone to stop and coo over it.
• Push through your comfort zone. Little worth doing is easy the first dozen times.
• Work hard to be better than you are. Hold yourself and others to high standards.
• Don't be a drama king or queen or hang out with drama addicts. Take action; don't freak out or constantly make excuses. (Blech.)
• Learn how to constantly know what your "next actions" are to get stuff done. Don't be all talk, no follow-through. Just do it.
• Break large tasks into tiny chunks (actions) and spread them out over time.
• Learn to take criticism. The word "feedback" is not synonymous with "praise."
• Don't be someone who has to be reminded. Track your own tasks and promises.
• Follow procedures, or work with someone to improve them. Never ignore them.
• Don't be a "yes" person: If you haven't done it (or don't plan to), be honest about it.
• Always offer more than you ask for on a job. If they think you're there only for yourself or "a job," you're toast, or irrelevant at best.
• A good reference depends on how you leave, no matter how great you were in the early months. Never think, "What are they going to do? Fire me?" Worse, they will not recommend you when you most need it.
• Do work that matters, or make your current work matter more than it does now.
• Change the world every single day.
• Don't take things too personally. People will sometimes be gruff. Thicken your skin.
• Own your mistakes. The problem isn't that you make them; it's about how you deal with them. Never hide them. Never, ever.
• Notice everything, live out loud, challenge jerks and take care of the critters.
I'd like add a couple Donna-isms...
-Learn how to parallel park, because you WILL be downtown at some point.
-Always have a pair of flip flops (for when you're shoes are killing you) and rubbing alcohol (for chiggers), because you never know when you'll need it.
I definitely learned those things when I interned at JFP. For all of you wanting to apply, it was the best career decision I ever made. I chose it over a paid internship and I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't walked away from it!
Those are two of my favorites, Sophie! I'll never forget the chiggers, but at least James Ford Seale is in prison as a result of that trip. ;-)
Oh, and JoAnne Morris sent Willie's advice to young people, which is fabulous:
Read good books, laugh a lot, and always be kind.
Here's a fun list of the "Secrets of Adulthood" that I just ran into.