INTERLUDE: Advice for New College Graduates (From a Degenerate Horseplayer)

Most times, when I post here, it’ll be about analyzing a horse race, or a card of races, or a Pick Four sequence. However, there are times where I feel the need to expound on more important things. Don’t worry; I’m NOT going to talk about politics! Done breathing sighs of relief? Good.

Anyway, an old professor of mine posted to Facebook Monday, saying that graduating seniors at Ithaca College were starting to come up to him and panic about entering the real world. He urged former students to post their career paths, and it turned into a gathering of young professionals giving advice on how to handle what happens when what you wind up doing isn’t what you were intending to do at an earlier point in your life.

Make no mistake, I love the work that I do. I help coordinate the Daily Racing Form’s social media efforts, which is a dream job for a lifelong horse racing fan who also has a passion for the written word and other forms of media production. The path I took to get there, though, more closely resembles a map from “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (where the heroes circled around for a long time before getting to their destination) than anything else.

I’m a little young to do a “letter to my younger self” kind of piece, but I’d like to think I’ve had enough life experience to give soon-to-be graduates (and anyone else in this position) some advice on how to deal with the curveballs they’ll be thrown going forward. My advice isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s stuff learned from dealing with things that have happened to me, and hopefully, it helps someone out there.

1) Never close any doors.

When I was in college, I did pretty much every sports media-related thing one could do. I PA-announced home sporting events. I participated in the radio and TV stations. I wrote. I tweeted. I networked. I ate lots of free press box food, some MUCH better than others (with some press boxes eschewing feeding the working press altogether; looking at you, Frostburg State!!!).

About the only two things I didn’t do much of were sports information and newspaper writing. The sports information director at Ithaca College and I were not fans of one another, to put things very mildly. In fact, he’s one of two former work associates with a special section of his very own in my memoirs, which will be released in about 30 years when I need money to play Pick Four tickets. Meanwhile, I never did much writing for Ithaca’s award-winning student newspaper simply because I was neck-deep in other stuff (plus studies towards a major and two minors) and didn’t have time for it.

You can probably guess where this is going. My first job out of college was working in the sports information office at Siena College (thankfully for people with infinitely more class than the person I could’ve worked for at Ithaca!). After two years there, I moved on to my second job, which came at, yep, a newspaper. Granted, much of my duties revolved around stuff I’d already done (video production, website work, etc.), but the fact remains that I did things I never thought I was going to do, and I’m proud of what I did while at those stops. In the nascent stages of Twitter, I helped triple the follower count of the main Siena account, and while at The Saratogian, we won three different statewide awards for our digital media coverage of racing at Saratoga Race Course.

Don’t shy away from something different. Use what you know, learn what you don’t, and run with the ball when it’s given to you.

2) Get a work/life balance, and keep it.

Your first job is going to be a head-spinning experience. As the new person, you may get all the work nobody else wants to do, and it may seem daunting at times. Word to the wise: Work to live. Do NOT live to work.

What you’re doing likely isn’t rocket science (unless you’re actually an aspiring rocket scientist, in which case, this paragraph probably isn’t for you). I can count on one hand the number of busy-work assignments I remember from my first job that had to get done, for whatever reason. There were a ton, but I don’t remember them.

I remember things like how I skipped off to an OTB in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to get out of driving my bosses around during the 2011 MAAC basketball tournament (I played races from Delta Downs with six older Korean gentlemen who did not speak English). I remember heading to a casino in West Palm Beach between rounds of a golf tournament Siena “hosted” in Florida. I remember walking around in Inner Harbor on a trip to Maryland, looking at the plates on the ground outside Camden Yards where long home runs returned to the surface.

My point: Don’t forget about the big picture. Work hard, but don’t forget to do stuff that makes you happy. There are times where that’s easier said than done. One year at Siena, I didn’t have a single day off for a six-week stretch from New Year’s Day to Super Bowl Sunday. Don’t let office life beat you down.

3) When things get tough, breathe.

You’re going to mess up at some point. Everyone does; some people just know how to deal with it better. When it happens (not if, but when), don’t take it personally. Roll with the punches, do your job to the best of your ability, and get past it.

My story: In the summer of 2012, we had almost an entirely-new sports staff at The Saratogian. A clerk, who was not a devout racing fan, published a story online that had a headline calling the Haskell at Monmouth Park the Eddie Haskell Invitational. I didn’t author the story, and in fact had nothing to do with it, but as the main on-track reporter for the publication, I was the face of the paper.

Needless to say, our editor (Kevin Moran, who’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had) reamed us out, as he should have. A complete reassignment of the staff was discussed by senior management (above Kevin’s head), wherein I would be taken off the track so as to proofread everything before it went to press and people who weren’t necessarily racing fans would be on-track, producing racing-related content in one of the country’s few remaining horse racing hotbeds.

It was a disastrous idea, and we all knew it. We went to Kevin and fought for what we believed in, and to his everlasting credit (and probably the horror of upper management), he gave us the go-ahead to continue as we were. The next day at the track, the story was posted in the Saratoga press box, complete with the embarrassing headline. I gave it a day up there so people could get their laughs in, but the following morning, I made a show of tearing it off the wall, crumpling it up, and throwing it into the garbage can. It was a sign that it was time to move on, and move on we did, winning a pair of awards for our on-site coverage of Travers Day.

4) Be prepared for change, and don’t be afraid of it.

Things happen in life that knock the journey you think you’re on off-course. Sometimes, they’re work-related. Other times, these things have to do with personal lives. At any rate, you’ll be tested, and some of these tests won’t be fun ones.

My field (digital media) seems to change every five seconds. If I commandeered a time machine, went back to 2007, and told everyone that a form of online communication where posts are limited to 140 characters or less is one of the most valuable methods of reaching people around the world, I’d be outright laughed at. In 20 years, we’ve gone from VCR’s and tape-traders sending bulky tapes around the world to uploading clips onto YouTube, where a seemingly-infinite library of videos exist on any subject one can think of.

For that reason, the job you think you want now may not exist as-is in five to 10 years, or it may exist in a modified form. Don’t be afraid to learn new things. Be prepared for things to happen that aren’t in your plan, and meet challenges head-on. If you fall, fall forward, get something out of it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who care about you or those you respect.

I was helped by a lot of people to get where I am today, and paying it forward is one of the best things anyone can do. If you’re a soon-to-be graduate, and you think you’re in for a world of hurt in the real world, I can assure you that you’re not. You’re in the same position everyone else has been in at one time or another, and everything is going to be okay.

Need to vent? Need advice? Think I’m a self-important blowhard who shouldn’t be writing stuff like this (NOTE: if so, please reconsider coming to my website)? Click here to reach out directly. I read everything that comes in.

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