With the school year at a close and graduation season upon us, a sense of nostalgia comes over me (cue Adele’s song, “Million Years Ago”). Graduates, as you look to walk across the stage with your diplomas in hand, there is no textbook for life after college. My hope is that this blog will serve as part of the CliffsNotes for your journey into the real world.
Where did all the time go since I graduated in 2000 from the University of San Francisco? Reflecting back, I’ve been fortunate to accomplish my life’s dreams: TV reporter in a major market, co-host of a show on PBS and a university instructor (I ended up teaching at my alma mater and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco).
I recall waking up one morning last year and thinking to myself, “Wow, I’ve accomplished what I’ve dreamed of and my professional network has grown so much and I didn’t even realize it until now.”
Whenever my students and mentees ask me for sage advice as they prepare for the next chapter of their life, I realize how old I am!
I remember how badly I wanted to be a TV reporter when I was younger — I could envision it and taste it. I would read shampoo bottles aloud in the shower, “rinse, lather, repeat.” With an imaginary mic in my hand, I would practice signing off live shots in the mirror of my college dorm room. However, the odds were stacked against me.
When my journalism professor Michael Robertson asked our news media class, “Who wants to be a TV broadcaster?” almost everyone’s hands shot up. He said, “The numbers show roughly two percent make it.” Undaunted, I was determined to be in that two percent. But how? At the time, I had no experience or connections in the TV industry.
My social life in college was a blur as I worked close to a full-time schedule every semester and had five internships. I found time to get involved on campus, participating in clubs and co-founding the Journalism Association for Multicultural Students (JAMS) with my sister from another mister, Vicky Nguyen.
I also dealt with a number of personal challenges. Several family members were facing life-threatening health issues. Money was scarce, so my parents pushed me to be a “doctor, lawyer or engineer.” My mom’s voice still faintly nags me. “How will you be TV reporter? You can’t afford to buy clothes,” she would lecture me in her broken Chinglish.
Heck, I was a young adult just trying to find my grounding. I got a job at Banana Republic, which allowed me to get discounts on clothing. I joined the Asian American Journalists Association, where I made lifelong connections and found mentors in the biz. As a volunteer, I wrote articles for the AAJA newsletter and was a student representative for the organization. I even won a few awards, including the Ken Kashiwahara Asian Male Broadcaster scholarship, given to young Asian males — a rarity in the broadcast world — who show potential in the industry.
I was determined to make it.
Dear graduate, here are five things I wish I had known, as you step off that stage and onto unfamiliar territory that is your career.
1. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. We are so much more not in control of our lives than we realize. Let’s examine the truth: we can’t control who will give us a job or who will fire us, but we can control how many resumes we send out and how hard we practice our craft, whatever that may be. So do your best and surrender. That thing — I call it God — will create opportunities and spark connections at the right time, not YOUR time.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke powerfully from the heart at UC Berkeley’s commencement earlier this month. In it, she shared for the first time publicly about coping with the devastating loss of her husband last year. “When life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again,” she said.
Adversity will come whether we like it or not. How we respond will determine if it brings us down or causes us to emerge from the storm.
2. Be grateful for the now. My good friend Debbi Spungen told me when you live in the past, you are full of regret. When you live in the future, you are full of anxiety. So we have no other choice than being here and now. I’ll say it again, be here and now. Say thank you for your life and all the other things that are marvelous right now.
I often wondered how I would break into the TV industry without knowing anybody at the top. My first year in college, I wondered if I would score an internship. Then after I got my first internship, I wondered if I would get a paid internship. Then I wondered if I would get a job. My internship at the local CBS station yielded a paid, part-time, weekend assignment editor position. Then I wondered if I would get a full-time job as a legit TV reporter. I was never really in the moment. I promise, you’ll always be OK if you are grateful for what you have now.
3. Believe. During a conversation I had with a friend, I came up the equation “TRUST + ACTION = TRACTION,” which I continue to hold on to dearly.
Paulo Coehlo, author of “The Alchemist” and one of my favorite writers, also said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I believe this and live by it. You have to trust you’ll meet the right people at the right time. Trust that the right doors will swing open — even if they are guised in mistakes or bad news. Trust that you are guided.
Some people say, “What if it doesn’t happen?” That isn’t up to us to worry about. If it’s meant to happen and is aligned with what you are brought here to do, the opportunities will come.
Being able to trust can be difficult, but I have gained a new perspective on it. My friend Princess Tirelo Molotlegi told me (yes, she is a real life princess y’all) she once heard from someone, “God doesn’t let you see your fullest potential.”
I was baffled and asked, “Why?”
She replied, “We would be too scared if we could see it fully.”
But you have to take action. Keep practicing your craft in the industry you want to get into. Be proactive. Do it!
4. Practice self-care. When I was a teenager, my sister Lynn Billett, a nurse practitioner and yoga instructor, told me, “Take care of your body now. Eat well, get in the routine of exercising regularly and limit the crap you put into your body. It’s harder to get into these good habits when you’re older.” Sage advice. Health is really wealth. Without the former, you can’t have the latter. You only have one heart, so take care of it. My daily self-care routine is to do at least five minutes of yoga and stretch every morning. I sit in silence — if I’m busy I do it for just a minute or two to reboot my mind. If I can’t take care of myself, how can I take care of people and things that are important to me?
5. Give back. The law of the universe is: when you give, you get back so much more. It may seem in a culture that is so focused on being more and doing more for yourself. But it is a golden rule that when you give, you receive JOY. That is my dream for you. Find out what your gifts are — I call it your power — and use them the fullest way possible. Shine your light the brightest way you know how. Share your talents with others and you will feel something no dollar bill can buy — joy.
Joy on, Class of 2016!