When I was sixteen years old, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life.
I dreamed of being the next Tina Fey (my hero at the time) since I was a lifelong “Saturday Night Live” fan and had done a few student written shows. I loved comedy and really enjoyed writing so it almost made sense to me.
But then I realized how that’s a million in one shot of actually happening. I needed a new life plan.
One day, my dad (a motorsports journalist) asked me if I wanted to accompany he and my mom to the NASCAR awards banquet in New York and work backstage. As a sixteen year old kid who was obsessed with all things theatre, this seemed like a golden opportunity.
I knew little about NASCAR by then. I mean, I went to my first race in July of that same year and could name a few drivers but other than that, I was still very much learning.
About a month later, I found myself helping out the NASCAR public relations staff by assisting on the red carpet backstage at the Waldorf=Astoria. I helped escort drivers down camera row to do interviews, was a runner for microphones and other supplies and pretty much just did whatever was asked of me. I was ready, willing to learn and wanted to soak up all that I could.
In a nutshell, that day changed my life. I went from wanting to be a comedy writer to a public relations professional in motorsports overnight. At least one of those dreams came true.
Just a year after graduating high school, I found myself working in my first internship (which later helped me eventually do five more). That ultimately led to the career I have now but that would have never happened had I had that first experience while still in high school.
So for the past three years, I have been a speaker at my high school’s Career Day discussing careers in sports and social media marketing. Having had the opportunity that changed my life while still in high school, I hope to inspire kids to figure out their path by letting them know I was able to do so at their age and that they can do anything they put their minds to.
Over the past three years, I have learned a lot just by presenting.
During the first year I spoke, I learned that all of my research that says high school students don’t really use Facebook is quite true.
I began the presentation by simply asking students by show of hands who used various social media platforms. First was Twitter. About half the room raised their hands. Then I asked about Instagram. Almost the whole room raised their hands. Then I made the mistake of asking about Facebook.
No hands were raised. Instead, one girl deadpans, looks right at me and says, “Um, no one uses Facebook. It’s for old people.”
And with that, I discovered it’s absolutely true that high school students are anti-Facebook.
The second year, I decided to change up my presentation slightly. I changed jobs from the previous year and realized most students not only were not race fans but knew very little about motorsports. Who was the one driver they all seemed to be familiar with?
So as an ice breaker, I included a quick scene from “Talladega Nights” in which Ricky Bobby tells a reporter he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. That was a hit and from there, I had their attention at least for a bit.
The third year (just a few days ago), I brought some swag which was a handful of items from a program from the year before. I asked students to answer questions at the end of the presentation for a chance to win. Suddenly, I had their attention more than ever.
With each year, I learn a little bit more about how high school has changed since I was a student there. I also learn how much I have changed in the nearly ten years that has passed since I roamed the halls daily.
Ten years ago, I was just getting over being painfully shy. I had an all-star team of theater directors, choir leaders, vocal coaches and so on who helped me go from a quiet kid to a slightly less quiet lifelong theater kid. I may have graduated years ago but I will never forget all of the great memories I have had on the stages there.
It was great that I was even able to stop by and say hello to some of those teachers this last time by and thank them for everything they have done for me. I would have never imagined that being involved with theater would have helped so much but I can see in the long-run that it did.
So while my life might be going more than hundred miles an hour sometimes nowadays, I’ll never forget that the road that put me here began when I was in high school.
** Featured image from my most recent experience as a Career Day speaker