Post-Grad Adventures: First Day of College Advice

Oh, 18-year-old Zoe, you sweet summer child.
Oh, 18-year-old Zoe, you sweet summer child.

My first day of college was exactly five years ago today — September 22, 2011.

Zoe at 23 would probably be so annoyed with Zoe at 18: I had absolutely no idea of what the hell I was supposed to be doing, and figured that once I got to school that I would figure it all out. I remember a lot about that first day — the weather, what I wore, the classes I took and where I hung out — but the main thing I remember is feeling excited about embarking on a new experience. There’s no way I would have been able to know or understand what four years of undergrad would give me: a degree program that taught me way more than how to read literature, a student assistant job that opened so many doors, campus involvement that I wouldn’t trade for the world and some of my favorite people in this little universe of ours.

Today, I’m lucky to be back at my alma mater as a staff member that interacts directly with students. All summer, I talked to incoming freshmen and transfer students and answered their questions about navigating the university labyrinth: how to sort out their financial aid package, register for classes and more. Today was their first day of class, and I saw so many social media posts from students thrilled about starting college. I walked around campus today asking returning students for their advice for new students, and the vibe on campus was electric with possibility. I hope that they are able to have a great college experience like I did. Throughout the day, I thought about the advice I’d give to them and what I wish I would have known on my first day of college. Here’s what I would tell them.

Know that you’re entitled to changing your mind.

When you’re young and still figuring out the world, it’s really easy to succumb to the pressure of what other people want for you, or what you think other people and society want from you. But at the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’re happy and healthy. If that means that you have to put yourself in a potentially uncomfortable position to get to happiness and healthiness, you gotta do it. Living with regret is not fun.

I have always found it pretty ridiculous that society at-large expects teenagers to pick a major and stick with it for four years and most likely the rest of their lives. It’s just not realistic, and you have to do what you love — I would probably make more money if I had picked something in the science or engineering fields, but I would have been really bad at it and miserable. Plus, my interests and tastes changed dramatically between 18 and 22. You have to allow yourself the room to grow and explore what you really want. If that ends up being far away from the original plan, that’s totally okay. Change is good.

Practice proactivity.

That being said, you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. If you want to make the most of your college experience and position yourself for the best post-grad outcome, you have to put in the work. Take class seriously, get involved on campus and explore all of the options readily available to you. While you’re working towards building a solid college career, you’ll learn tons about yourself and what you want out of life. You may realize that your passion is helping people, or that you enjoy event planning. You may also realize that you’re not as good at math as you thought you were, or that you need to work on your interpersonal communication skills. Once you graduate, that proactivity you’ve been training for the the last few years will pay off in spades.

Read everything.

I knew both English majors and non-English majors who would say that they never read the assigned class readings, as if that was something to be admired. My advice to any student is to read everything that your professors assign. (For the most part, college professors assign much more interesting books than your high school teachers.) You’ll  e much more prepared for lecture, and you’ll be able to ask better questions about the concepts you don’t understand. Broadening your literary horizon is so important to building perspective, and it has never hurt anyone to be well-read.

It’ll go faster than you think.

I was able to do a lot in college, but I still wish I was able to do even more — I wish I would have applied for more scholarships, been more proactive about getting my college writing published and worked harder on finding somewhere to intern. The undergrad years are an incubator for adulthood that you’ll never have again. One day you’ll wake up and wonder how all of a sudden you’re a third-year student when you feel like you just moved into your freshman dorm. But if you apply yourself and take full advantage of the time you have, you’ll go so far and have a blast. I’m rooting for you.

What advice would you give to someone starting their undergrad career? Tell me in the comments.

Post-Grad Adventures: Zoë’s Secret to Post-Grad Success

Let's keep it between us.
Let’s keep it between us.
In comparison to a lot of people I know and work with, I’m basically an infant in the full-time working world. In just over a year, I’ve learned so much about who I am and what I want out of my career.

I could be wrong, but I might already figured out the secret to post-grad success. And the more I think about this secret I’ve unlocked, the more I realize just how applicable it is to any job and every facet of everyday life. Articulated in just three words, it’s simultaneously simple and complicated. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

Know your audience.

I wasn’t a complete stranger to the concept of audience before figuring this out. In every rhetoric or composition class I’ve ever taken, audience has always been an integral aspect to consider when setting up and presenting an argument. In every article I write, I have to think about who my reader is and what I want to tell them. Being able to convince an audience of your credibility or the validity of your opinion rests on your understanding of who the audience members are and where their interests lie. If you’re going to give a talk on steak’s nutritional benefits to a room full of vegans, it’s still possible to have a well-executed presentation and have your information stick in their brain — you just need to think more strategically. If you don’t, you can’t even begin to chip away at their guard.

Thinking about your audience also unfolds many other things for you to consider that can help you frame your argument. What context is this interaction taking place in? What is acceptable behavior? What’s the current political or cultural climate? The list of questions can go on and on, and operate on many levels. For example, think back to your teenage years. If you wanted to ask your mom if you could go out with your friends or if she would buy you something, you had to make an assessment before figuring out how you were going to do it. Was she in a good mood? Had she spent a lot of money on you you lately? Had you done anything bad recently? What could you do to make the conditions just right for the answer to be yes?

At my full-time gig working at my alma mater, pausing and thinking about my audience has also been the best way to keep me from going too far inside my own head. When you’re a professional and you know your stuff, it is so easy to get into the weeds of your project. There’s a time and a place for that, and remembering what your audience needs helps to decide that time and place.

The students I work with and for are really just interested in getting information that’s immediately accessible and easy to understand. They don’t like reading big paragraphs of text, and they don’t like a stuffy administrative voice. I can be creative about the ways I present that information, but remembering what they want and need pulls me in the right directions for what language I should use, details I need to include or channel I can post on. People can also be part of multiple audiences, and I have to take that into consideration — the students who need the information may be first-time college students, or speak English as a second language. 

At the same time, I also have to consider the faculty and staff that are also stakeholders in what we’re doing. There are layers and layers of discourse all occurring simultaneously, and remembering what my main purpose is — to help students have great college experiences — helps me navigate them. Dreaming up lofty ideas and making extremely creative content are fun brain exercises and I like to do both, but ultimately I have to remember what the purpose of my work is and dial forward or back accordingly.

Once you start thinking about your audience in a mindful and deliberate way, you’ll notice that the same strategies can work in other areas of your life beyond the office or the classroom. Your own wants and needs as a multiple-audience member are still important, but you’ll figure out how to fulfill them without stepping on the wants and needs of others. Keeping the know your audience mantra at the front of my mind has given me so much perspective on how the world at-large works, and I hope it does the same for you.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


Link Party: 6/13-6/17

A new Jenny Holzer installation at the Broad Museum.
A new Jenny Holzer installation at the Broad Museum, which I visited yesterday.

I read so many great articles this week, and I couldn’t pare them down to the best six because they were all. so. great. The more the merrier. Here’s what I read:

1. Can Netflix survive in the world it created? (My take: probably not.)

2. How Silicon Valley nails Silicon Valley. (Do you watch this show?  I love it. Start watching it.)

3. This is a very emotionally difficult interview to read, but you really should read it — an interview with a woman who recently had an abortion at 32 weeks.

4. The underground economy that rules New York City’s food carts.

5. A delightful conversation about basically nothing with Paul McCartney.

6. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and the power of the unfinished album.

7. An inside look at how Yahoo derailed Tumblr.

8. Barbara Williamson, one of the most famous radical sex experiments of the 1970s, and her life today.

9. An excerpt from a new book about Max Perkins, the editor who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

10. The best of the Dirtbags.

Have a great weekend.

Culture Connoisseur: The Rose Bowl Flea Market

The weather was perfect for walking around a huge asphalt parking lot.
The weather was perfect for walking around a huge asphalt parking lot.

This past weekend, I decided to trek out to Pasadena to experience a true Los Angeles institution — the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

This flea market happens every second Sunday of the month in the parking lots and concourse that surround the stadium, and has been going on for almost 50 years. In total, the market has seven miles of shopping — over 2,500 vendors and 20,000 visitors come every time.

The typical view looking down a makeshift alleyway of vendors.
The typical view looking down a makeshift alleyway of vendors.

I try my best to take advantage of living just outside of Los Angeles, and this was next on the list. My girl boss inspiration Jen Gotch goes every month and documents it wonderfully on Snapchat, and getting a glimpse of the stuff she’s found there (including but not limited to short sleeve sweatshirts, pin flair and bandanas) fueled my interest. Unfortunately I’m not decorating a new apartment or house, but I went just to see what it was like and see if it really lived up to the hype. It does.

I am SO obsessed with this fabric, and I need to find a project and go back and buy it.
I am SO obsessed with this fabric, and I need to find a project and go back and buy it.

If you’re curious, there’s this whole cache on the Internet that’ll give you tips on how to have the best experience. I got there at 10 and paid $9 for admission, but if you were looking for furniture it would be worth it to show up earlier and pay more on the sliding admission scale. I brought a purse because I wasn’t planning on buying anything I couldn’t carry, but many people bring push carts for their hauls. The weekend weather was overcast and sprinkly, but bringing your own water and wearing a hat/sunscreen are good ideas. And since it’s a flea market, you’ll need to bring a wad of cash.

When I got there, I was immediately overwhelmed. There is just so much to look at, and you swim through a sea of people.  I walked through the entire market, looking at housewares, clothing and knick knacks. Half of the market is devoted to antiques and vintage merchandise, which is everything from clothing to furniture to collectibles. The other half is considered new merchandise, typical of what you might see at a county fair: plants, services you can buy, boutique items and general knick knacks. You can find just about anything at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

So. much. beautiful. hardware.
So. much. beautiful. hardware.

My favorite things at the market were gorgeous glass knobs and handles by the trayful, turquoise jewelry, colorful rugs, piles and piles of black-and-white textiles (which I’m trying to brainstorm a DIY project for) and big potted plants. If I was decorating an apartment or house, it would be a great place to go and find home accessories. Some of the furniture is pricy, but it all has more character and style than something you’d buy at a superstore.

If you’re looking for a real LA experience, the Rose Bowl Flea Market is the place to go. Everything screams the true Angeleno aesthetic, from what the vendors are selling to the people who shop there. Vintage and used items are a really significant part of the culture here, for people who aren’t celebrities or multi-millionaires. These people go every month to hang out with friends, pick up something for their wardrobe or house and get a slice of culture, and that’s a great vibe to be a part of. When I was moseying through one of the aisles, I saw Drew Barrymore — bedecked in printed pants and orange-tinted sunglasses — picking out a rug and discussing it with her crew. That’s about as LA as something could possibly get.

What a great sign, right?
What a great sign, right?

I bought one thing at the flea that I was really excited to bring home. I’ve always loved agate slices, but never found one that was reasonably priced. I bought this beautiful purple one from a crystals vendor for $9. I haven’t decided its home yet, but it’ll probably end up on my bedside table or my dresser.


Next time I go out to the Rose Bowl, I think I might get some new knobs for my dresser, or a Himalayan salt lamp. I’m sure that next time there will be even more treasures to find.

If I had a house with unlimited rooms...
If I had a house with unlimited rooms…
You can even buy plants at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. You can buy basically anything here.
You can even buy plants at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. You can buy basically anything here.
Last photo, I promise -- look at how cool this coral is.
Last photo, I promise — look at how cool this coral is.

Have you been to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, or want to tell me about a flea market you love? Let’s talk about it in the comments.