The best advice I got at Penn didn't come from a professor. It didn't come from my father, and not from my best friend, either.
It was from a wise man named Conan O'Brien.
You all remember -- Conan was the spring Connaissance speaker our freshmen year. I've never laughed harder in my life, and ever since that day I've told anyone who asked that I believe Conan should be given the title of Funniest Man Alive.
But Conan wasn't just doing stand-up. The point of his speech was to give us one piece of advice. Never be afraid to jump in over your head, he said. You'll rise to the occasion.
"Don't fear failure -- embrace it," he told us. "I had to go out and look really bad before I could look really good."
He explained how he made the jump from being a Harvard geek to writing for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and finally to hosting his own late night talk show -- despite being a virtual unknown with almost no on-air experience.
He didn't expect to succeed, but he kept at it despite the horrible reviews and ratings. And sure enough, he rose to the occasion.
I left the theater that night thinking about what he said, which seemed especially applicable to a freshman still trying to find his niche at Penn.
For our first few years, the opportunities for risk-taking were always there, and I tried hard to take Conan's advice as much as possible.
The biggest risks I took were at The Daily Pennsylvanian, where I spent the better part of four years as a reporter and editor.
As a nervous and insecure freshman, I applied to cover the Penn Police department, a daunting job three years ago when there was still lots of crime on campus.
Unsure of my leadership skills, I was nervous about applying to be an editor. But with Conan's words echoing in my mind, I did, and spent a year as a news editor and another as the managing editor.
And Conan was right -- I did manage to mostly rise to the occasion (I'd like to think so, anyway).
There's been nothing more rewarding than the years I spent as a reporter and editor. But it wasn't the work I did or the experiences I had that made it so.
Yeah, I'll remember some of the stories I've covered and people I've interviewed. But there are other things I'll remember much more.
I'll remember The Team, and piling 10 people in a small car and driving to some ratty diner at 5 in the morning.
I'll remember singing Madonna and the Backstreet Boys in the Blue Room.
I'll remember the city team cheer.
I'll remember the conversations that stretched on for hours after the paper got finished, usually ending in laughter, occasionally in tears.
Most of all, I'll remember each of the 3' editors I was lucky enough to work with for two years, and the camaraderie that comes with spending 10 or 12 hours a day with a group of people who become closer than family.
Lately though, the chances to take big risks at Penn seem to come about far less frequently. Momentum guides our decisions these days more than active choices.
Which probably means it's time to move on. We'll miss what made our lives at Penn what they were, but leaving means it's time to once again start jumping in over our heads.
We have a chance to again do things that might make us nervous just to see where they take us. To take big risks -- be they social or professional -- and hope that we've learned enough over these past few years to allow us not only to manage those risks, but thrive as a result of them.
"Get in over your head and put yourself in positions that are really scary," Conan told us 3 1/2 years ago. It's advice none of us should forget.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.