A couple of weekends ago, I returned to Washington, DC for the second consecutive year for Georgetown University’s Homecoming. I love going back to campus to see what’s changed, reminisce about funny stories and lasting memories, and reflect on how my education has helped me since graduation. As with any homecoming, I expected to catch up with friends and acquaintances, drink a few adult beverages, and generally just have a great time. Thankfully, my visit lived up to my expectations in that regard but also exceeded them in a different way. As a more mature adult more in tune with his surroundings, I definitely paid more attention to what was happening around me, and it made me realize a few valuable lessons that serve as a nice refresher for anyone’s post-college life. Drum roll please…
1. The power of giving – One of the best things I’ve learned since working at VaynerMedia has been the power of surprise and delight, aka unexpected gifting. In the social media world, that means brands unexpectedly rewarding advocates with some sort of physical item or gesture that tells them you value their support, thus further strengthening the lifetime bond between them.
Prior to traveling down to DC, I had arranged to have drinks with my alumni mentor from the business school. While I was putting that plan in motion, I finished an awesome book by James Altucher called Choose Yourself that I thought would be the perfect read for my mentor given his career complacency. I connected so much with the book that I not only read it twice but also felt compelled to spread its message to someone who would truly benefit from it. When we finally met for happy hour, I surprised him with the book, which he was extremely grateful for and excited to read.
That very same day, while visiting Georgetown’s bookstore, I decided to buy a T-shirt for my roommate of four years with whom I was staying. I thought it was a nice way to say thank you for the hospitality, and I knew he would totally not be expecting it. Just like my mentor, my roommate was caught off guard with my generosity and was very appreciative of my gift.
In both instances, it felt so good to give something meaningful to people I care about. I encourage you to give more unexpected gifts not only because it makes you feel nice inside but also because it strengthens your relationship with someone. Think of it as money invested, not money spent. Give for the sake of giving, and don’t expect anything back in return.
2. Mentoring is a two-way street – I had not seen my alumni mentor since graduation and only spoken to him a couple of times before we met Homecoming weekend. As my mentor, I looked to him both during and after school for help with career interests and legal advice around my past blogging gig. Throughout our relationship, I did my best to lend an ear to his personal and professional issues and speak honestly about how I thought he could approach them.
When we finally met for happy hour, we picked up right where we left off. It felt like two friends shooting the breeze and enjoying each other’s company. There was a mutual bond between us that transcended any formal mentor-mentee role play. We were both generally interested in each other’s current situations and eager to help. No wonder why the hour plus time we spent together flew. It was one of the first times I felt that I was giving back to him as much as he was offering to me. It was AWESOME!
The best mentor-mentee relationships are the ones in which both parties learn from each other. As a young kid just out of college who doesn’t have much life experience in the “real world,” it is difficult to play the teacher role and much easier to ask for advice. However, a lot of people sell themselves short with the regard to the potential value they can bring to the table. No person is free of problems. You just have to get to know him or her well enough on a personal level to discover them. Once you build up that trust, it’s much easier to brainstorm ideas and offer suggestions on how to tackle their problems. How can you help your mentor today?
3. Make your story interesting – Homecoming is awesome in that it unites you with people you spent time with in college. The annoying thing about it though is that the first thing everyone asks you about is where you are living/working. I totally understand this safe, ice breaker question, but all I kept doing was repeating myself. Compared to what most people were telling me, I’ve been working on some much cooler stuff at a growing company, which made me feel good. However, the way I explained and delivered my story could have been better. I could have told it with more excitement and pride. I could have framed it in a much sexier way given how social is transforming marketing today. The bottom line is that I didn’t do these things.
It was a good wake-up call for me and hopefully for you that you need to know how to tell your own story. Otherwise people will lose interest almost immediately and move on to something or someone else. Think about how you got where you are now, why you’re still there, and where you think you’re going next. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re likely just coasting in your job, stunting your career growth, feeling unhappy, or all of the above. Once you do know your elevator pitch, focus on capturing your audience’s attention to have them begging to hear more. Practicing this skill will help you as a public speaker and networker.
4. Explore / Be spontaneous – I went into Homecoming weekend knowing I would meet my mentor for drinks and attend the two main Georgetown alumni events. That’s pretty much it. As far as the rest of my trip was concerned, there were other things I thought it would be nice to do, but I wasn’t requiring myself to do them. I wanted to see where the weekend would take me.
On Friday, my girlfriend and I visited campus and the greater Georgetown area. Among many things we did that day, we enjoyed a peanut butter chocolate cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake, iced coffee from Saxby’s, a university bookstore visit, and of course plenty of fun photos. Saturday was less exploration-based given the main events of the weekend. Sunday was all about firsts: brunch in a part of DC I’d never been, a walk through Meridian Hill Park, and a tour of the National Portrait Gallery.
As much as I like to follow an agenda and routines, it was really great to further embrace my adventurous side. I challenge you to do something unexpected this weekend and really live in that moment. Shake up your routine and see where it takes you. You won’t regret it.
What have learned from returning to your college or high school Homecoming? Share your lessons in the comments.