There are plenty of successful professionals in our town, but how did they get started? What challenges did they overcome? And what words of advice might they have for young people trying to figure out their own future? That is the premise for a new program aimed at high school students, created by the Rye Youth Council Employment Service, and hosted by Serendipity Labs. The first CAREER GPS event featured local speakers from the field of marketing, media, and communications – popular fields for people interested in writing and the liberal arts.
The panel included Tina Exarhos, Chief Content Officer for NowThis Media; Aaron Griffiths, Global Creative Lead at Facebook and Instagram; Eliza Harris, Chief Operating Officer, Indagare Travel; Josh Nathan, media lawyer and former Public Radio executive; and Marguerite Ward, writer and editor on the “TODAY” show. Andrea Atkins Hessekiel, journalist and college essay coach, moderated the event.
The participants shared an early love of creativity and writing, but their paths to success were very different. Marguerite Ward, a 2008 Rye High School graduate, urged students not to worry too much about “the right college” and shared her own tumultuous journey, which saw her being rejected by her dream school, to sympathetic groans from the audience. Ward went on to describe how she found mentors and ultimate success at a different college. Other panelists agreed the pedigree of a college mattered much less than a passion for the job.
When asked about bumps on the road, Tina Exarhos shared how she had signed up for journalism classes in college, only to find that it really wasn’t her passion after all, and Josh Nathan told about his short-lived time in an investment firm. However, neither was willing to call those decisions mistakes, recognizing that they were important experiences on the path to where they are today.
Aaron Griffiths stressed the importance of following one’s inner voice in spite of outside criticism. The disparaging words of a professor made him work that much harder at joining the advertising industry, and in the end he felt almost grateful for that extra push.
Eliza Harris told students that sometimes, amazing opportunities may seem like nothing special. Rejected by more prestigious publications, she was disappointed to work for a small, unknown magazine – but in the end, that experience helped her acquire many more skills than would have otherwise been possible. Tina Exarhos added that people change jobs quite frequently these days, and reminded students that their first job would not be their last.
All panelists stressed the importance of good and prolific writing. And in this age of YouTube and blogs, several suggested making your mark early, perhaps by contributing to a blog or making videos to show passion for the field. Marguerite Ward said she submitted to several obscure blogs, just to get the experience and exposure.
Josh Nathan said he was always looking for people ready to go the extra mile. “If I ask someone to find me three examples of something, I want the person who comes back and says ‘Here are five, but these are the best three in my opinion.’”
The students were impressed. Said one, “We only know these people now that they are successful, and sometimes that can be intimidating because you think ‘how can I ever live up to that?’ It was a good reminder to hear that they too had to overcome obstacles and figure it out along the way.”
The Rye Youth Council plans more panels in the future in a variety of fields — science, entrepreneurship, and health care, and also concepts like “doing good in the world.”
Hessekial said, “We hope these panels will help teens understand how you transition from being someone with an interest in something to someone who passionately pursues that interest in a professional setting.”
— Kristin Jautz
Panelists at recent Rye Youth Council program for high school students