My first year of college was probably one of the most difficult times in my life. As desperate as I was to leave my parents and find my own way in the world, I had some trouble adjusting to living away from home. I met a few really cool folks that first year, and they are still friendships I value today. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I was really lost academically.
Studying and I never really got along, and even though I always grasped concepts during lectures and understood them, my recall was terrible at test time. Over the course of those first two semesters I dropped an english composition class (twice) before I had a chance to fail it. I missed my health final, and despite convincing the instructor to let me take it anyway, I failed the course. The rest of my grades were unremarkable.
I knew very well that I would need to take summer classes to make up for my shortcomings in the first year. There was no way I would ask my parents to foot the bill for that since it was my mistake that caused me to be three classes behind. I was going to need a job.
I remember looking in the classifieds section of the campus newspaper for part-time work, but nothing ever really interested me. I was a Radio/Television major who didn’t want to be a waiter for Applebee’s. One day, I ran across an ad for a place called “Big Time Studios,” and I called the number. Big Time was essentially a booth set up at Six Flags Astroworld (may it rest in peace) and other theme parks where guests could make a music video by lip-syncing in front of a green screen. Sadly, this is how I learned all the words to “Whoomp, There It Is” by Tag Team.
Through a series of unexpected events, I ended up being the supervisor. I really didn’t know the first thing about being in charge of people. This job was the first time I ever had to fire someone, and honestly, I was strong-armed into firing these people. It was a huge stressor, and it didn’t help me keep up with my studies. I did eventually get through a couple of the courses that summer… barely enough to get by. By the end of the summer season, the owner told me he planned to close the video shop. So, it was at this point I learned the first rule of surviving failure.
RULE #1: Sometimes you just have to know when to quit and try something else.
Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to transfer to another division at Astroworld, and I chose Rides. I had made a lot of friends across the park while working the video studio, and I didn’t want to leave them behind. I took a massive pay cut to transfer. Legally, they couldn’t pay me less than my new pay rate, but at least I wouldn’t lose these new friends. I worked all the way until the end of the season… the exact time I was placed on academic suspension. My grades took a backseat to making my own money and this newfangled thing called the Internet.
RULE #2: Asking can get you everything.
I received the notice of academic suspension with my grades. I would be forced to sit out the Spring 1995 semester and go back home to my parents. That’s when I learned of a little-known loophole in the university’s suspension policy. If I could get the dean of the School of Communication (that’s what my degree fell under) to agree to let me re-enroll, I could pick up where I left off. I spoke to this man, and despite having no incentive to let me stay, he agreed to waive the mandatory spring vacation. He became my hero. Here’s a plug, and yes, he’s related to Brent.
RULE #3: Nearly losing everything is a huge motivator to succeed.
I strategically chose my classes for the spring and made sure I had a good balance of difficult and easy classes. I took as many classes as I could during the summer sessions while balancing my job at Astroworld. I made up those courses I had not completed, and my grades slowly started to rise. By late the next year, I was off academic probation and even managed to score Dean’s List soon after.
I eventually quit that job at Astroworld in 1996 after getting promoted, demoted, promoted twice and transferred once. Although I had spent three seasons there and learned valuable lessons in leadership, it was time to move on and truly focus on graduating. I had learned the greatest lesson of all.
RULE #4: Keep your eye on the ball.
Although making money and friends is important, it can’t be the only thing. I lost sight of my goals in life, and I nearly crashed and burned before figuring out how to prioritize… how to keep my eye on the big picture and reach those goals.
Since graduating from college (only one semester late), I’ve had a highly successful career in the television industry, film, journalism and public relations. Some of that experience I gained while serving in the Air Force, which is probably the best job I’ve ever had.
When I go back and look at my college transcript, it’s easy to think of my college career as a failure. On the contrary, I see that transcript as one of the greatest success stories in my life.
I’ve survived failure, and even though life regularly deals me steep valleys with those peaks, I know I can do it again if I have to.