A portrait of the writer as a young man

At the Marketing Excellence Awards dinner last month, I met a rising senior from a local university who reminded me of me.  I’ll call him Ernie.

Ernie has no clue what he wants to do when he graduates. I asked what he’s passionate about, and he said writing short stories and falling in love. I asked why.

“To me, falling in love is like writing in dreams,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. It’s so true. Then you wake up, and it’s gone forever. And you realize you never really had it.”

I was impressed. When I was his age, I could not even have come to an event like this, due to the fact that my only tie still had ketchup on it from the last Valentine’s Day.

“Kid,” I said, “you should be a copywriter.”

“No way,” he said. “I only write from the heart.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Stay true to what you know. There’s no reason to give that up, ever. Keep writing from the heart, no matter what you’re writing.”

He said, “Right,” and looked away, bored.

Exactly as I would have done.

What about you?  What advice would you give a young person who reminded you of you?  Leave a comment below.

(And while you’re here, have another Robroy.)

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45 Responses to “A portrait of the writer as a young man”

  1. Katie says:

    Great post, Rob!!

    As a perpetual student myself, I run into younger students reminding me of how I was at that age.

    I had a mother who believed in networking, volunteer work, and unrelenting dedication to her job and a strong work ethic. I had a father on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. When I first entered the professional world, I learned the hard way the “rules of business” – most of them were rules neither my mother nor my father prepared me for.

    Rule 1: Always take paper and pencil to a meeting. Even if it’s a “water cooler meeting”

    Rule 2: Take note of who’s successful within an organization, and observe what makes them successful. Find ways within your role to adopt those traits (the positive ones!)

    Rule 3: Create relationships and alliances with folks within the organization. You never know who is going to be the next person to offer you a great opportunity, expose you to a new experience, or serve as a mentor to help you grow your wings.

    Rule 4: Never be afraid to speak up if you are passionate about something and have the proof to back up what you say.

    Rule 5: ABN. Always Be Networking. Like rule number 3, you never know when the next door opens with a new opportunity.

    Rule 6: Ask for feedback from a peer or mentor.

    Rule 7: Like rule 6, find someone to shadow, to serve as a mentor, or to otherwise be an outlet for you to ask for advice or let off some steam with.

    Rule 8: Never be afraid to stick your neck out an try something. Be prepared for what may happen as a result. But realize that science didn’t get to be amazing without many people trying many things.

    Rule 9: Don’t be afraid if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, then a mathematician.. then I went into IT only to quickly realize sitting in a NOC of a-sexual men isn’t really my idea of a good working environment. I stuck my neck out, tried something new, and ultimately created my own position in the marketing department that allowed me to utilize my zest for data, IT intellect, and creative spirit. It took me almost 8 years to finally figure out my direction in life.

    Rule 10: Volunteer!! Don’t forget to give back to the communities that help you get to where you are going. Whether it’s a social group, interest group, or professional group, volunteering is a great way to help others, discover your strengths, and build new skills. Oh, and create genuine and lasting relationships.

  2. Donna Balinkie says:

    Be true to yourself…stay the course…take chances and always keep the passion. If you believe in yourself, others will follow. It’s ok to buck the establishment but do so with open eyes. Look to surround yourself with people with appreciate you for you and not squash your energy or enthusiasm.

    • Robroy says:

      Yes, yes, yes! “If you believe in yourself, others will follow” is great advice at any age. Thanks, Donna!

  3. Be open to all opportunities. Sometimes the ones you never thought of could be the one for you. Look at your skill set and venture out of the expected – great things can happen!

  4. Sean Carton says:

    I guess (though this sounds like a pat answer) I’d tell them to chase after what makes them happy and what they’re interested in. Doing something because someone tells you that it’s a “hot new field” or because you think you’re going to make a lot of money at it (even though you’re not interested in it) is a recipe for lifelong depression. I’d also tell someone that they should go wide rather than deep at first because I think that great ideas come from knowing something about a lot of different things and figuring out how all the pieces fit together.

    Keep up the good work on the blog!


    • Robroy says:

      Sean, your advice gets to the heart of what it is to live an inspired life. Chase what makes you happy. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Stephanie says:

    To the poor soul that might remind me of me: Embrace the quirkiness. Accept that you are an amalgam of characteristics that don’t often reside together in the same person. Don’t apologize or make excuses for who you are. Believe that some people really do appreciate you without ulterior motives attached. But, being like me, you will do none of those things. Welcome to my world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

    • Robroy says:

      Stephanie, I wish there were more people like you! Thanks for the warning … and the great comment ;)

  6. Erica Barry says:

    Network, network, network.

    I was lucky enough to participate in Towson University’s Associate program (Towson’s version of The Apprentice”) which allowed me to be in front of several big local companies (Merritt Athletic Club, Black and Decker, 1st Mariner Bank, and M&T). Essentially, I was interviewing at each of these companies with every “case.” As a student, it’s hard to find the work/school balance and still maintain a decent GPA but if I had to give one piece of advice, it would hands down be to network as much as possible. Participate in all of the college programs that allows you to get out and meet with/ get in front of local businesses. Especially in “Smalltimore”, it’s imperative that you starting building your own brand as soon as possible.

    The same concept applies to internships. For students who don’t have the opportunity to participate in programs such as The Associate, internships allow a majority of the same benefits.

    • Robroy says:

      Erica, you are so right. I’ve found that my success has always been in other people. The more I network, the more chances I have to make a difference in their lives as well as my own. Students would be wise to take your advice!

  7. David Poulos says:

    I think if I met someone who reminded me of myself at a young age, I’d tell them to slow down – i was running around like my hair was on fire, working as hard as I could to build a pile of cash and impress my bosses – good strategy for getting ahead, but not the greatest for living a balanced, fulfilling life. I’d tell them to do what you love, be the best at it, and the money will follow. Experience everything you can, because you want to, not because someone else say’s it’s cool. And, finally, don’t sweat the small stuff – get the big stuff handled, and the small stuff takes care of itself.

    • Robroy says:

      David, these are solid pieces of advice. I wonder if you would have listened – especially to someone who told you to “slow down”! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Luba Abrams says:

    Great topic and great advice. Here are some more words of wisdom for the college student (or recent graduate):

    Stick to your plan and trust your instincts. Find good mentors – those who encourage you to pursue your dreams and give you confidence. Work hard, study hard and play hard. Go to the best graduate school you can get into (assuming you’re going to pursue higher education). It’s more about the confidence it will give you and the connections and challenges you’ll find there.

    Get as much experience as you can in the work world. Have a job while you are studying. Do whatever job you do as well as you can and keep asking for more responsibility. Dress as if you were in the position two levels above you.

    Always have fun and be nice to everyone you meet!

    • Robroy says:

      Luba, you’ve added a lot to the discussion – thank you! Loved your comment especially about “dress as if you were in the position two levels above you”. Good advice!

  9. Beth says:


    To a young version of me, I’d have to say this: If you stumble upon something that gives you joy, don’t discount it.

    I entered college determined to be the next Woodward, Bernstein or Hunter Thompson, and discovered that though I enjoy writing, and have proven to write well, a life as a reporter or columnist was not my perfect fit. Still, I pursued a degree in journalism, and along the way, fell into a career that still wakes me up in the morning.

    As journalism students, we were required to take a graphic design course to prepare us for the days of working side-by-side with information graphics and layout pros. Something happened when I purchased my first X-acto knife and pica stick. The tumblers clicked, and my till-then torturous path fell into place.

    20(mumble mumble) years later, as a corporate marketing professional, I can pull from several tools in my magic bag: writing, editing, design, photography, strategy. I may not have achieved Managing Editor of Rolling Stone or Art Director of Sports Illustrated by age 30, but I can look back and appreciate the work I’ve done and the opportunities that my varied skills have brought my way.

    Yours humbly,
    Dancing Thunder

    • Robroy says:

      Beth, absolutely, yours is a path to admire, and it would be great for any young person to amass so many tools in their magic bag. Thank you for sharing your comments!

  10. Kara Mac says:

    1. Ask questions! If you don’t understand something – ask for an explanation. If you hear a new word – ask what it means. Don’t be afraid to look like you don’t know something.

    2. Be interested in others and listen! People love talking about themselves and will like you for listening to them talk about themselves.

    3. Be gutsy! Tell people what you want and never be shy to state your opinion.

  11. Greg Boucher says:

    My first job and now for more than three decades has been sales. One adage that has never changed and really has become more important as professional selling has greatly matured, is how we treat our prospects when trying to sell something to them, especially when you have not yet established a need or a benefit where your product or service could be a fit. I call this the primary rule of selling. If you’re new in the workforce, regardless if your primary job is as a salesperson, this also applies. Some additional thoughts:

    The first rule of sales, and the thing that most individuals who find they need to make persuasive presentations – whether seasoned salespeople or not – need to learn – and learn again, is that Listening is an active process. Both, technically from tuning all other things out (cell phone, computer), and as well the salesperson’s personal attention, is focusing exclusively on the person you are talking/pitching to. The scenario here happens too often: You sit through a PowerPoint pitch where the salesperson is focusing so much on what she had to say, that in the first five minutes you tune them out. Do you feel you have lost the interest of your prospect in meetings? Then try asking questions as engagement is the key!

    We are all self-centered to a great extent, but allowing a conversation to develop; focusing on the thought or idea that the person across the table is trying to communicate, and actively participating to ask questions of clarification is the goal – not the presentation! Engage and you will get feedback. Feedback is the tinder to start the fire of interest. You get none, and you might as well be selling to a blank wall.

    More thoughts on responding appropriately to questions and where most sales people screw up the pitch, is not being careful not to add commentary where it doesn’t matter. If doing so helps a prospect understand from an empathetic position or as a way to establish common ground, then that’s OK. Too many salespeople do it as they are too centered on themselves and as an ego pump or their fearful that they may leave out a product feature that will win the sale. Prospects don’t care that you have the same idea or that you already know what they are going to say. They care that you have heard them. Remember as well, features don’t sell, benefits do. Ask more questions and you’ll get more answers to help you qualify and to sell qualified prospects and determine whether the benefits of your product or service appropriately fit your prospects needs.

    Selling in this style (some refer to it as a Socratic method), also sets up a great dialogue to continue to ask questions vis a vis trial closes…: “So if this service, can solve this problem for you, and you feel the cost is at a fair price or will give you a reasonable return, is it something you would seriously consider?…” Then you can ask the other questions about when, how much, what type, etc. It’s all questions. Selling is about asking for the sale. Practicing phrases like: “Does that make sense to you?” “Did I get to the answer you were looking for in your question?” “Will that work for you?” “What are your thoughts on…?” “What’s the biggest issue/need you face regarding [whatever you’re discussing]?” “Can I help?” “How can [what I have to offer] help you?” “Where do we go from here?” Most of these are open ended questions and invite further dialogue. The more the other person speaks, the better you can gage whether what you have to offer is a fit or whether you should move on to another prospect that might be a better one.

    Asking questions to clarify and further qualify or disqualify a prospect is the style that most executives and hiring authorities want to engage in, bringing them to a buying decision, not selling them as to why they need something. This selling style works just as well in a job interview for newly minted grads to anything your motivated enough about and passionate about to put forth effort to sell someone else on. Try it. You’ll like the results, and so will your prospects.

    -Greg Boucher

    • Robroy says:

      Greg, these are great words of wisdom. You are so right about the value of listening. Works in sales and in every other area of life. Thanks so much for joining the conversation.

  12. 1.Get a job waiting tables for a couple years, learn some people skills and make a few bucks.

    2. Remember all the A students are working for the D students…

    (BTW I’m a college drop out…I had no idea why i was there at 18 years old so i split never to return)

    Of course I wisely invested all the money i would have spent on Apple stock and now i am fabulously wealthy…

    • Robroy says:

      Robert, love it! You are right on target. It’s great to have your perspective. Thanks for leaving your mark here.

  13. Jeff says:

    I would give this person the wisdom of mistakes as well as my successes. Those of us with life experiences fail to take the time to mentor younger business leaders. Not only is our work experiences important but so are our personal experiences. I don’t believe you can separate who you are from what you do.

    • Robroy says:

      Jeff, so many people could benefit from sharing your philosophy. I appreciate your comment! Thank you.

  14. Matty says:

    I would pass on some very good advice that I got from a dear, wise friend, “Stop worrying about what you’re going to do with your LIFE, just figure out what you want to do NEXT!”

    Taking this advice has resulted in a lifelong list of great things I did next, and I’m always working on and looking forward to the next one.

    • Robroy says:

      Matty – thanks for offering the advice of your wise friend. I can’t wait to see what you do next!

  15. Stanley Stokes says:

    Go into business for yourself today, now, do not think about it , just do it.

  16. Jennifer Cruise says:

    Keep at it, you will prevail! And confidence is 75% of it!

  17. Ron Wexler says:

    I have had this pleasure a few times…not sure why! My current summer intern, Josh, reminds me of me. His mother was my first assistant, and I have known him since the day he was born. He is now in college and asked if he could come spend time with me this summer, he loves what I do and wants to be in business for himself. I know it was the Vacations, BMW’s and Summer Lake Cottage that swayed him to think being in business for yourself is where its at! (Ahhhh Perception!)

    The first thing I did was hand Josh 12 books and tell him he has till the end of the summer to read them all. (Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Talent isn’t enough, Mans Search for Meaning, Good to Great, Who Moved My Cheese, The Magic of Believing, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, The 21 Irrefutable; something or other by John Maxwell…you get the idea!) Then I let him watch my morning routine that starts exactly at 8:35: 10 minute team conference call, 15 minute accountability meeting ending with affirmations, 2 hours of phone prospecting looking for new sellers and buyers to help. Then to top it off he sat and listened to me calling past clients to check in with them and see how they are doing! Next I went right into a Coaching conference call where I was training about 50 great agents around the country on how to be a powerful Listing Agent.

    Then I had him sit with my administrative team where they immediately put him to work doing something “unglamorous” like stuffing envelopes or posting homes on Craigslist! Of course that sealed the deal I know Josh will have an “entrepreneurial desire” for years to come! Hey Rob….what was the question again?

    • Robroy says:

      Ron, if that kid is anything like you, he’ll gladly accept the hardships and challenges of being an entrepreneur, along with the perks, for the lessons he’ll learn. Thanks for your comments! I like your list of books too.

  18. It was bright sunny July day in in upstate New York. I was 14 years old and confronted with a test of manhood option. We were on a camping trip and the camp provided a chance ot jump off a 50 foot steel bridge into ice cold water. Most of the campers rushed up there and when they looked down froze with fear. I being a rebelious teenager refused to play the camp macho game and waited below. Seeing the fear in my friends eyes I decided for no reason I can explain to go ahead and be be the first to jump. When I stood up everyone stopped and watched me climb up the hill and onto the steel girders. As I was climbing up the hill the answer to overcoming lifes fears came to me . “Look but not too long” I decided to look only long enough to make sure I was standing above the water and then I jumped before I had time to get scared. Once I jumped many of the others were glad too give it a try. My 20 year old son is like me and that is the advice I give him “Look but not too long” Also being first has its rewards when it comes to challenging moments if you live to tell about it.

  19. Dov Hoffman says:

    Ah, what a refreshing blog post, Rob. Sharing advice is so important especially to those who are up and coming.

    I’m going to have to echo Erica’s advice of network, network, network.

    Fortunately enough, I also participated in “The Associate,” Towson University’s version of The Apprentice and was able to have face-time with executives from local companies. I’d suggest that students take advantage of networking opportunities no matter where they are. This means in the classroom, at networking events, at the gym, at Starbucks, or anywhere else they may be. You never know where you’re going to meet someone and how valuable those connections will be down the road. Always have your “networking hat” on and remember that your first impression can very well be your last impression. You may never see that person again, but why not make the most of your interactions?

    Also, experience as much as you can because it will be valuable in the years to come. Having a broader range of experiences will provide you with a different perspective on life. Try to internship as much as you can because this is your chance to “test drive” different experiences for a short period of time. You’ll either learn to love what you’re doing or learn that it’s not what you want to spend the rest of your life doing.

    Find out who inspires you and speak to them to see how they got to where they are. Act as a sponge and absorb all of this information, then aggregate what you like, and apply it to your everyday life. This is just one of the many ingredients in the recipe for success.

    And, don’t forget it’s the little things in life that make a big difference. See if you can make 5 people smile a day by asking them how they’re doing, hold the door for them, or just say a simple thank you – you’ll be amazed at how such a small gesture can change someone else’s day.

    Keep on waking up knowing that excellence lies ahead of you and you’ll have an amazing day.

    Best of luck, Ernie!

  20. Great thoughts and words of wisdom. I would advise the following:

    First, be work hard, be patient and persistent and keep your eye on your goal. I would encourage them to look at the steps they need to take get to their goal. I remember being frustrated early on in my career climbing the corporate latter and not knowing the steps I needed to take to accelerate my career. This leads to the next one…..

    Second, find a mentor who is doing or represents what you want to be doing “when you grow up “. I have personally been blessed to have wonderful mentors in my life but in college I was too shy to ask someone to mentor me.

    Third, network and stay connected. It was definitely harder to stay connected when I was a college student because we didn’t have social media! But today, networking in person is important. Use school groups and association groups representing the career are pursuing. In fact, every opportunity, be it a business one or a block party, is an opportunity to connect with people. Stay connected with your networks even when you are working full time.

    Be flexible. Your path may change from where you thought you were directed but be open and flexible when this occurs. Some of the forks in the road That came about but didn’t expect have lead me to have the business I have today. Be open and introspective about your path.

    Follow your passion. I personally feel that when you are doing what you love and are passionate about it, you will be awesome and it won’t feel so much like work.

    Cheers, Carol

  21. Reba says:

    1) “You idiot, go straight through and get your MBA.”

    2) “Work for inspiring entrepreneurs and then become one yourself.”

    3) “Apprentice under a great gospel / blues singer for your second career after 40 in a local band.”

    4) “Appreciate your friends, and read their blogs!”

  22. Guillaume says:

    Hi friend,

    A portrait of the writer as a young man « Robroy

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