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Treehouse: How to prepare for and (hide from) the real world in college

February 16, 2011

Brandon Mendelson (@bjmendelson) is the author of “Social Media Is Bullshit”, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in April 2012. You should buy it, or something. Got lots of free time? There’s always Brandon’s websiteblog and Twitter.

Brandon Mendelson (@bjmendelson)

1. In a recent interview, you commented that, “If you follow even the worst social media advice, you wind up sounding like a robot.'  So what’s a college kid to do?

If you’re in college, you’ve got two things already that most people will never have: An active, offline social network, and time. So the key is to start making friends, a lot of them, because you never know who may help you out later. That may sound shallow,but let’s face it,that’s why people network in the first place. And on the Web, you’re generally punished for promoting your own things, but if your friends spread them for you, other people see that as an endorsement of your work. So, the more real friends, the better.

Put another way: Mark Zuckerberg and Tony Hsieh may have gone on to do great things in their lives because of how talented they are, but Zappos and Facebook wouldn’t exist without the connections they made at Harvard.

The second part of that equation is time. You have time to dick around and experiment with things to see what does and doesn’t work. So if you’re looking into going into business for yourself, now is the time to experiment. The second you graduate college and all that student debt comes hurdling your way, you’re screwed, so you have to use your time wisely.

2. Intentional or not, you’ve built a pretty huge online brand. In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

I wouldn’t really call it a brand. It’s more like I’m driving a bulldozer on a freeway and people are following along to see what I’ll do next with it.

If I could do it all differently, I would have used my time in college better. I took a year off from Alfred State to run the business I started in my dorm room a year earlier. I’m glad I did that. But I also dropped out of my graduate program at SUNY Potsdam over stupid reasons (a kid cheated on a group paper that had my name on it, I flipped out), and having that degree in Organizational Leadership would have given me some credibility with potential clients.

I also pissed away any good will I had at both schools by being a dick and spending almost all of my time working on my business. I regret that most of all because although college is the time to make those connections and experiment, it’s also the last time you have to relax and live a little before you get crushed by debt and obligation.

3. Probably a silly question to ask, but what are three career tips you’ve got for college students trying to figure out what they’re going to do when they grow up?

1) Keep an open mind. It’s a cliche, but it’s worth remembering. Who you are when you start college is not even close to who you’ll be when you finish it. So it’s worth trying things outside your comfort zone and seeing what you do and don’t like. At the very least, if you wind up not liking those things you’ll have a better well of information to pull from with whatever it is you do decide to do. That’s all creativity is, connecting things people usually wouldn’t think to connect.

2) Save your money. I have $100,000 in student debt. If I had saved the money my business made (which was never really much) and the money I made working odd jobs like selling shoes, being the student union’s janitor, I would have been in a better position to pay it off than I am now. I just got really lucky and someone decided recently that they’re going to pay me to write a book. Prior to that, I was screwed financially.

3) Be dumb. This is sort of like keep an open mind, but if you’re not having fun, you’re wasting your time at college. You can work and barely get by on money for free by skipping college altogether, so while you’re there, enjoy the time you have and don’t over think it. Trust me, it always sounds stupid when someone older (I’m 27 now) tells you this, but it’s over before you know it and when the party’s over, it’s over for good. Real life sucks.

Like this advice? Hate it? More where that came from: Brandon’s website, blog and Twitter.

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