Show of hands: who here knows what they want to do when they grow up?
Who has no idea what they want to be yet?
I am/was with you...
I sometimes still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
The key is to do the things YOU love to do, and not only what people are telling you to do.
Now, that doesn't mean that you can say to your parents or teachers, "Matt said to not pay attention to school because I don't think I like it right now." You will actually find - if you haven't already - that education is the most invaluable tool for going out into the world. High school, college, and almost as importantly the education you embark on by yourself, will be a major factor that will set you apart from others.
In the 20 years since I was sitting in chairs like yours, I have been a musician, a podcaster, a journalist, a sports writer, a traveler with an NBA team, a project manager, a marketer, a search engine optimizer, a social media strategist, a strategic thinker (I always love that one), a leader of design and web development teams, a consultant to a future governor, a momentary corporate titan, an NFL players friend in a commercial, an investor in a sports pillow company, a husband, and a dad. And who knows what else I will have the opportunity to be in my next 20 years.
What I have learned is that what you need to be in this work environment - in the careers of now and tomorrow - is an entrepreneur.
What does that mean? What do you think of with that word?
We are taught that entrepreneurs are the ones who literally start their own companies, who build them through sweat, toil and often a little bit of luck. And that is still true when we think of places like Silicon Valley, where certain iconic companies were actually started in garages.
One of my favorite startup stories is Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the company's founder, is this billionaire, master-of-the-universe-type-of-guy. We come to think of stories like his as inevitable. But, he started the company in Seattle nearly 25 years ago, in a small space with a few other workers. They sold only books. And when orders came in, one of the workers - often Bezos himself - had to order the books from a catalog, package the books, put them in his trunk, and drive them down to UPS to be shipped. A funny thing about Amazon is that the company's first meeting was in a Barnes & Noble. Who would have thought that within 25 years, this company would upend companies like Barnes & Noble and UPS. Next time you are in front of a computer or smart phone, type relentless.com into your browser and see what comes up.
But the reality is that each one of us are almost our own little companies, who bring unique and diverse skill-sets, experiences and interests. Be your own entrepreneur and maintain that mind-set in a corporate, academic, or start-up environment. Be relentless at your own scale.
Again, back to passions. We all have the things we love to do, that we have to do. And those passions can and often will change as you get older. I remember once reading about the baseball player - and single season homerun record holder - Barry Bonds. At this point, he is probably a dubious example to be using. But, I remember him talking about how much he loved working out and training. He said it was the first thing he woke up in the morning wanting to do. I have always remembered that quote, and often take stock in my own life about what I am waking up in the morning wanting to do.
When what you wake up in the morning wanting to do (assuming it is not self-harming) is not in alignment with what you are doing, it is always good to take that time for self-assessment. It doesn't mean that you should upend what you are doing, but you shouldn't bury it either. You will hear from Lawrence Frank a little bit later. I always love reading and hearing the stories about professional sports coaches. Many of them have this epiphany... quick, SAT word (an illuminating realization). You will read about how they grow up with the game they love, and then enter the real world, and jump into mortgages, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street, sales, etc. And they have tremendous success for a couple of years. But, they just can't get over the itch of not being in sports. And then they take the assistant job at the low levels of the sport, making a fraction of their previous salary. And they are as happy as can be.
The one thing I have always tried to personally do is to make sure the thing or things I wake up wanting to do in the morning is integrated into my days.
I went to Bergen Catholic for high school. At that time, I was an alright student, took part in Junior State of America (JSA) - in all honesty for the overnight trips and chance to meet girls - and was obsessed with music, particularly the local punk rock scene. It was a time where that kind of music was going mainstream and New Jersey happened to be the epicenter, where musical acts were moving here as if it was Nashville and country music. Major music acts of the time would play local firehouses, VFWs, church halls, and skating rinks.
I woke up in the morning thinking music. I learned to play the bass, and then the guitar. The "scene" became my ecosystem. I learned networking, influencing, and connecting with others. I played my guitar in my room all the time, and made my own recording studio in my bedroom closet. Over two years by myself I wrote and recorded hours and hours of music. I learned production, editing, songwriting. In senior year, I finally found a band to join, and because I had honed my craft (or what it was at that point), I was able to bring ready-made songs with me. We started playing shows, gaining a following, and some level of local acclaim. It was the first lessons of start-up culture. You create a company (the band), products (songs), and market them to an audience through demonstrations (demo tapes) and road shows (live shows). You learn interpersonal skills with all kinds of personalities (have you ever met a drummer?).
I also had no idea what I wanted to study in college. I enjoyed talking about life and contemplating. Maybe I could be a psychologist. I went to NYU and majored in psychology. Spoiler alert: I never became a psychologist. But, as a general education, psychology has been a great resource into the ways people think about things in the business world. It also has a great side benefit when you get married.
At the time, it did not help in defining my career though. I still continued to play in bands, joining others throughout college and after. I also went and got a personal training certification, studying and passing the test. I got very into exercise and health. I was always trying to find something that stuck.
It was also in my college time when the then New Jersey Nets traded for Jason Kidd. I had always watched basketball, been a Nets fan, and enjoyed sports as one of my passions. But watching Jason Kidd play for my team, with a beautiful brand of basketball, and taking them to two NBA Finals, took over my being. I woke up thinking Nets. I read everything about the team, watched every game, and analyzed every possession. I willed myself into being an expert.
I graduated college a semester early. My sophomore year was when 9/11 happened. I was at the college on that morning. It was a traumatic time, I wanted out. I wanted to transfer. My parents said if I graduated NYU, I could do what I wanted. So, I did, and then moved to Phoenix Arizona, where my cousin lived and offered me a room in a house he would be renting with another friend. I jumped at it. It was a college-like experience for me. Looking back, it was like reverse retirement. I was lucky in that my parents were able to cover college tuition and expenses. Because of that, I was not in a position where I had to begin paying off loans. I was working a part-time night job out there, rent was cheap in a nice house with a pool and palm trees, and the winter weather was beautiful. There was golf, working out, sunshine, and a continued focus on the Nets. I read every day about the team and I watched all their games, which were on television a lot earlier in a western time zone. Las Vegas and Los Angeles were just 4-5 hour drives away. I was thinking hard about putting down my roots in the West.
One of the sites I read every day for Nets information was NJ.com, the online home of the Star-Ledger. One day, there was a notice about an opening for a fan blog position on NJ.com, covering the Nets. I would be writing on the same site that all of the professionals did, tremendous exposure. The job would pay $50/month. I wrote the three sample posts that were asked and submitted. Boom! I was chosen.
I started writing immediately. It was so important to me that to this day that I still have the first column framed on my wall. I wrote day and night, sometimes two to three times a day. Through a passion, I learned the discipline of writing, editing, and working in a content management system. I decided after just four months of living in Arizona, and some worrisome developments from one of the roommates that I won't talk further about here, to head back to New Jersey.
I came home to New Jersey, and continued to write about the Nets on NJ.com every day, all year round. I began appearing on podcasts, a foreign concept at the time. If anyone watches the starters on NBA TV, those guys used to have an amateur podcast in the early 2000s which I appeared on. I also continued trying to play in bands. Again, my parents were saints, giving me the space to try some things out, live at home, and not contribute much in terms of money.
Once I was back home after Arizona, I picked up some part-time jobs - like the opening shift at a coffee spot in town - but kept my focus on my Nets writing by day and the band I was in by night.
My dad is the founder of a public relations company that he started in the 1990s. in the fall of 2005, he offered me some contract work at his company. Mostly data entry, lower level work. I would go from the 5am coffee house job, to the public relations company at 10am, and head home each night around 6pm. He was the boss but I guess I caught the interest of others in the company and started working for that company full time around a month or two later. The President of the internet part of the company took me under his wing. I learned more about content management systems, e-newsletter distribution, HTML coding, account and client management, rounding out my skills for the modern communications environment.
Then, my big break. I was just 24 years old, and in a routine search of open jobs I saw that the Nets - my New Jersey Nets - were looking for a writer for their website. I almost lost my you-know-what. I furiously applied in the fall of 2006. And heard nothing. A month later, I told my Dad in passing that I saw this job and applied, and had heard nothing. He happened to know somebody high up in the team. He said he would check on it. I shortly thereafter received a call, and an interview was setup with about four people at the Nets facilities.
I was perfect for this job. I had enthusiastically toiled for over two years at this point writing about the team every single day on a platform that made me seem more legit than I even was. But, through the practice and discipline, I became pretty good. I found a voice, and I learned the ability to fall onto a page and start writing. This, while learning the ins-and-outs of the technology part at my dad's company. But, oh my god, did I want it.
So, I spent days researching the Nets Website presence, and the Websites of every other NBA team, and I went into those interviews more prepared than my interviewers. I came armed with a five-page memo of everything I intended to do for the Nets, from features, to kinds of content, to the ways that content could be advertised.
Boom! I got hired in December 2006, and I got to work. I took the same discipline from the NJ.com blog to the NJNets.com Website.
I covered every practice, I talked with every player, coach, and intern and I enjoyed every single minute. I lived and breathed the Nets before, and now I was chugging them. I went to work every day doing the thing I woke up that morning wanting to do!
Passion + vocation can create unbelievable opportunities. I covered the team through a playoff run, into the off-season, got the chance to cover the team at Summer League in Orlando, and ultimately had the chance to travel with the team on their jet, in their buses, at their hotels. My name was on the travel manifest list alongside Jason Kidd (Kenny Skywalker) and Vince Carter and Lawrence Frank. Matt McQueeny, room 205. Don't pinch yourself.
I met and fraternized with all the writers I had idolized, and I traveled and met around the country with all kinds of major media personalities. I will never forget the way the announcers and media that travel with the team would make sure to include me in off-night dinner outings.
I remember one quiet summer day, I was summoned by superiors into a conference room. I was worried that I had been found out, that the party was ending, that I had somehow done something wrong and the dream was coming to an end.
In a somber tone, my direct superior told me that finances with the team were not doing very well, that they wouldn't until the team moved to Brooklyn. (Oh no, they are going to let me go, I thought). So, you can't tell anyone about this because there are just a handful of people getting this, but here is a bonus and a letter about an increase in your annual compensation.
When you do things you love + professional career, the sky is the limit.
I networked within the Nets with great minds, amazing talent, and all manner of good people. It is like the alumni of a school when you see people from that time. Netsies. I cannot convey to you enough how important this is. We can talk about jobs of the future and technology, but so much about what is meaningful is still person-to-person interaction and networking.
The same hand that provided me the opportunity to work at the Nets, that allowed a 24 year old kid to run point on content for the team's web presence, can also turn the other way without reason. My gut told me that if there was an opportunity to leave, I shouldn't close myself to it. I was worried about how what I saw in that first year would probably cycle itself again and again. Stupid psychology degree!
And then an opportunity opened. The boss who took me under his wing at my Dad's company took me out to dinner and essentially offered a job. I have been back for the past 10 plus years.
I have continued to seek new skills, and to try to integrate the things I love into my job.
I have become a project manager. We are the ones who run point on projects, keeping them on schedule, motivating team members, giving feedback on designs, testing the developed applications and Websites. And coordinating the information with clients, or as we call them stakeholders. This is an important part of the job. It is having the ability to be a translator of sorts. Knowing enough about the technology and the everyday descriptions. Speaking complex technology concepts to people, clients, who don't understand it. And don't need to understand it. They are paying for you to create something for them. It is also translating and conveying the requirements of their projects to the technology team. It's amazing if you allow the two sides to talk to each other. It can be like having someone who only knows French speaking to someone who only knows English.
Each project you manage to completion is another notch of experience that helps inform how you deal with the next project. The first few you run, you inevitably always wonder how it's ever going to get done, how each person involved will do what they need to do in time so that the next person can run with it. But, if you keep your eye on it, follow schedules, meet, they always do.
Project management can be a great career for those who know enough about a lot of things, who are good communicators, but don't design, program, or develop themselves. You are essential to the project, often the face of the project. I am in the digital sphere, but project management jobs can also be found in construction and other "real world" settings. It can be a little anxiety-inducing, because you are reliant on so many others to get the job done. But, I always think to myself, that they have jobs to do as well and it is in their best interest to do their part well and on-time.
A typical day as a project manager includes regular communications with your team and the client. There is a lot of e-mail and messaging, and more formally setup calls. You can be running several projects at once, so the hours can move pretty quickly. The different phases of projects also determine what you do as the project manager. Again, this is in Websites and software development, but there is always communications. At the start of a project, you have discovery. This is where you get all of the people involved - developers, designers, client teams - typically in person and go over all of the requirements of the project. I will usually send a questionnaire in advance to the client so that they are ready with their responses. This meeting can often be several hours. I will then take all of the information from the meeting and turn it into a requirements document, laying out all of the work to be done, the schedule, the process, and logistics of the project. Many projects are managed through a software program of one kind or another. I like to use something called Basecamp. This is a program available through a Web browser or app. You add all of the project team members and client contacts to the system, and it will send emails when anything is posted. Project documents, designs, and regular messaging happens through the system. The early phase of a project is managing the design, which includes the creative aspects. You walk that process through with your team and the client. Then, the development phase, where you work with developers who take the designs and put them on top of systems that bring them to life and make them functional. This is a part of the project where there is less client interaction and more technical coaching of your own team. Then, before launch, you release the Website/software solution for what is called beta testing. It is available to your team and the client to interact with. Your job then is to make sure all issues get loaded to basecamp and get handled and prioritized. Once the list is whittled down and/or the expected launch date is upon you, you move through launch. Once it is up, it is now put before many more users (it's live!) than the beta group. New issues can emerge because it is now being put under what we call "load." The first few weeks after launch tend to be an extended Quality Assurance exercise. You end up still building parts of the plane - or patching up holes - while you fly it.
In the digital marketing world that I work in, I have been able to integrate all of my own passions. I love technology as much as I love sports. It is mostly having to do with consumer technology, the FAANGs as they are called: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google. These are the most sought after jobs in technology.
But, just like any work, there are levels. There are so many kinds of digital jobs. Search engine marketing, Social media marketing, content marketing, Customer relationship management (CRM, like SalesForce), eCommerce, analytics, product management.
And these are the jobs in my domain. I'm not even thinking of the gaming/esports world. or Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, machine intelligence. As you hit the work world, there will be almost no jobs that don't include technology.
You are what are termed digital natives. You are born with technology integrated into your lives. Around the year you were born, LinkedIn, SpaceX, Skype came into being. Facebook would be starting only its freshman year if it was a person. Twitter would be its 12 year old younger brother. Snapchat, instagram are even younger. The smartphone revolution is really only about 10 years old.
Use this to your advantage, and do not take it for granted. Speak up when you have an idea, whether in the work world or starting your own thing. While we are taught to think that adults are experts and we need to stay quiet and "learn the ropes," in reality you as the digital native may be in the best position to make the right recommendation. The adult has experience, which is an invaluable resource by itself - the perspiration. but you may have the inspiration.
For instance, in the past, in journalism, you would have to put in your time before being able to write about the biggest and most important subjects. You would have to work your way up. But, that changed with blogs and the ability for anybody to reach their own audience without gatekeepers. It is this very thing that gave me - a 24 year old kid at the time- the opportunity to write for a pro sports team.
Think about television right now. It used to be broadcast and cable television, and the heads of those networks would decide what appears on their channels. Then, YouTube, and vlogging, and Twitch, and content producers could jump the line and go straight to the audience. Add in Netflix and Amazon, and soon Apple, paying for all kinds of content like networks used to do... and now a lot more opportunities open up.
The examples are numerous where technology has been a disruptor in the traditional way things were done. This disruption gives you the chance to try ideas out now.
About six years ago, I got really into podcasts. It started with Bill Simmons, and before I knew it, I was listening to all the big shows... from Joe Rogan, to Chris Hardwick, Marc Maron, and on. It became almost all I listened to in my spare time, while working, during my long commute, working out. Doing chores became not as bad when I could pop in my earbuds - now airpods - and press play where I last left off.
Then it dawned on me: I want to do this. So I dove in, researched, and with a modest investment, purchased equipment and set about creating a studio in my basement. It was exciting. It was like being in a band again, except now I was jamming on ideas and conversation instead of music. And you know what, all of the things I learned from the production side of being in a band made doing podcast production easy for me.
Then I went about putting together what my show would be about, and the name, and the format. I reached out to all the contacts from my past who I thought would be good guests. I immersed myself in it. Another activity that became the thing I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning. And eventually, another activity or skill that I was extremely competent at.
I then brought the service into the company I am working at, and was able to build out a business from it. We picked up a few clients and set up a studio. The largest project was with the now governor, Phil Murphy. It was the central communications tactic of the non profit he founded. It took me to all kinds of locations in the state and then to Washington DC.
And to see how things connect.
I noticed one night while walking my newborn around the house that one of the google trending topics was NJIT, the college in Newark. I worried that there was a school shooting because it seemed odd for the college to be tending. The further I looked, I could see that it was because the basketball team had improbably beat Michigan in Michigan. I immediately thought it would be a cool interview to talk to the head coach. He said yes and we did a real good interview. There were also interesting connections, as there always are when you put yourself out there. This coach got his start under then Wagner head coach Tim Capstraw, who for the last 16 years has been the radio commentator for the Nets. I know him well as a traveling companion on the Nets road trips I went on.
Fast forward a handful of months later. I was working on a project with a business associate, and this person told me that they had started a magazine about Newark. I started talking about the cool story about NJIT, and they asked if I wanted to write about it for the magazine. That lead to me being a regular contributor to the magazine, and several years later the social media strategist for the magazine. This brought not only additional personal income, but also a nice added boost to the resume.
All of these small pieces add up to a narrative of who you are, and make you something special to potential businesses looking to hire. I have had hiring managers say they were impressed with my resume, noting that not only was my day job impressive but that I had the initiative to start a podcast, and to write for a magazine. All of the sudden, you become quite a package. I did these things for my own hobbies. Yes, I pulled in some income from them, but I actually enjoyed doing them. And lo and behold, they became a puzzle piece that differentiated me against the competition.
I was never a particularly motivated student. I always did enough to get decent grades, even if that meant cramming the night before the big paper was due or the big exam was to be taken, living off of pots of coffee and anxiety. I would not recommend that tactic, because you will always find that the best students learn over time, and they ultimately retain the information for much longer.
But I have always been someone who found intense education outside of traditional schooling. Many of the things that I have detailed in this discussion were learned outside of the school environment. Learning by doing, learning through experience.
Quick story that ties this point to my final recommendations for you, and it involves your principal.
While I was working for the New Jersey Nets, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and I was intoxicated by it. It was all I thought about, read about, talked about. Mr. Gouraige, being my best friend, would be the audience for a lot of this talking. We would be at the gym, out to dinner, hanging out, and I was constantly jabbering about life on the road with the team, gossiping about players, inside information about trades. And one day, he had enough, stopped, looked me in the eye, and said "Matt, you have to stop talking about the Nets! It's amazing, but we need to talk about something else! I can't take it!"
I was taken aback. It was that feedback that made me realize that I was not very well-rounded any more. I was absolutely in heaven, doing what I wanted to do. But like someone who gets too into something - and we all have those friends - in some ways it was hurting me. I had become one of those pull-string dolls. The feedback was harsh, but it was necessary.
I remember going into work on the next Monday, and making a commitment to read the New York Times everyday. I needed to eat some more broccoli (in the form of current events and "real" news), to go along with all of the potato chips I was eating (in the form of the New Jersey Nets). And I slogged through it that first day. I had no background on almost any of the news. I particularly remember reading about Zimbabwe and the struggles in its government, as well as a dozen other stories, and I was thoroughly overwhelmed. But every day, I read. And you started to realize the way the news moves forward a little bit each day, allowing you to pick up the backstory on all of these current events, inch by inch. Before you know it, you become well-versed. You understand, day by day, how the paper works, the different sections, what editorial is vs. news. Before I was just reading the sports, and now I was reading the other 90%.
Then I started adding other outlets, the Economist, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harpers. I would tag and save the best longform articles - which often teach you the most about subjects - and then I would start reading non-fiction books. History, biographies, memoirs, deep dives. It became my challenge, and I went for it full throttle. The beauty of reading is that you can always do it, at almost any down time. Or, you can plan times - like at the start or the end of the day - to do it.
And it will reward you for the effort, like almost nothing else can. I would challenge you that for each time you pick up your phone to check for a text or open an app, think about reading. Put a newspaper app on your phone, or even first go to the built-in news apps on many of phones. These are the best rabbit-holes to go down. The knowledge you build from reading embeds itself unlike any other medium.
We all know the great writer Stephen King right? I remember reading something about how almost all he does is read. Someone once saw him waiting in line for a movie, and there he was with a book open. In the theatre, waiting for the movie, reading.
I talked earlier about how you folks will come into the work world as "digital natives," giving you an advantage over almost all of the older people you will be working with. You will internally know the best ways to deploy technologies because it will just be obvious to you. Again: do not let on to your superiors that it is obvious. Your place in time is valuable and you should treat it as such.
I talked about how those superiors will inevitably have the advantage of experience on you. One of the best ways I have found to bridge that difference is reading. Everything you read allows you to internalize experience. You end up consuming the experiences of others, their triumphs, their struggles, the lessons learned from their decisions. You read history and it often acts as a guide to the future. And all of the things you read connect in interesting ways in your brain. It's another thing that can make you unique in the work world.
You can also gain experience by doing your own thing. It's never been easier or cheaper - often free - to start something up. That can be a Website, blog, vlog, twitch stream, podcast, app, band, or idea. When I grew up, I was told the video games I was playing were rotting my brain. Now people are making large sums of money to play games for audiences. I have a friend who lived and breathed video games growing up. Made you worry about his future prospects. Well, now he is a leader in a family company that installs fire suppression systems. He told me that many of the hings he learned and picked up in gaming inform his job now, which has become highly technical.
Just find ways to be adding your passions to the mix, especially now, because you never know how they will all come together at the right place, at the right time.