The Last Snooze: Lessons Learned during College

Rutgers University. Four years. Eight semesters. Lots of emotions. Countless naps in between.

Over my last spring break in gorgeous Maryville, Tennessee, I had the pleasure of reading Randy Pausch’s 206-page lecture-turned-novel called “The Last Lecture.” In response to his discovery and unfortunate losing battle against pancreatic cancer, the Carnegie Mellon University Professor decided to anecdote his personal keys of success on how he achieved his childhood dreams for those closest to his heart — as well as — frankly anyone who cared to listen. Inspired by his thought and level of reflection, I decided to give myself the same opportunity to tell my story during my time at college and offer some words of advice in the process. However, like Professor Pausch — I’m doing this for selfish reasons. This is for me — at all stages of my life — to revisit when I lose my self-confidence or get the wind kicked out of me by the powerful round-house kick life has a habit of throwing you when you are busy being a semi-functional adult.

Everyone: “So, what are you planning on doing now?” Me:

When most people stand at the beginning of their college experience, all their expectations are molded from the clay of Hollywood productions, high school teachers, and the occasional older cousin who warns you not to “drink the juice at parties.” Four years later, all expectations have fallen to the wayside and only the scattered pieces of the four-year experience remain for students to dig through and reminisce about their college days. After spending the last two months digging through mine, I found a lot of memories. Some hilarious. Some painful. Mostly cringe-worthy/embarrassing. With that said — let’s begin:

#1: Attitude Matters.

My college experience started with a rejection. Now, rejection is not bad — unless you put all your marbles in one place and let your ego take control (Pro tip: don’t do that). That’s right — Rutgers University was the only university I applied too and I didn’t get in. I was wait-listed and eventually did not make the cut six months later. It felt horrible. It hurt like nothing has ever hurt before. For a while, I was down. I enrolled in my local community college, Brookdale, and started that fall with a not-so-great attitude about the whole situation. I thought I was above it — better than the “losers” who go there. However, my time at Brookdale was beneficial for myself on several levels. First, I got a chance to understand myself as a person on a deeper level since I had a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts — simply because I did not have the same friends or schedules to fall back to. For example, I started reading again, quickly rediscovering the incredible feeling of escaping to a different world through the pages of a book. Second, Brookdale gave me an opportunity to test myself against a major setback. It made me work hard. Really hard. With a busted lip and a chip on my shoulder. And I prevailed anyway. Third, it showed the power of negativity and positivity — as well as the results of each choice — because at the end of the day it is a choice which lens you view your situation through.

A lot of your life plan will go to crap. Understand the bad days will come and allow yourself to have them occasionally. What is important is how you respond to adversity and your thought process to figure out a solution to reach your goals. Remember, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want in life. In every experience, approach it with a positive attitude, a smile, and a willingness to learn — that’s how the magic happens.

#2: Just Get Started:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” There is not a lot to this tip other than — just do it. Put five minutes on the clock and do what you want to do. I guarantee if you commit five minutes to focus on the activity, you will have the motivation to keep going. A person I look up to recently gave a TEDx talk about the cloud of insecurity and procrastination individuals usually put over the ideas they are passionate about — saying things like “I want to set aside time later” because the present is not sufficient time to take action on those ideas. However, later usually never comes because we ultimately make the situation so big in our heads — its not manageable. I have fallen into this trap for as long as I can remember.

Well, learn from my mistakes. Cut that habit out of your life. Next time your friend asks you to send that address, do it there. Your mom wants you to walk the dog? Do it then. You wonder if there is a service that gives high school students’ opportunities to intern at local businesses? Look it up. Make things happen and do not overwhelm yourself with delusions. Again, it is a process (and an ongoing struggle for others) but it’s the small steps that make the difference. Decide to make a step in the right direction today.

Check out the TEDx talk here.

#3: Family is family. Friends are the family you choose. Choose wisely.

In the beginning of 2016, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer for the second time. Less than two years later — on April 12th, 2017, Roy John Caputo, 89, died at peace in his home in Marlboro. It has been close to two months to the day and it still only feels like an ambiguous fact that has not yet registered with the parts of my brain that are responsible for reality. What I do know is in the last year and half — I have seen my family (close and extended) more than I have in my entire life. Of course, each visit or dinner was under the unspoken assumption that this was part of our farewell tour for grandpa. Each conversation with a family member or crushing realization that, no matter what we did, grandpa was getting worse was simply hard to digest most days; usually characterized by a slow pain I have been fortunate to never experienced before.

It was not all bad, though.

All the pain was a reminder of how lucky we were to have each other as a family, a unified front of Italian-Americans with similar eye/hair color (we are still wondering where my eyebrows came from). In fact, a lot of our time together as a family was great. I heard stories about grandpa I never heard before. I reminisced with my older cousins about old video games we used to play. Old family vacations we shared and what was going on in our lives at the time. Family is a lot of things, mostly annoying on a day-to-day basis, but they are also the people who you grow with — each member having the ability to watch themselves and each other grow into the people we ultimately become. Most of all, if one person falls — like many of us will do at some point — you have a designated number #1 fan section that will catch you when you do stumble and give you life advice even if you didn’t ask for it.

It’s not perfect, but it is special.

R.I.P Grandpa

However — your family does not end there. Like they say — you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. In college, you will be living among the most centralized location of weird, awkward, interesting, confused, energetic, lively individuals you will ever likely encounter. At Brookdale, they were losers. At Rutgers, they were losers. In every turn of my life, they were and always will be losers. Make sure the friends (or cool losers) you choose to spend time with are not shitty and make you the best person you can be. It is up to you to find the people who will care, push, and support you — and set you straight when you need that slap in the face. Also — don’t forget about the people you care about in other schools or parts of life. Call people, spend twenty-five minutes when you can’t stare at a computer screen anymore and find out what is going on in their lives. You never know, your call might be just the thing to get them out of a rut. If anything, it will keep that friendship going. Friendship is defined by effort — the effort they give to you as you give to them. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake effort.

Paul, Alan, Josh (left) and Nicole, Keya, My3 (right)
Shout outs to Sami & Rhea (left) and Johnson & Johnson Family (right).

#4: Do what makes you excited. And slightly terrified.

When I look back at college, the memories that bring the biggest smile to my face are the ones that involve me taking a risk and succeeding. Or taking a risk with other people and succeeding. Or building an idea or community from the bottom-up. Those moments usually involve an orchestra of overwhelming doubt telling me to stop, turn around, and go home to my bed — but I chose to listen to the lone voice of hope and excitement — which is the best type of victory there is.

For instance, I was interested in this program called “Seeking Success” by the Department of Leadership & Training (later changed to the Department of Leadership & Experiential Learning) in my sophomore year as a transfer student. I filled out the program’s online application and anxiously waited a response. However, I noticed a slight mistake on the scheduled start date due to a Jewish holiday that the university was recognizing that year. The thought of letting it go and moving on my day crossed my mind (I mean they are smart people, they would be able to figure it out, right?), but I also felt another part of me wanting to go down there to alert the department of their mistake. A small, but courageous move for someone who had no social capital with the department. Yet, there I was on the second floor of the Douglass Student Center a few hours later, face-to-face with Robyn Ginese, director of the Department, informing her of the mistake. She thanked me with a smile. The next day I was accepted into Seeking Success. Two years later, that department ended up being a substantial part of my RU experience, offering me life-long friends and the internship experience necessary to receive my Learning & Development Co-Op at Johnson & Johnson. If I had not made that walk over to the student center all those years ago, who knows if life would have been the same.

Department of Leadership Interns 2015–2016 (left) and DC Lead Crew (right)

Or when I, alongside one of my managers, decided to bring a mini-watermelon as a party gift to a Johnson & Johnson Co-Op “black-tie” party I was about two hours late for — which was hosted by some cute girl I was crushing on at the time. The conventional thing would have been to apologize at the door for being late, but “conventional” was not in my vocabulary that night. It definitely felt weird with a tie on my neck and a watermelon in my arms as I approached the door, but hey, I did it. It ended up being funny (at least to me). Some drunk guys smashed the watermelon twenty minutes later.
 
It is little moments like this that I remember at the end of the day. Risks that made up small and big parts of my life — but parts of my life nevertheless. The most boring thing we could do as individuals is to give in to fear and do exactly what society expects of us. I have done that in several instances and I do not wish that level of regret on anyone. Look, I am not saying dismiss all practicality, but I am saying take a risk and live a little — I promise amazing things will happen.

#5: Relationship advice from a guy who should not be giving relationship advice:

In a word, my relationship history has been interesting. I have dated a lot of girls, all different in personality, background, age, and body type. I have been hurt, as I have hurt others. I have been on great dates. I have been on not so great dates. I have been flat-out rejected. I have felt the endorphin-filled rush of scoring a number from the cute girl in class. I figured if there is some lost soul who is looking for some relationship advice, here’s what I’ve got:

· The most important romantic relationship is with yourself. Date yourself and get your priorities/ideals/issues straight (as possible). No relationship will fill any personal void you might be feeling.

· Your life will be a lot easier once you realize two truths: You are not perfect. The person you are dating/seeing/talking to/stalking on Facebook/speaking to on tinder is not either. It’s cool. Most people don’t trust perfect people anyway.

· Confidence is sexy. Making decisions and having opinions based on valid reasons is sexy.

· Being kind, respectful, and a good listener will get you far if nothing else.

· Most of my strongest relationships blossomed from activities I felt passionate about.

· Asking out girls is terrifying — there is no way around it. With that said, there is no better feeling when it works in your favor. If you can muster up 10 seconds of courage, amazing things can happen.

· Getting over someone is not a one-day fix, but it starts with you getting off their social media and start filling that time you would spend feeling sorry for yourself with activities that you love.

· Talking poorly of your ex is stupid and is 0/10, not recommended. If she/he was so terrible, what does that say about you?

· Don’t be an asshole.

· Ghosting — or ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out — is the new form of communication for my generation. It is one of the worst things you can do to someone else and it says more about your lack of skill to deal with confrontation than anything else. I have done it countless times to girls who deserved better. Be better than that. Be better than me.

· Be creative with your dates. The best dates don’t cost too much money, but time, planning, and effort. Sometimes, a nice walk with a special someone will tell you everything you need to know. If the conversation comes easily and the hours fly by, you might have yourself a keeper.

· Someone once told me “just because someone is not right for you, does not mean you can change the way you feel.” I could not agree more. I found this out in a recent relationship that was doomed to fail from the very moment it started. Yet, I went for it because I did not want to be sitting down 50 years from now and wonder “what if.” Sometimes that is enough of a reason to do some crazy shit.

#6: Knowledge is Power.

My dad always says “Knowledge is power.” Knowledge equals influence. Don’t ever forget that. Read books. Read people. Listen to others’ opinions. Stop watching television — most of it is crap. As someone who did not utilize the university resources available to them as much as he should have, identify weaknesses and attack those areas with the support you have access to. Success does not come alone. Stay woke out there.

#7: Greatness is a lot of small things done well, starting with your habits.

When starting college, I had terrible habits. I stayed up at all hours of the night, took naps during the day, and procrastinated all my work to the last minute. I was no lazy kid, yet my strong work ethic was not sustainable. It wasn’t until I started my Co-Op, working 40+ hours per week on top of full-time enrollment in school, where I realized the self-inflicted struggle I was putting myself through on a daily basis. To be great over a sustainable amount of time, you need to discover routines that set you up for success.

I have always believed that the little things separate good from the great. I was achieving “good” success, but my schedule caused my physical and mental health to go straight down the drain. This is when discipline and prioritization are important. You only have so much time in the day — so what you do on a constant basis will bring results. For me, the little things include getting seven hours of sleep every night, going to the gym, eating healthy meals, spending time to schedule out my weeks, cleaning my room, writing down good moments throughout my weeks, reading a chapter before bed. It also involves doing the shit you did not want to do so you are able to do the things you want to do later. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet, put your head down, and imagine the burrito you will treat yourself to once the challenge is over with. If anything: Get a planner. Write stuff down. Even the most successful people in the world can’t remember everything.

Check out this great TED talk about habits here.

Disclaimer — my schedule is still not perfect. My roommate would still find me passed out on my apartment floor when he came home in the afternoon from time to time. Sometimes, I will give in and watch another episode of The Office at 2am with a full-work day only hours away. If you found yourself with not enough time as is, I have bad news: it will mostly likely get worst before it gets better. It’s up to you to adapt. It took a while for me — a lot longer than it should have— but I did find ways to improve and will continue to improve. 
 

 
#8: A thank you to my roommate, Joey.

The man, the myth, the legend — Joey.

Remember those Hollywood movies I mentioned before? Well, they always played out the cliché that your roommate and you will basically take over the campus together. You will do everything together — sports, parties, drink together. Everything. My experience was a bit different.

As much as my roommate and I had in common, we had our differences. We got involved in different things. He was a guy who thrived on efficiency and grit, and never took a nap. I took many naps. He had a stable sleep schedule. I did not. He could wake up at the sound of a single alarm. The first day of being roommates, my alarm went off from 8am-12pm. Yeah, I was that guy. I wanted that close, “let’s do everything together” relationship but I quickly realized that was not what Joey and I shared. However, he was the guy who had seen me at my worst. He was the guy that saw me go through severe struggles to just live life and pass my classes in the process. He helped me through my first few interviews during Junior Year. He tried to cheer me up when I was tired and depressed in the beginning of Senior Year. He was a true friend, one of my main sources of support. 
 
Roommates put up with a lot of the your irritating idiosyncrasies — you just probably do not know about half of it. There are several instances where your existence caused some stress in their life, but they put up with a lot because if you are lucky, you two have a good relationship and respect each other. Great roommates make you better people. Joey was a great roommate. Sorry for my quirks and thanks for a great three years of living with you. Love you dude.

#9: Service to others is important — and it comes in many forms.

You know how you change the world? One small act of kindness at a time. Whether that is volunteering some time at your local shelter or giving a small smile, a sign of acknowledgement, to someone on the street — you should own a sense of responsibility to make a difference in any situation or group of people you come in contact with, leaving it in a better state than you found it.

Above all, it will make you appreciate more.

Story time: On a wet Christmas Eve in 2014, I had the opportunity to volunteer my time with Holiday Express, a tri-state volunteer organization headquartered in Monmouth Country, NJ. A group of 50 dedicated, enthusiastic members drove down to St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Newark, NJ, seeking to add a bit more cheer to a struggling neighborhood’s holiday season through a homemade breakfast meal. As a server, my responsibilities offered me the opportunity to interact with the citizens first-hand. In the rush of tending to requests and grabbing more pancakes, a mother of three pulled me aside once I laid three plates of food in front of her children. She leaned in and whispered “I didn’t know how I was going to feed my kids tonight before this…you are doing a great thing. Thank you” as tears silently ran down her cheeks. I took a knee as she wept into my arm for a few seconds. Flattened, I left and went back to serving tables, but the moment will always be remembered.

When you think you have it bad, it’s time to remember what good you do have. Take a look up at the stars every once in a while — they will serve as a reminder that most of our problems are somewhat meaningless when you consider the true scope of life.

#10: Consider what other people think, but do not let it deter you from following your heart.

This tip was originally “F*** what others think,” but after a conversation with my dad, I realized that my choice of messaging did not get across the advice I was looking to offer.

As someone who had a mild amount of popularity growing up, my perception on things revolved around the opinions of others. For so long — I cared about pleasing others before myself — never giving myself the respect I deserved and for that reason, others would not either. Well — once I realized the massive consequence this had on my choices — I can tell you that is a real bitch digging yourself out of that way of thinking.

The sexiest thing a person can do is to be completely comfortable in their own skin. It’s not exactly a discussion you have with another person, but it’s a feeling. A vibe you can just sense off another individual. Follow your heart. Trust your gut. It will be scary, but too much comfort means you are not being courageous enough.

With that said, it is important to listen to other people’s thoughts, even if it differs from yours. I do not agree with those who leave in the middle of a speech or argument given by an individual with radically opposing views than themselves. In my opinion, the way to make others understand you is to understand them — respectfully listen, understand, and question their opinions rather than shut their ideas or thoughts out. That will get our world absolutely nowhere. Understand other’s perspectives, internalize it, and use it to aid your pursuits and understanding of the terrain you are navigating.

I’ll leave you with a quote that makes me think. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain.


So now that the rant is over…. what is next for you, Bryan?

As much as I would have liked to end this letter with “On so-so date, I will be joining so-so company as a member of their so-so program where I will live happily ever after” — that is not reality. In fact, after July 28th, I will no longer be working for Johnson & Johnson and must figure out the next step for myself. It is frustrating and a bit terrifying at times. Especially on the dark days where I compare myself to others.

However, I have decided to officially accept my admission to Rutgers University HR Master’s Program for this upcoming fall after being awarded an academic scholarship. Although I am not 100% confident in this choice, I decided to make the best decision I could given my situation and will adjust accordingly moving forward.

Most of the time — making the best possible choice given the circumstance at the time — is the only game plan there is in life.


Lastly…

To those who graduated alongside me, I wish you the best, Class of 2017. I wish you the courage to make power moves and do the things you want, even if it goes against the advice you receive from those closest to you.

The world is ours for the taking, it is up to you to take the leap knowing full well, you may break a few bones in the process.

Be Bold. Fail Fast. Learn Often.

-Bryan J. Fontanetta

Damn, I’m good looking.