I first met Megan O’Leary (picture above) at the 2016 Remembering Jordan Gala at the Mohegan Sun Casino in early April. We chatted for a while and I enjoyed hearing her college success story. Being that I frequently speak to many different colleges and universities, I wanted to feature her on my blog.
What I love about Megan, and one of the key tactics and strategies I picked up from hearing about how she made the most of her college career and what she’ll be doing after graduation, is how she’s proactive. Instead of waiting for things to happen, she makes things happen.
This is essential not only in college, but also in life. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Keep putting yourself out there.
As you’ll see in her insights, she has embodied the Mountaintop way of life in her college career and is an excellent role model and example for future college students. Let’s learn from her experience.
Megan’s College Experience at the University of Connecticut
“I am a Human Development/Family Studies and Psychology double major,” Megan said. “I knew I wanted to work with people in a hands-on way but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. These areas gave me the opportunity to explore a lot of different topics and fields that all dealt with helping other people.”
Megan had a general idea of what she liked, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. This is very normal. Don’t pressure yourself to feel like you have to know what you are going to major in right away. Even if you’ve selected a major, don’t get anxious if you don’t know what you’re going to do after college. Give yourself time.
“What caused you to become interested in interning with the Remembering Jordan foundation?” I asked Megan. “And how would you describe your experience getting involved with the Remembering Jordan foundation?”
“I was in a class about disabilities throughout people’s lives when Leah Nelson, the program coordinator at the Jordan Porco Foundation, came in to speak about her experiences with mental health,” Megan said. “I was so captivated by the way that she spoke that I asked my professor for Leah’s contact information and reached out to her about interning with the Jordan Porco Foundation.
“I have always thought that ending the stigma surrounding mental illness was so important to making strides towards saving lives, so I was really drawn to the fact that the Jordan Porco Foundation was taking steps to reduce this stigma. I even wrote a scale development paper looking at college students’ attitudes towards mental health. Working with the Jordan Porco Foundation has been incredible. I have learned so much and had the chance to work with some really amazing and inspiring individuals who are so dedicated to saving lives. It has been a humbling feeling to know that I’ve had even the smallest impact on the work that this organization does every single day.”
The reason we met is because Megan was not only attending the Remembering Jordan Gala, but sitting at one of the tables and helping the event run smoothly. Key lessons:
- She took advantage of the connections made available to her
- Small things become big things
- She made the step to reach out to Leah Nelson, which in turn led to this amazing internship opportunity
It’s incredibly important to get involved and try different things. You don’t need to burn yourself out or spread yourself thin, but what I’m saying here – and Megan’s example proves it – is that there is enormous value in taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Reach out to people. Initiate coffee and lunch discussions. Attend networking events. Get to know the speakers who come and speak to your class. Get to know your professors. Ask questions and learn from others. Ask for what you want. This can be done during college! Definitely don’t rush the process and stay calm, but move forward by staying alert to potential opportunities that come your way like Megan did.
I also love how Megan said it’s important to end the stigma surrounding mental health. As a professional speaker, I’m passionate about this as well. I speak to schools and conferences around the world about getting through difficult times and being willing to open up to others (instead of holding everything inside and feeling like you are alone), so my message aligns with what Megan is talking about here.
An Epic Job Opportunity in College
Now that you know a little bit about Megan and how she made the most of her college experience, you’ll appreciate how she lined up her job opportunity out of college. She told me about this job opportunity she got in California so I asked her more about it.
“What did you do to create this opportunity in California for yourself?” I asked. “What connections did you make for this to happen and what would you recommend to college students who graduate in the future in terms of finding a job they like?”
“When I got to college I joined a sorority,” Megan said. “I went to a huge school and needed a way to make it smaller. My sorority’s national philanthropy is The Painted Turtle Camp which is a camp for children with serious illnesses. One of my sorority sisters got a job there and the following summer I decided that it sounded like an opportunity I absolutely needed to have. So I asked her every single question I could and used her as a resource for filling out my application and preparing for my interviews. Working there turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, but I never would have gotten the chance to had I not reached out to the people I knew who could be helpful.
“After this experience I knew I wanted to do as many different things as I could and help as many people as possible. This led me to Teach for America which is an organization that places teachers into low income schools. Again, one of my sisters was working for them so I used her during every step of my application and interview process and now I have accepted a job teaching special education for them in the California Capital Valley. I think that knowing yourself in a general sense is a great way to start choosing a major that will lead to a job you like. So if you know you’re someone who can’t sit at a desk all day, you want to stay away from business and look towards fields that may be more movement based. If you know you really like numbers and aren’t a people person you’re going to want to stay away from socially-based jobs.
“Talking to individuals who you know who are in a similar field (even if it isn’t the exact field that you want to go into) is a really great way to find a job you like. They may know of a position that would be similar to theirs, but more tailored to you. Keep in mind that everything will be okay and you will find a job eventually, getting to where you want to be as long as you work hard and take advantage of every opportunity.”
Megan really hits the nail on the head here. As a recap, here are the core strategies Megan used to create success for herself during and after college:
- Never be afraid to reach out and ask other people questions. This is how you learn and get from where you are to where you want to be.
- As an emphasis of the point from the first part of this blog post, enormous positive results can come from taking small steps. When you are proactive, one thing leads to another.
- Get around people who are doing what you want to do, even if it means a quick conversation. There are so many different career opportunities and possibilities. Keep your options open and realize that you are never limited based on a major you chose. When you get out there and talk to people, opportunities open up. Everything will be alright.
Remember Megan’s key insight here, which is about being proactive:
Working at The Painted Turtle Camp turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, but I never would have gotten the chance to had I not reached out to the people I knew who could be helpful.
Shattering the Ridiculous Stigma of Mental Illness
The Jordan Porco Foundation honors Jordan, who took his own life at the beginning of his college career. It is so incredibly sad what Jordan did. His parents have created this foundation to honor him while helping other students who are struggling.
“Do you think there’s enough being done for suicide prevention at middle schools, high schools, colleges, and other kinds of schools around the world?” I asked Megan.
“There is always room for improvement,” Megan said. “Organizations like the Jordan Porco Foundation are working to make sure that enough is being done at all of these levels by developing programs like Fresh Check Day, which serves college campuses, and 4 What’s Next, which they’re in the process of piloting and developing further, which serves high schools. But as long as 1 in 10 college students are still contemplating suicide then there is always more work to be done. The feedback that the Jordan Porco Foundation gets about Fresh Check Day has been so positive that I think if schools across the country continue to implement this program we can really make a difference and ensure that enough is being done.
“The two biggest things for me right now are: one, working with children with serious illnesses to make sure they are given a normal childhood and are treated like normal children despite their illness or disability; and two, mental health awareness. It’s important that kids get the chance to just be kids, despite their differences. It’s why I wanted to work at The Painted Turtle Camp and it’s why I am so excited to be a Special Education teacher come this fall. Mental illness is still so stigmatized, which prevents individuals who are battling these illnesses from seeking treatment, but there are effective treatments which can help save lives. It’s so imperative that we eliminate this stigma and promote treatment-seeking so we can continue to save lives.”
Knowing What You Know Now…
“Knowing what you know now,” I asked Megan, “being at the end of your college career, what do you most wish you could go back and tell yourself as a freshman?”
“It goes by so fast and it will all be okay,” Megan said. “Freshman year is a time of crazy changes and stress about if you’re going to make it. Sitting here four years later, I am okay. I’ve had some life-changing experiences and accomplished things that I could have only dreamed of when I started my freshman year. Sometimes the stress became exhausting, but I had a great group of friends who I could always depend on in those moments. You can always retake a class – not doing great on a test is not the end of the world. Remind yourself that you will be alright. Enjoy every minute because it is going to absolutely fly by.”
Megan is extremely adventurous and always ready to try something new. She has a great head on her shoulders and is focused on helping and serving others, especially her friends, which makes her a leader. She’s moving across the country alone in less than two months and I’m sure she’ll tear it up out in Cali! Let’s learn from Megan’s example and achieve success in our own lives – these lessons apply to not only doing well in college, but also doing well in all of life’s endeavors.