Whenever someone asks me how I got my start in media - whether it's an interview, podcast, blog, classroom talk or just someone curious and looking for advice - I always use the same joke. The same one liner that makes me laugh more than the person hearing it. Especially if it's an interview, I'll wait a beat to see if the host laughs - 9 times out of 10 they either don't or give me a courtesy laugh, but I don't care.
I always say, “I did what every aspiring broadcaster does... I got a degree in math!”
(Rim shot, drop mic, high five hundreds of adoring, belly laughing fans, ride off into sunset.)
Aside from the absurdity of the joke, it's 100% true. I am indeed a broadcaster who got a degree in Mathematics (well, Math/Business Admin, but I omit the second part for the sake of comedy). I attended the University of Waterloo from 2000-2005. In fact, Imprint and CKMS 100.3 FM Radio Waterloo (which doesn't exist anymore) was where I truly caught the bug.
My media career journey has seen some pretty crazy stops; I've hosted daily talk shows, done commentary for every sport imaginable (including table tennis, which at the highest levels is extremely impressive!). I worked for the WWE (yes, professional wrestling!) hosting shows in the Middle East and Asia. I've even been the weather guy in the middle of the worst part of a deadly snow storm, telling you how bad it is outside when you can clearly see it (because the more ridiculous it looks out there, the higher the ratings!)
What does all of this have to do with Waterloo? Well, not all that much. For much of my career, what I learned from completing my degree sort of collected dust. But, in all honestly, with many degrees, especially if you switch fields completely like I did, it's not the subject matter that sticks with you, it's the dedication, hard work, and focus. Among many other things, Math taught me problem solving, Business taught me common sense, and I use principles from both in my everyday life, even if I don't realize it.
Recently I was able to come back to campus to host the annual TEDxUW summit. I met with the talented speakers and heard their stories and journeys. Waterloo is full of students, faculty, and alumni that are remarkable people with compelling stories and ways to think about life. Every time I visit campus (which these days isn't as much as I would hope as I’m living in another country), I feel a lot smarter when I leave (key word: “feel”).
So why do I use that joke, every single time? Because I'll never forget my roots. It's my tacit tip of the cap to the institution that helped me grow and learn, and discover my lifelong passion.
…OK maybe I'll retire the joke one day, but you know what I mean.
Arda actively mentors many students and aspiring broadcasters. He can be found on Twitter @ArdaOcalTV. Tweet him and ask your career questions!