Rarely do I decide to 'journal' and talk about personal reflections but 2014 was a life-changing year for me on many levels. oOpportunities to advance my career flourished and I became an expert in packing and moving.
1.) Be careful what you tweet
You'd think someone who works in digital communications on a daily basis would learn to watch what he tweets, but in late January before the State of The Union, I thought I'd ask Rep. Steve Cohen if he'd tweet me during the 2014 SOTU because of his 2013 'SOTU scandal'. It wasn't until friends were blowing up my phone the next morning did I realize it was published in Politico. Thankfully, he laughed it off when I saw him at an event shortly after.
2.) Expect the unexpected
It was a rainy February day when I received an email from the White House Office of Digital Strategy inviting me to the French Arrival Ceremony (in 3 days) as part of their #WHSocial events; which invite social influencers across various social media outlets to get a behind the scenes look at White House events and have one-on-one conversations with White House staff.
In much shock, I trembled to reply 'OF COURSE' before realizing I had no transportation or hotel booked yet. Thankfully, my friend Rohan jumped on the offer to join me in the odyssey to D.C. which even at 12 degrees fahrenheit, we had an incredible adventure. I even wrote a Buzzfeed article about it.
And because of my successful experience in February, I was invited back in December for their annual #WHHoliday Social. After years of watching the HGTV holiday specials, I was able to see first-hand what the White House was like decorated for Christmas. Truly magical.
3.) Help a cause you believe in
I'm going to be completely honest here. It wasn't until after my trip to the White House that I really second guessed the job I was in. The pay was amazing and the hours were great but I wasn't directly seeing the difference my work was making.
My friend John, who works in communications at Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, asked if I'd be the 'Special Guest Social Media Correspondent' for their annual Hollywood For The House Night.
Elated and already planning to attend, I jumped on it and it was an incredible night of doing what I love and directly seeing my impact.
In fact, the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis played a pivotal part in my philanthropy throughout 2014. It's where I decided to host my birthday party in July and volunteered for their Radiothon which raised over $250,000.
This year, I turned 23 and was kind of sick of having traditional birthday parties where all I did was go out to eat with my 'United Nations' of friends from all walks of life. No one knew each other, and barely anyone showed up.
With the help from my twin brother, Eric, we decided to invite our friends to cook a meal for the families staying in the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.
Pasta, pizza, frozen yogurt, salad, and every beverage you could think of lined their kitchen where over 100 people enjoyed a meal, prepared by my friends and family.
At the very end, a child suffering from leukemia who was resting in the arms of her mother asked if she and her mother could sing 'Happy Birthday' to me.
Tears rolling down my face, I quickly decided that giving back on my birthday would become an annual tradition.
4.) Always have a side hustle
My friend Brittany once told me, "to survive in the 21st century, you always have to have a side hustle." This year, I took those words to heart and quickly set out to do as much freelance design and social media marketing work as I could. I quickly realized that quality trumps quantity and that if I truly wanted to make it in this profession, I'd have to set aside time not only for freelance but also for personal time to relax and refuel for 'my real job'.
That being said, in 2014 I worked with incredible local non-profits and small businesses.
In 2015, I plan to refocus my efforts in freelance work and schedule more time to effectively take on projects I know I can rock.
5.) It's okay to be 23 and still live with your parents
At the end of 2013, I promised myself I would move out of 'mommy and daddy's' house by May 2014.
Just in the nick of time (and selfishly because the other roommate needed to move back home to his parents) an opportunity for me to move into a house closer to work became available.
Many of my friends are in their late 20s / early 30s, married, and don't live with their parents so naturally, I felt that if I wanted to be a 'true' young professional, living outside my parents house was the only option.
After a few months of dealing with a not-so-great neighborhood or roommate, I started to make 'weekend trips to Mississippi' where I'd stay with my parents and woefully describing my situation, I realized that living with your parents in your 20s makes sense.
There's more room for you to save the little bit of money you make for future investments, i.e. a house of my own.
6.) Work doesn't exist when you're on vacation
I've been fortunate to take a dozen vacations this year thanks to the White House, my family, and friends and each time I got ready to leave the house with my luggage, I took my laptop messenger back, 'just in case' work needed me.
Every time, the laptop sat in the condo or hotel corner, untouched, and I was perfectly okay with it.
Being present from the Destin beaches to the State Dining Room of the White House allows for you to truly be present in that moment, thank God, and realize that life's to precious to be staring into a phone the whole time.
And if something at work really does go wrong, there are other people there to handle the situation.
7.) Live music is chicken soup for your soul
It sounds cliche, but in 2014 I attended over 40 concerts. From Katy Perry to some random country singer at a 3-day music fest, rocking out to music with friends and family is like chicken soup for your soul.
I might not remember every concert I attended in 2014, but I guarantee you most of them were with my friend Megan, listening to music I didn't know, and still having a great time.
I challenge you in 2015 to attend at least a dozen concerts throughout the year from different genres and see the passion from the musicians as they sing to a crowd of people singing along to their lyrics. The smile on their face is priceless.
8.) Take risks
I must admit, I did some pretty ballsy stuff this year. I was interviewed about various social media topics on 7 morning news broadcasts, introduced 'Earphunk', a high-energy funk band, to a crowd of over 200 at the Levitt Shell, and managed social media for an inaugural creative conference that sold out months in advance.
The biggest change in 2014 was my occupation. I started off the year working in a small creative agency with amazing pay but a dispassion for what I felt like 'my calling' was. I quickly realized that I wanted to be part of the grassroots change happening in Memphis and coincidentally at the same time I realized this, the job I always wanted at the nonprofit I worked at previously opened up.
Even though I took a pay cut and began to do more challenging work at my new job, I began to ooze the passion I longed for.
Now, I wake up excited to go to work, tackle some problems and find solutions, and help make the city I love a better place.
9.) Use social media to advance your career
Engaging in online conversations with thought leaders, change agents, and problem solvers, is what social media is for. Whether you're a professional basket weaver or thought provoking community activist, using social media to advance your career is pertinent in this day and age.
I used social media this year to be invited to the White House twice, engage with the Executive Director of the Ready for Hillary Super PAC, share my feelings about racial and gender inequality, and receive five-star treatment at a hotel because they followed me on Twitter.
When you use social media to help brand who you are and what you believe in (respectfully), you're one step ahead of the person in line for your dream job that when your boss googles them, nothing comes up.
10.) Your gut instincts are usually correct
Moving back home, changing jobs, not trusting someone, leaving your parents two days after moving to attend the White House Holiday Social.... doing was all a part of listening to my gut.
Here's to a prosperous 2015!
(12/14/14 at 2:41p.m.) Here I go...
Hey there! Just 24 hours before I departed from Memphis International Airport, I received an email from White House Office of Digital Strategy Staff inviting me to attend a White House #WHHolidays Social Meetup on Monday (December 15).
After looking at flights leaving MEM to DCA 24 hours out and seeing the >$1,000 price, I quickly jumped to the place that got me the opportunity in the first place, social media, to help a brother out.
A generous Memphian and philanthropist, Elizabeth Nickelson gifted me her Delta Frequent Flyer miles and I had a little under three hours to get to the airport and board my plane.
A last minute invitation from the White House is what makes these social events so fascinating. One minute you're unpacking after a long move into a new neighborhood and the next minute your scrambling change around your house and heading to the nearest Kroger to have some spending money between frolicking throughout the White House with their Office of Digital Strategy.
If i've learned anything this far about life, it's to expect the unexpected.
I thank social media for allowing me a platform to be myself, share what I love, argue about what I don't, and make a living each and every day.
As I begin to board the plane, I remember a dangerously cold February day in 2014 when I was first invited to the White House to tweet alongside their staff for the French Arrival Ceremony. We stood on the South Lawn in frigid cold temperatures and the tears flowing from my eyes froze to my face.
This time, it'll be a bit warmer. I'll know where to navigate, and I will expect Barrack Obama M&M's for when I arrive.
Phew, here I go. And I'm excited to share this experience with you. Stay here for updates, follow me on Twitter at @andrewjpg, or Instagram at @andrewjpg.
In the meantime, read about my first journey to the White House here.
To God be the glory,