Capturing That Back-to-School Feeling

Tenessa Gemelke

If you’re like me, the first week of September has an antsy, eager feeling. Students in the United States are resuming their studies. Classrooms are filling. Textbooks are glossy. Pencils are sharp. As I imagine a distant school bell beckoning me, I realize that there’s something very appealing about the psychology of a fresh start.

One thing I’ve learned about content strategists is that we are voracious learners. We hunger for ideas, data, and problem-solving skills. We love to work hard for knowledge. We are eternal students. But unfortunately, we’re grownups, living life on the 12-month calendar of client projects and deadlines. Sure, we go to conferences occasionally, but we no longer have the fun of a whole new cycle of learning.

While helping my kids prepare for the first day of school, I spent some time thinking about the moments that used to make my heart flutter. Although many of those memories seem far from the adult workplace, I see plenty of relevant parallels, especially in the field of content strategy. So how might we manufacture the excitement of a new school year?

Buy shiny new supplies.

My father taught me that nothing in the world is full of more possibilities than a blank sheet of paper. As you fold open a new notebook in your hands, you open a correspondingly crisp page in your mind.

We work online so much, but tactile tools trigger our creativity in different ways. Try a highlighter color you’ve never used. Buy an excellent pen. Switch up your notebooks to use lines, grid lines, and no lines. Let these instruments bring fresh energy to your next project.

Bravely face your teacher.

Teachers loom larger than life in childhood. Before we even get to know them, we swap heard-it-from-an-older-sibling-or-that-one-kid-on-the-bus nuggets of information, trying to piece together a profile from reputation.Is he nice? Is she strict? I heard Ms. Kissane asks hard questions, but she’s really funny.

Our teachers in the content strategy community can be just as intimidating. This scary-smart, prolific crowd can make you feel like the dumbest kid who ever tried to learn long division. But, like all good teachers, the best content strategists share your curiosity and welcome your inquiries. Raise your proverbial hand and speak up! Comment on blog posts. Ask questions on Twitter. Active learning can only happen when you engage with your instructors.

Make new friends.

Is there anything scarier than opening your Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox next to somebody new? It may be more comfortable to stick with familiar people, but budding friendships offer different kinds of support and perspective—two things that matter just as much in the office as they once did on the playground.

Do you have a colleague you don’t know very well? Invite her to lunch, or ask for her feedback on a document you’ve created. You don’t have to become best pals with everyone, but try to forge at least one new connection. You never know which acquaintances will become valued project partners down the road.

Report back to your parents.

This may sound like the goofiest bit of advice, but how often do you talk to your parents about your work? You are a product of their upbringing, and they can offer insights nobody else can. After all, they watched you develop your first problem-solving skills. If they are supportive (or simply vain), they’ll love hearing about your accomplishments. They may also give a rousing pep talk when things go badly.

My mom has no idea what content strategy is, and she and I don’t always get along well, but I’m often amazed by her ability to draw a parallel between my daily life and some trait I developed at the age of four. Even if you aren’t close to your parents, they may reflect things back in a way that makes you think differently. And if they’re really awful, you can always run to your bedroom and slam the door.

Beginning a year to remember

Take this moment to reset your internal calendar. Although there’s something a little dorky about pretending you’re a bright-eyed student on the first day of class, it’s helpful to look at your work through fresh eyes. And it’s always fun to show off your new Lisa Frank pencil pouch.