By Nicole Johnson ’14

It has been drilled into our brains ever since we were little: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Our first grade teachers posed this question before making us scribble with a crayon a stick figure — indicating our dream jobs — on construction paper. Maybe you planned to do what mom or dad does, or maybe you wanted to be a fireman/firewoman, a doctor, a teacher or even a garbage man (in my brother’s case).

As the years go on, this question question becomes more pertinent. High school teachers, parents, relatives and college applications harass you with this question. The constant pestering of what you want to focus your career on or what you plan to study only continues. Of course, it was okay not to know but it was almost stressful and embarrassing to admit that. But why should you have it all figured out? Even if you have an idea, do you need to specifically know what career you want, where you want to work and what day-to-day activities you want to perform? Should you really have it all planned out as a high school senior — or even as a college senior?

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According to David Portney, you do not need to and it is often better not to have everything planned out. Even four years removed from Ithaca College, he still doesn’t believe you should have it all figured out or be set on a specific plan. As a media relations manager working for the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) — where he has been for close to three years — David still confesses that doesn’t know where his career will take him. “I [take it] sort of day-by-day,” said Portney. “You always have your eyes and ears open.”

Keeping things open is David’s advice. “You have to open your mind to see potential opportunities you have never considered before,” he states. “Don’t try to limit yourself to your options.” Fortunately, David has stuck with his own advice and it has worked out well for him. Portney has worked all over the country sine his graduation from IC. Starting in upstate New York, he then moved nearby to Northern New Jersey, then to the Memphis and now he is in Lexington, KY, where he works for the AVCA.

Not only has David explored different cities in the United States throughout his professional career, but his jobs in sports have also varied. From minor league baseball for an affiliated team, to professional football, back to minor league baseball and now to college volleyball, he does not have a team or sport he is fixated on. But, why volleyball — a sport that is mainly dominated by females and isn’t considered one of the four “major” sports? Portney responded, “It wasn’t so much me seeking out volleyball — volleyball sort of found me.”

David’s attitude on life and his future plans not only stem from his laidback personality, but also from his experiences as an Ithaca College Sport Media student. During his collegiate days, David — and other professors and students from IC — worked as a flash reporter covering the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. “It was a whole new world,” David recalled. “And to completely immerse yourself in a whole new world is something that benefitted me greatly as a person. I could say in turn that maybe helped professionally [as well].”

Besides his life-changing trips outside of IC, he also had many valuable experiences on campus. During his time on South Hill, David was involved with the student radio stations (WICB and VIC), and also worked with ICTV. He said those experiences were beneficial because students are allowed to run the stations. David valued the hands-on experiences and understood the importance of allowing students to make their own decisions.

As he explains, “I’m going to make mistakes; my friends [and] the people I work with are going to make mistakes, but we learn and fail together and I think that’s important. [Professors] let us make the mistakes so we could learn from them and so it was the freedom to try to be creative and to try new things — even if they failed — that I think Ithaca is really great about. It made all of us enjoy success that much more.”

Creativity allows for freedom and the courage to try new things — which is a life concept Portney has personified. His personal philosophies, combined with professional experiences, help draw a map for young aspiring individuals everywhere — which is exactly what our first grade teacher asked of us many years ago. As college students, perhaps we need to break out the crayons and construction paper every now and then.


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The expressed opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not represent Ithaca College.