VIEWPOINT: 5 Lessons College Seniors Can Learn From 'House Of Cards'

Maija-Liisa Ehlinger 14C speaks out on the staying power of social media posts

By Maija-Liisa Ehlinger 14C

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House of Cards is an original Netflix series.

Netflix

Welcome to Viewpoint, a new column dedicated to sharing what’s on the minds of Emory students.

I’m not going to lie; I’ve been plotting my run for the White House since fifth grade.

But despite my flashy posters (yes, I did pose in my mother’s business suit) and my speech about selling popsicles during Friday recess, I lost the election that year to the school’s golden boy, Derek, and I had to settle for VP.  Despite this defeat, I still envisioned that one day I would don the title of President so that I would be the one to solve world hunger, negotiate the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and fly in Air Force One in style.

Looking back, my childhood ambition of being Commander in Chief came from a genuine, although perhaps naïve, belief that I could change the world.

Yet like all 20-something year olds, I grew up as political scandal plagued (and continues to plague) American politics. By the time I entered college, I had pretty much lost all faith in politics and politicians. I could not think of one person on Capitol Hill I admired, and wanted to stay as far away as I could from a place that did not embrace collaborative change. They weren’t the people who were changing the world for the better.

Without a solidified idea about my career or post-senior year life, I felt lost. So I tried to find myself a thousand times over in the pages of books, all-night library sessions, and intense classroom debates.

But I never thought that one late night Netflix binge viewing session of House of Cards would give me some of the greatest insight into life after graduation. And I especially didn’t think I would learn so much from a show on the very topic I had grown to hate – politics.

Now, it is not that Frank Underwood has rekindled my political aspirations. But to me, House of Cards is so much more than a morality tale about corrupt governments. The show has some important messages that any college senior fretting the coming post-graduation ‘real world’ should keep in mind:

cards

1. Your personal media presence matters -- a lot

Many Millennials seem to revel in any sort of media attention. You must be doing something right if every thought, slightly artistic brunch Instagram, and duck-face selfie you take is important enough to receive 100 likes and retweets. There is a tendency to over share and overexpose our daily lives, searching for validation that we are indeed the next ‘big’ thing.

In House of Cards, Zoe Barnes knows the power of social media – it bought her political power and a quick ticket to the middle of Washington’s elite inner circle. But she also knows with one wrong iPhone click, her affair could be exposed and her investigative journalism days could be numbered. Like she says, “these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”

As college seniors get ready for the ‘real world,’ we can never be too careful about how we present ourselves on social media (and even the online media we think we keep private). Your Twitter feed and your personal text messages do not have to be your stream-of-consciousness as you walk through the day; let social media highlight the very best of you.

2.  Any (unique) publicity is good publicity

But on that note, ‘out of the box’ thinking – particularly on social media sites – can get you the right sort of attention. Zoe took a calculated risk by leaving The Washington Herald and not accepting a coveted position as a White House correspondent. She brought her newfound success and celebrity to the up-and-coming, tech savvy Slugline, a place where she could further her career in her own style.

History is changed – for better or worse – by risk takers who look for unique chances to achieve the things they want most. In today’s digital age, that means taking advantage of our ever-connected world to publicize and enhance your personal brand.

3.  Being in front doesn’t always mean you are leading

Post-graduation is the first time that life will not be dictated by a syllabus or general education requirements. It is an exhilarating and overwhelming moment, as you search for consistency and a clear career trajectory.

From the outside, it looks like Frank and Claire have found that clear path to The Oval Office, giving the illusion that this power couple is ‘leading’ the race at the end of season one. At the same time, Zoe has plotted out exactly how to dig up the next juicy story to shape coming political campaigns. College seniors, searching for their place in the world, may desire such certainty and clarity in their work. However, we know that Claire has given up happiness for a career that looks good on paper while Frank is walking on eggshells as he tries to manipulate his way to the VP position and beyond. And we are all just waiting for Zoe’s relationships to blow up in scandal.

There is a difference between taking a gamble on your career and compromising with yourself. You may not be ‘leading’ now, but don’t ever feel behind because you are searching for your own path in this big world. Some people’s course in life is not so easily defined. Your job right now is to find what you are passionate about, not what looks best on a resume. You don’t have to look beyond the House of Cards characters to know that being in front of the pack in the beginning does not mean you will be the leader at the end of the race.

4. Dress the part

This may seem arbitrary, but I’m convinced it will help you in any career field. Stiff business suits are not just adorned by Yuppie sellouts who lack creativity or individuality. Believe me, I definitely went through the ‘I want to wear ripped jeans to work every day’ phase (I think every Millennial does). But looking sharp can only put you in the best of light. Viewers of the show know that Claire is evil, but you have to admit that she is smart, stunning, and immaculately dressed. All the time. She demands respect because she dresses like a woman who has it together.

While no college senior should aspire to a convenient power marriage or to manipulate nonprofit funding as a way to gain political leverage, we can all take some personal style tips from Claire Underwood.

5. Things are only useless if you make them

Even though Frank claims he has ‘no patience for useless things,’ he knows how to work even the smallest details to his advantage (or at least try to cover up the details that might work against him).

If you are a second semester college senior, you may have nothing more than a stack of flimsy business cards from networking events, creating what seems like an overwhelming paper trail towards absolutely nothing. There is a chance that you are having a panic attack about whether that upper-level anthropology class or that summer waiting tables will help you in an interview. Remember that any previous experience can be used as a stepping-stone, if you look at it from the right perspective. Opportunities are found in the details that most people miss.

Ehlinger

Maija Liisa Ehlinger 14C (left) is a displaced Southern Californian who now documents life as it comes in Atlanta.
She will be an Emory Residence Hall Director and Fellow who will work in the Office of Health Promotion and serve residents of Clifton Tower.
This article was originally published on Thought Catalog.

Cassie Young 07C is the Social Media Director at Q100's The Bert Show. She agrees that social media  overexposure can be a pitfall for the aspiring young professional. Read her suggestions for tackling this issue in "The Step-By-Step Guide On How To Protect Your Privacy On Facebook."

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Michelle Valigursky