On Wednesday afternoon, Binghamton University alum Merrit Hartblay spoke to students at a Harpur Edge Lunch and Learn event about taking risks to reach success while maintaining a positive outlook on life.
Lunch and Learn is a subset of Harpur Edge that works to enrich student connections in a more relaxed environment, through a round-table discussion over a meal. Hartblay was asked to speak at the event to discuss his own path and encourage Harpur College students to pursue multiple careers until they find their own happiness.
Hartblay, who graduated from BU in 1976, grew up in Jamaica, New York, and was pushed into the pre-law track from a young age by his family. He double-majored in political science and history, and upon graduation, decided to pursue work in broadcasting instead of going to law school.
Hartblay talked about his multiple career-path changes and how students should deal with career obstacles as they come. From network operator at CBS Corp. to working on satellite communications at Telecom to managing various small bands all over the nation, Hartblay said he quickly moved between jobs, and that taking risks is crucial to career success.
“If you have one foot on the past and one on the future, you’re pissing all over the present,” Hartblay said. “All you have control over is today. Life begins when you step out of your comfort zone.”
After being involved in a bankruptcy case at WorldCom when he was 48 years old, Hartblay went from making six figures to nothing overnight. He said he turned to alcohol and drugs, but once his marriage fell apart, he knew he had to amend his lifestyle.
After he initially got the opportunity to share his experience at Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School in Port Washington, New York, Hartblay began to lecture at schools to enlighten students on the danger of drugs and the importance of taking care of one’s mental health.
Now eight years sober, Hartblay is obtaining his master’s degree in social work at BU and works as a counselor at the Addiction Center of Broome County. He continues to give motivational speeches at high schools.
“I work with students with mental health issues, who come in with so much pressure on them,” he said. “They start drinking and smoking pot to calm themselves. I’ve got freshmen who are freaking out about graduation, and a lot of students end up self-medicating.”
Paige Dufresne, a junior majoring in human development, said she learned that while she may have many things on her plate, like raising her three-year-old daughter, she has to find opportunities to achieve success.
“There are more opportunities here on campus than I’ve actually realized,” Dufresne said. “I need to be an advocate for myself.”
Hartblay said he believes that his comeback is an example of how no student should rush to achieve someone else’s definition of success.
“For too long I was trying to be who everyone wanted me to be,” Hartblay said. “I was drinking, drugging — to try to put on this costume that everything was fine. The goal in life is to take off the costume, to take off the mask. You have to be able to say ‘this is me, I’m happy in my own skin.”