“Huh, ok … so … why do you want to be publisher?”
I do not blame Michael Tai, the former publisher and one of my mentors, for having been baffled when a first-year one semester into his college career blurted out his lofty aspirations. I did so because, simply put, I was an idiot. What prompted my ask was a mix of arrogance and na?veté: arrogance in how I thought my proactivity signified my capability as a leader, and na?veté since this proactivity was how I found success in my high school endeavors. I had no answer for him.
Tai, a student only a few years older than me, advised me to get back to work and begin to consider what Spec is and why it matters. That sentence exemplifies why many of my non-Spec friends question Spec’s supposed self-importance: Why let some 20-something-year-old tell you what to do? Yet this peer-to-peer management structure—though absurd from the outside—is what catalyzes personal and professional growth that is arguably unparalleled at Columbia and (from what I, a soon-to-be-graduate, gather) in the real-world.
To those who haven’t worked at Spectator, its premise sounds fairly silly—and I would agree with you. This organization is the outcome of generations of 20-something-year-olds who know nothing about the world piecing it together. But in order for this absurd organization to effect change, it requires from its members both initial blind faith and eventual earned trust. With so many facets of the organization depending on one another to succeed, success requires everyone to be genuinely invested in one another.
A management structure emerges, under which 20-something-year-olds permit other 20-something-year-olds who are deeply committed to the same goal the authority to help them. Sometimes through Socratic conversation and other times through direct requests, the mutual respect developed through this peer-to-peer structure yields optimal solutions to ambiguous problems. In other words, I let some 20-something-year-old mentor me because I know they genuinely care about not only the business but also my personal growth.
Ultimately, that’s what makes the work at Spectator, as all Speccies will tell you, monumental. There are few spaces at Columbia that allow and impel students to unearth the inequities that exist in our community. There is only one that is financially independent of the University. With our independence comes a financial burden to survive. To do so, college students have had to learn how to run a media company—building robust product-development, ad-sales, marketing, and branded-content teams. Working through the gnawing pressures of incomplete assignments, over 250 students—most of whom are unpaid—are still willing to commit more than eight hours a week, with their leaders committing as much as 40 a week, to implement grandiose ideals and grow from immense challenges.
This process requires an exorbitant amount of trust. Companies compensate for trust between employees and for executives financially, but Spectator does not have that luxury. Spectator’s leaders dedicate time to understanding the personal and professional goals of those they work with—just as their leaders did—to help their staff overcome the emotional and physical fatigue that is bound to occur at some point. Developing that relationship with your peers, all of whom are eager to learn and build upon a powerful organization, is what spurs an unmatchable camaraderie.
Arguably, I’m still arrogant and na?ve to prattle on about the importance of a management structure as a 21-year-old. But as a result of this peer-to-peer structure, under which blind faith and mutual trust spur innovation, I have experienced the best moments of my life thus far. To current and future Speccies: Embrace the absurdity. Approach challenging or seemingly impossible situations with an initial blind faith, and earn the trust of your peers to accomplish ambitious endeavors.
As I enter the real-world, one ripe with innumerable uncertainties, I hope to start again with a bit of blind faith, knowing not where it will lead me but that I will grow.
CB 143: Katherine and Rahil, I can’t think of two people who further defined my college experience. Katherine, through your grit and poise, you led this organization to strive for excellence and its people to empathize with one another. You have taught me the importance of authenticity and honesty, and your friendship has made me a better person for it. Rahil, I am thankful that you were one of my first friends at Columbia. Very few people have the luxury of working with their closest friends, and I was incredibly lucky to transform Spectator for the better with you. Your ability to ground everyone and help people understand what truly makes them happy is admirable, and I can say that I am more confident in what I want for my life because of you. Thank you both for these past few years of constant learning, growth, and friendship. Here’s to decades more.
Michael, Caroline, Daniel, and Tai: I appreciate you for defining my Spectator experience and bolstering my capacity to succeed in life through your unwavering mentorship. Michael, your ability to inspire others to be the best version of themselves is unparalleled. Thank you for serving as a goalpost that I can constantly strive toward. I cannot thank you enough for your guidance, tough love, and confidence in me. Caroline, thank you for being the first person to see potential in me and for always being the person I could turn to when I felt lost. Your wisdom always rings true, and I appreciate you immensely for it. Daniel, the first words you said to me have still stuck, that learning from Spec does not end even when Spec does. Tai, thank you for never giving up on this na?ve idiot. You have taught me so much, whether it was how to structure and communicate my thoughts or identify what matters to me.
Isabel, Sarah, Kat, and David: It warms my heart to see each of you leading Spectator to new heights and building an incredible organization. Thank you for the opportunity and privilege to have mentored you. If I was able to help you understand a new perspective, learn a new skill, or (most importantly) understand what’s important to you, I’m glad. Through working with each of you, I have learned so much about myself and how to communicate my own ideas. I look forward to when you are lucky enough to have mentees as great as you are.
Karen and Shubham: Spectator is lucky to have the two of you, who are always willing to grapple with institutional shortcomings, leading the editorial charge. I am continually impressed by your astute criticisms and thoughtfulness. As Spectator continues to evolve, I hope that you two continue teaching future leaders how to think through challenges and develop meaningful solutions.
April and Ellen: Thank you for keeping the ship (and me) afloat. Your dedication to this organization is unparalleled, and we are so lucky to have you both working behind-the-scenes. Your genuine compassion for all the students you work with and the wisdom you impart are invaluable. Thank you for everything.
Kevin and Arsalaan: It was a great experience to grow in Spec alongside you both, but even more of a privilege to be your friends. Thank you for the laughs, the passionate conversations, and an attitude to improve Columbia for the better.
Non-spec friends: Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for recognizing I was passionate about something and providing me the space to accomplish it. Most importantly, thanks for knocking me down a peg exactly when needed. Ade, Gus, Jacob, Kevin, Gill, Ari, Stacey, Emilia, Gav (lol), Daniela, Jeff, and everyone else—thank you.
Nima Mozhgani is a Columbia College senior studying economics-political science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. He was sales manager for the 141st volume, revenue director for the 142nd volume, and publisher and vice president for the 143rd volume.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.