Comedy Central Executive Tara Schuster Learned Her 'Stoner Girl' Personality Didn't Work in the Real World After College

To become the accomplished playwright, author and entertainment executive she is today, Tara Schuster had to shed the destructive persona she honed in college.

At the time when she walked on Brown University's campus, Schuster knew it was where she was meant to spend her college years. It gave her a way out of a tough family situation, an opportunity to join a "club of thinkers," and space to form her worldview.

Since leaving the Providence, Rhode Island campus with her degree in hand, Schuster wrote multiple plays, worked for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, helped launch the hit series Key & Peele, and rose through the ranks to become vice president of development at Comedy Central.

On February 18, she'll add "author" to her list of accomplishments when her first book, Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: and Other Rituals to Fix Your Life from Someone Who has Been There, hits the shelves. It chronicles the recalibration of her life that was filled with self-medication, anxiety and depression.

Schuster told Newsweek one hard lesson she had to learn was that the identity she took on in college didn't work in the real world.

The interview is part of the "College Credit" series, which focuses on how college experiences affected a person's ability to achieve his or her dreams. It has been condensed and edited for length.

Your book deals a lot with lessons you learned post-college. Do you think any of the behaviors you sought to correct were created in college?

How dark do you wanna go? Weed was so ubiquitous and it was the ritual of choice more so than drinking. By the time I left Brown, that was part of my personality—the stoner girl who's still really good at school. I had to unlearn that in a very serious way once I was in the real world, because I realized this is not a life. I'm certainly not going to be stable or happy or content if I'm just stoned all the time.

I think a lot of people find out the person they created in college doesn't work after graduation.

Yeah. "Out-of-control stoner girl who's bad at life but good at work" is not something you want to be past the age of 23. It's not cute and it's not funny. In fact, if I could have never been that, that would have been awesome.

What advice do you have for college students now, in terms of balancing fun and work?

I feel like my younger cousins hate me for telling them this and writing them letters about this. I know it's really fun to smoke weed and drink and party–trust me, I have partied. But when I look back, what I regret is that it robbed me of really valuable time that I was going into debt to have.

It's obviously fine to experiment and have fun, but I would encourage people to take themselves seriously. You have an opportunity that you never get again to find what you are passionate about, what makes you excited, what you want to learn more about in the world.

college credit tara schuster brown university
In college, being the "stoner girl" was part of Tara Schuster's identity. But, after she graduated and entered the real world, she learned that being the girl who's "bad at life, but good at school" doesn't work. Sarah Coulter

If you had the opportunity to go to Brown or a school that gave you a full scholarship, would you still have chosen Brown?

It's a great question, and one that I actually sort of faced. I was told there were two schools I would get a full ride, or come close and be in a lot less debt than Brown. But for me, I thought that Brown could change my life and I don't regret it in any way, shape or form.

Then, for grad school, when I got into Columbia for screenwriting and directing, I would be in debt something like $200,000. I thought, there's no way this is going to be worth it. That will be crushing and I'm still paying off college. So, I chose not to be in debt and I'm glad I made that choice.

I really don't like when people say go to grad school and take a bet on yourself. That is such BS to me. Go take a bet on yourself in your current circumstances. If you want to be a screenwriter, wake up earlier and write your screenplay. You don't need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bet on yourself.

In all of the hats that you wear—playwright, author, entertainment executive—do you think you'd have those titles if you didn't go to college?

I think it would be possible. It doesn't feel like a big part of my resume, but I think Brown gave me a framework from which I see the world. It made me a much more curious, engaged citizen and engaged with the work I do.

I really don't think it's necessary, for example, if you want to be a screenwriter, to have gone to a fancy Ivy League college. I don't think if you want to be a playwright, you need to be in serious debt from going to college. But I do think in my case it helped with my worldview.