Your Career and You: “Overload… ‘Hitting the Wall’”

Publication1This week, I finally did it, I’m pretty sure. One too many things on my plate, and I feel like I’m spinning in circles.

> The good news is, I know things will sort themselves out… somehow.
> The bad news is, I know who’s the cause of this dilemma…me.

My Madrid-based colleague Corina Manea recently wrote a great post for her own blog, “NutsPR,” talking about making time for yourself…getting some “me time.” The irony is that the reality of my current self-induced insanity hit home just as I was reading her post.

I urge/encourage my students at Curry College, especially those in my Public Relations Concentration, to “get involved” in on- and off-campus activities and organizations…to start building their personal and professional networks and gaining experience outside the classroom.

I truly believe that this is a crucial step in getting a start on a career….making connections and learning new things.

What I don’t do nearly well enough is help them understand that it’s okay to say “no” once in a while when they’re starting to feel overwhelmed.

Productivity depends entirely on your ability to produce, and when you’re overloaded, chances are you’re not going to do that…or at least do it well.

It’s a “learning experience.” There are no “how-to” books on how to really manage your time. Yeah, there are some that give “10 Tips for Effective Time Management” and all that. But you have to experience the sensation of overload…the knot in the stomach…the wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cold sweat…to really get a sense of your own limits.

Then you have to start working on restructuring your priorities and identifying what’s really important versus what’s the latest bright-shiny-object so that you have some breathing room in your schedule…some time to just sit back and…well…just sit back.

As the saying goes, “To thine own self be true,” and part of that “truth” is accepting that you do have limits to what you can do.

Once you reach that realization, you’ll then be able to say, when the time comes, “Sorry, I’ve hit a wall. I can’t take on any more at this time.”

I actually did this in a recent department meeting. A colleague suggested that I volunteer to co-chair a committee. After a brief reflection, I looked him in the eye and said, “No thanks. I’ve got enough on my plate at this time.”

That night, I slept more soundly than I have in weeks. I had “hit the wall.” Now was time to sit back, focus on projects at hand (including this post!), and re-energize.

Try it sometime!

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Your Career and You: “It’s about ‘Time’”

Publication1We recently observed “Communication Week” at Curry College, and we held a series of activities focusing on the many aspects of our department’s activities.

The kick-off event was the annual induction ceremony for the newest members of our Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honors Society chapter. I’ve been going to these for umpteen years, and I never fail to be amazed at the variety of activities in which each inductee is involved. I get tired listening to the narratives!

The key point…which is driven home time after time…is that not only are these young men and women involved in a number of on- and off-campus groups and organizations while also maintaining an admirable grade point average; they are actively involved in these endeavors.

What they have figured out is the answer to that age-old conundrum of “how do I fit 30+ hours of work into a 24-hour day?”

As many of us “veterans” have finally figured out…and these young future professionals are learning…is that, in spite of your desperate wishes, life…personal and professional…is going to happen whether you play a part in it or not.

You just have to learn how to prioritize the challenges and deal with them.

I still have those occasions where I take stock of my situation and mutter crossly, “Why did I let myself get painted into this corner?”

A big part of the problem is my inbred inability to say “No.”

I get/am involved in organizations and activities that truly bring me a sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment. Then I get asked to take on another project or program that I believe in and want to see flourish.

Next thing I know, I’ve raised my figurative hand and have been dubbed “head honcho” of this or that initiative.

Luckily…through no fault of my own…these things succeed due, in huge part, to the amazing help and support of others who share my enthusiasm.

These experiences are things that I bring into the classroom for my students, with the caution to “do as I say do…not as I tend to do.”

Successful people are involved in numerous activities. They are because, again, the activities are things in which they believe themselves and for which they believe they can make a difference.

The “secret sauce” for these folks is their ability to prioritize and address situations in order of their importance in the opinion of the individual.

Question: How did they accomplish this supposedly simple but often incredibly complicated task?

Answer: By taking a realistic assessment of their own lives and obligations and calculating how much time they can devote to yet another activity.

It’s not “rocket science,” exactly, but it is very smart thinking. You can and should lend your talents and your enthusiasm to organizations and activities that you care about and want to see thrive and succeed.

But make sure you are able to follow through on your promises. In the end, it’s about time.

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Your Career and You: “Teaching and Learning”

Publication1I’ve been doing this teaching thing for more than 10 years now…not counting a couple of years waaay back when I was in the Air Force and teaching English in Vietnam. Never intended to make it another career path, but so be it.

The funny thing is, though, a bazillion years ago I mentally charted my life’s path and projected that, at this time in my life, I would be teaching.

Then I barreled off into my life’s work of public relations and kind of forgot about that goal.

Flash forward 40-plus years, and here I am at Curry College after having worked for some totally cool…and a couple of not-so-cool…companies and organizations in places as varied as South Carolina, Washington, Virginia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

The interesting (to me) thing is that there has been one constant throughout that entire period…I’ve never stopped learning:
> Added two business degrees to the English degree that I started off with.
> Graduated from the Defense Information School with a certificate acknowledging my capabilities in government public affairs.
> Studied for and passed the Public Relations Society of America’s professional accreditation exam.
> Started writing book reviews for a couple of professional journals…which meant that I had to read, understand, and explain the various marketing, public relations, social media, and advertising texts that I was asked to cover.

I’m in the classroom now sharing those experiences and the knowledge gained with hundreds (thousands, now??) of up-and-coming professionals. And I learn something each and every day in the process.

My take on this activity is that, if I am going to help these young men and women prepare for a career in whatever field they happen to choose, I have to be as current as possible in my own knowledge.

So I continue to learn by reading and by attending professional programs offered by PRSA; the Boston Chapter, PRSA; the Publicity Club of New England; and others.

And then I bring what I’ve learned back into the classroom to share with my students.

It’s a continuum…learn…teach…learn some more…

PRSA has as its slogan “Advancing the Profession and the Professional.” That, to me, is the key. We all have knowledge and talents that make us uniquely us. But those qualities should, again in my opinion, be shared with others.

I write often about enthusiasm for what one is doing and pride in having done it. Sharing one’s passion with others is one source of the pride that I so firmly believe should be the hallmark of a professional…regardless of his or her chosen career path.

It’s one thing to know how to do something well. It’s an entirely different matter to then pass that knowledge on to others so that they, too, might realize the pleasures, the rewards and…yes…the “challenges” of building a successful career.

Success in one’s life…personal OR professional…is an ongoing opportunity to teach AND to learn. How are YOU doing??

Posted in Communication, Curry College, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “A Shoulder to Lean On”

Publication1A friend/former student stopped by my office at Curry College recently. He graduated last year, but he lives in the area now, so he stops in from time to time to say “hello” and to update me on what he’s doing.

He has always been an upbeat sort and firmly believes that his dreams will come true. I share that belief.

But the perceived flurry of positives that he experienced shortly after graduation has slowed down a bit, and he’s starting to get a little worried. Not freaking out worried, but worried nonetheless.

This latest visit was a “reassure me it’s not me” type…he needed to say what he’s been doing so that he could hear the words and so that someone else could hear them as well and give him feedback.

As we wrapped up (I had to scurry off to my “Principles of Public Relations” class), I reassured him that he was doing all the right things but that he has now hit that dreaded “hurry up and wait” stage that we all suffer through at some point in our professional lives.

Throughout their college lives, students are told time and again that deadlines are sooo important. “You’ll lose a letter-grade if you don’t turn your assignment in on time.”… “No work accepted after the deadline.”… “If you’re late, you won’t get credit for participating.”

And then the real world steps in.

The student/new professional does what he or she needs to do or is told to do as quickly as possible and “turns the work in” only to be met with dead silence on the other end.

What we haven’t been able to clearly communicate as teachers/advisors is that the “real world” doesn’t always operate on the same schedule as you’ve gotten used to in school. Potential employers don’t get back to you the next day with a response. People who previously expressed an interest in you suddenly are focused on something or someone else.

It’s confusing. It’s worrying. And you’re not sure what to do next. So a bit of advice…

Don’t…
…curl up in the fetal position and start sucking your thumb. Won’t do you any good, and thumbs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anyway!
…start banging your head against the wall wailing “why me?”
…shut down completely and start blaming yourself for something that, for the most part, is out of your control.

Do…
…take a deep breath and review what you’ve done so far…anything missing?
…look in the mirror and tell the person looking at you “we can do this.”
…turn to your support team…friends, former teachers/advisors…and talk it through. Ask for…and listen to…their advice and opinions.

There’s not a magic answer here, but one thing is for sure…

You’re not in this alone, even if, in the darkness of the night, you feel that way. There are others who care about you and who are standing by to offer a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, job hunting, job search, networking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Do Your Homework and Choose Carefully”

Publication1Events of the past few weeks here in the Boston area have reminded me of one important thing as you start out on your search for either your first adventure in your chosen profession or the next step in your career.

I’ve done enough bashing of the MBTA on Twitter as well as on Facebook and elsewhere, so I’ll leave it at this…there are some companies that you really don’t want to work forespecially as their public relations representative.

I counsel my students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses, to pay close attention to the first steps in a job search, like resume and cover letter construction, opportunity research (where are the jobs?), personal appearance, etc.

One thing I’ve been a little lax on is the importance of doing your homework when it comes to the actual places you’re applying to…who are they, how are they doing, how are they communicating….

I speak (sadly) from experience…two different jobs in the course of my career that, to put it politely, “did not go turn out well.”

The first was part my fault, part the company’s. I did some of my homework, but not enough. Reader’s Digest version…bad management for the most part; lack of clear business focus for the rest. I left the company very shortly before it self-destructed.

The second was entirely my fault. This was nearly 10 years since Fiasco # 1, and I should have known better. I simply did not do my homework.

I did basic research…very basic. The little birdie sitting on my shoulder kept saying “check ‘em out, Kirk.” But I was blinded by the excitement of potentially doing some really cool stuff for an organization that I thought I understood.

Bad choice # 1…I quit.
Bad choice # 2…I got fired.

Learned a TON from both experiences, most especially that really digging as much as possible into the background of an organization…AND the people who run that organization…is vital.

> DO your fact-checking online and elsewhere…reputation…operational success…the nuts and bolts.
> TALK to current and, if possible, former employees…what do they think of the organization or, if applicable, why did they leave?

After doing all this, focus your thoughts on how you might be able to help the organization in its communication initiatives. What skills and/or experience can you bring to the table?

If you’re just starting out in your career, you might be asking “what can I ‘bring to the table’?” And that is a legitimate question.

Look back on your internships…you DID do at least a couple of internships, didn’t you? What did you have a chance to do that you really enjoyed doing…and your internship supervisor thought was well done?

Build your case on those strengths…you’re just starting out…you’re not expected to be the world’s walking expert quite yet. But be prepared to tie your strengths to their requirements and needs.

Bottom line here…starting out on your career path or moving up doesn’t just happen. A bird doesn’t fly by and drop an opportunity on your head.

You have to do your homework…and choose carefully. Good luck!!

Posted in careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, internships, job hunting, job search, networking, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Making Connections…Connecting Dots”

Publication1I love it that my students at Curry College, where I head our undergrad Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, are starting to explore internship and job possibilities…without me poking and prodding.

We’re in the third week of a snowstorm-battered semester…sporadic classes…befuddled professors…antsy students…and the troops are finding themselves with more “me” time to think than they’re used to.

The outcome of that self-reflection is that many of them are devoting some serious brain cells to life after commencement. And they’re realizing that “commencement” does, indeed, mean “the beginning”…not “the end.” The beginning of life as an adult.

I talk about things like internships and job experience in nearly every one of my classes. I “gently” nudge my advisees and anyone else who crosses my path to start immediately looking at internship possibilities…even if he or she isn’t yet eligible to do one for credit.

My advice is, “The earlier you start thinking about and planning for an internship, the more prepared you will be when the time comes.

Fortunately, most of them listen, and most of that batch pay attention.

End result? My PR converts wind up walking out of Curry with a minimum of 2-3 internships under their belts…in different areas of the profession so that they have had a chance to get a better sense of what type of organization best fits them as an individual.

Public relations internships…and PR job opportunities…are not “one size fits all.” We all like and are good at different things. That’s what makes us human. We’re not all wired the same.

I say this from personal experience and a bazillion years as a public relations professional. Worked in everything from federal government to private sector, for-profit and non-profit. Didn’t actually hate any one of the jobs, but didn’t love a couple and was happy to move on. But each one was a terrific learning experience that made me smarter.

All of this is what I try to pass on to the next generation(s) now that I’m in the classroom introducing them to the career field that has been mine for closing in on 50 years.

So here’s the deal for my students…and anyone else who has questions about his or her future…

Connect with me or with anyone you know of who has experience in the profession you are interested in.

Ask us questions…starting with “How did you wind up working in public relations?” Then zero in on specifics like “What do I need to know how to do from the start?”

The conversation will flow on from there, and you’ll walk away with enough guidance to help you start sifting through the internship opportunities available through your Career Development Center as well as suggestions you get from me or whoever you talk with.

Start today by making the connection and connecting the dots.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, Planning, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “The Old Way Doesn’t Work? Try A New Way!”

Publication1One of the fringe benefits of being a “veteran” public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR practitioners at Curry College is that of providing advice, counsel, and general “talk ‘em off the ledge” reassurance to young…and sometimes not-so-young…students.

They’ve been told, time and again, to face up to their challenges and work through them. The problem, though, is that they’re usually not given any pointers on exactly how to “work through them.”

The simple answer here is that there rarely is just one simple answer to a problem. Different people have different ways of dealing with situations, and you have to figure out what will work best for your particular challenge.

The one thing I do know for sure is that you can’t just keep banging your head against the wall. The wall might fall…someday…but odds are you will go down first!

So what to do?!? Here’s a thought…try a new way of tackling the problem!

A gazillion years ago, in my early Air Force days, I worked in a three-person audiovisual library. My boss and I were early-birds, so we always got to the office at 8 o’clock to open up for the day and serve our customers. The third member of our team was (for a variety of marginally acceptable reasons) incapable of meeting that start-time.

Thanks to some very successful promotions that I was doing for our operation, business had nearly doubled and with that growth had come increasingly longer…unscheduled…working hours. Some of our new customers needed to come by earlier than 8 to get their film and equipment; others needed to come by later than our traditional 5 p.m. closing.

An ad hoc planning session gave us a solution that also allowed us to avoid disciplinary actions against my sleepy-head colleague….my boss and I (habitual early risers) switched to a 7 a.m.-4 p.m. work shift; Roger took on a 9 a.m.-6 p.m. shift.

Bear in mind, this was 40 years ago, and “flexible work hours”…especially in the military…were unheard of! But Roger was a good worker, and we wanted to find positive resolution to the issue while meeting the needs of our growing customer base.

The result?? Not only were we able to get around a smoldering disciplinary problem (this was the military, remember…timeliness is a big deal). We also added two hours to our open-for-business day!

Business grew even more, and our late-to-work problem was solved.

I mention this particular example because, when I shared it in later years with other military and civilian co-workers, the majority of the responses fell into the “I would have written the lazy bum up” category.

That is an alternative solution, and one that often is used… “my way or the highway.” It just didn’t work for us. We didn’t like the alternative…so we changed it.

Explore your options. Try new ways of doing things. Take chances (within reason). You might just find you’ve solved your problem!

Posted in Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments