I have these epiphanies every now and then during which I realize that one of the reasons I continue to love what I do…teach the tools, tactics, and techniques of public relations to the next generation(s) of PR professionals…is that, while I “grew up,” I’ve never gotten “old.”
Part of this comes from the fact that, as a member of Curry College’s Communication Department team, I get a chance to interact daily with scores of eager young up-and-coming professionals who are trying to figure out their own career paths, just as I did oh-so-many-years-ago.
Some are interested in radio; others in television…or theatre…or public relations…or any one of a host of specialty areas. And they look to us…their teachers or their faculty advisors…for some indication of what might be the path to choose.
I remember from my own undergraduate days the professors/professionals who most influenced my studies, and they weren’t the “fuddy-duddies.” They were energized, energetic, engaged, and enthusiastic.
What I remember most vividly, though, was that they were having fun sharing their own knowledge and experience with those of us who were there to learn.
And that was what made the difference. Not only did we want to be there. They wanted to be there. We were in this together!
I’ve had a couple of colleagues over the years (I’ve taught at a half-dozen colleges in the Boston area, so I’m not going to throw anyone in particular under the bus.) “gently” encourage me to ratchet back on my enthusiasm…to act “more professorial.”To which I (mentally) say, “Unh-unh. Not gonna happen.”
My students understand that there are two sides to the “Kirk” experience.
One is the guy who expects you to dive into your studies and take an active role in figuring out what you really love doing, asking questions along the way to help get a better focus, exploring options to figure out what you’re good at and want to do for a long, long time.
The other is the guy who loves “Pink Floyd” and “Lady Gaga” and can go on excitedly for hours about a PR-related activity he was involved in during his professional career days (Can anyone say…without groaning… “Blood Bank of Hawaii”?).
Why are there two sides? Or are there, really??
Satisfaction, in your career or in your life…to me…doesn’t come from same-ol’/same-ol’ ways of doing things.
No. It comes from the youthful enthusiasm that says, “Wow! This is fun…how can I make it fun-ner??” (And, yes, I totally know that’s not a word…I found it, brought it home, fed it, and kept it!)
The point here is that “old” truly can be nothing more than a state of mind. There is nothing that says you can’t experience a thrill of excitement when you try something new or different just because.
Childish enthusiasm, when maturely applied, can be a wonderful thing! So if you must grow up, just don’t get old!!
During the course of both my professional and academic careers, I’ve been either bemused by or amazed at the lack of enthusiasm…OR the tremendous enthusiasm…different people show for their chosen life’s work.
I remember so vividly a fellow I worked with for a summer job when I was a senior in high school. It was a factory in my hometown where woolen material was made, and this guy’s job was to run a machine that folded the cloth into containers that were then moved to other parts of the plant for further processing.
The final step in that job was, when the container was full, to cut the cloth, move the container away, and roll in another for filling.
When I asked, he told me he had been doing this same job for 29 years!
I (obviously) had a follow-on question: “Why?”
His response has stayed with me until today: “I have to be sure that the cloth is folded neatly so that, when it’s taken to the next stage, there won’t be any problems in the processing there.”
At first, I thought he was nuts. Then I thought some more.
I realized that he realized that this was not rocket science. This was a routine, by-the-numbers, non-challenging job.
So he made it a challenge by focusing on the quality of his product…the filled container.
Once in a while, at random times, the folding machine would get weird and would somehow twist the material…or there would be a giant wrinkle…or perhaps a grossly-noticeable imperfection.
He made it his mission to be on the alert for those glitches and to head them off at the pass.
I know this sounds to some like an “Oh, my God, just shoot me!” kind of job. And I’m pretty sure this fellow was fully aware of the general perception. So he decided early on to be proactive and to find a way to make it a challenge.
The lesson I took away that summer is that your job doesn’t have to be mindlessly routine.
What you have to do is find a way to make it interesting…to add a level of “excitement” to it. And when you accomplish that, you’ll find yourself becoming more engaged in it…looking forward to the next day’s challenges and opportunities.
“Life that dares send
A challenge to his end,
And when it comes, say, Welcome, friend!”
Richard Crashaw, “Wishes to His Supposed Mistress” (l. 85)
I always find it interesting to talk with my former-student friends from Curry College, where I teach most of the undergrad public relations courses in our Communication Department, and Regis College, where I teach grad courses in the Organizational and Professional Communication area.
They’re mostly enthusiastic and optimistic…but not always.
Some of them are seeing the positive results of their efforts. If they haven’t nailed down the “perfect” (in their mind) job, they’ve at least been getting some encouraging feedback and feel that success truly is in the cards.
Others are “settling”…taking whatever comes along…often for a good reason, I hasten to add, like school loans that have to be repaid, rent, food…in order to “get by until…”
I try to make the case in our classes as we talk about “life after college” that it is a challenge getting started…and the perfect opportunity isn’t just going to be sitting on the street corner waiting for them to come by.
“Life”…through which we all must pass…is a never-ending series of professional and personal challenges. And, once in a while, things don’t go exactly as planned.
But you can’t give up, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) simply abandon your dreams.
For one, you’ve worked really hard for a relatively long time to prepare for your future. Don’t toss that effort aside “just because…”
Also…you made it through all that effort because you believed that you could succeed. Never doubt your beliefs…they are what make you you.
But also be willing to accept reality. As I’ve said at least once in the past, “you don’t get a gold star just for showing up.” You have to earn it.
Life isn’t, as the song would have you believe, “a cabaret.” Life is an uphill climb that we all make. And the view from the top is awesome!
Funny how, once a year, we feel compelled to sit down and grind out a list of “Here’s what I’m going to do better or differently in the New Year” that will very likely be either forgotten or ignored in less than a month.
As the Beatles famously sang back when I was some 10 years older than most of my undergrad public relations students at Curry College, I’m all set to start a “Revolution” in response to this resolution mania.
How about this? Why not just take stock of where you are in life…in school…at home…and either take steps to improve the situation if it’s not so great or smile and contentedly pat yourself on the back if everything’s the way you want it?
Now before you start making mental snowballs and throwing them at me (mentally, I hope!), rest assured that I understand the intent behind the custom of resolution-making.
But why just once a year?
My paltry half-century-plus-plus lifetime of experiences tells me that “stuff” happens all the time…usually when you least expect it…that throws a major monkey wrench into carefully laid plans, and we find ourselves back at the ol’ drawing board revamping them.
So here’s a thought, offered here as I sit and watch the sky get ominously darker and darker as yet another freezing spell rambles into New England…quit “resolving” to do things better or stop doing things or whatever, and set achievable, measurable, time-driven goals that you can track daily, weekly, monthly…until they are reached.
It works for successful businesses. It works for those of us who provide public relations services for clients or employers.
It can work for you.
And, to close on an incredibly cheery note as written “To a Mouse” by that amazing Scots poet Robert Burns in 1785, bear in mind that…
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
All in all, it has been a pretty good year…
- Accomplished more than originally planned. Had a TON of fun in the process.
- Saw a bunch of my friends (aka: former students) graduate and head off into “reality” to make their own marks on the communication profession.
- Visited a new country (Singapore).
- Dug deeper into a country I’ve grown to know and love (Taiwan).
- Made a bunch of new friends; reconnected with old friends who had sort of dropped by the wayside.
- Lost my step-father, but learned (had reinforced) the amazing impact and influence he had on hundreds, if not thousands, of folks in and around my hometown of Dublin, Georgia…and gained a better understanding of how he influenced me.
What’s this all about, you ask?
An important part of adult/professional life is taking stock of past successes…and failures…and determining what steps to take in the future to either build on the successes or avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
This is advice I share regularly with my undergraduate students at Curry College, where I teach most of the courses in the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration, and with my graduate students in the Organizational and Professional Communication area at Regis College.
Most of them listen, and their progress in school or in the working world reflects it. Others, not so much.
Professionalism…something I’m constantly talking…okay, “preaching”…about…is very much about learning from successes and failures, taking action based on those lessons, and listening to the advice of others who are a whole lot wiser.
Sometimes it’s an unpleasant experience. Most of us don’t like to admit we made a mistake…made the wrong decision…went with the wrong candidate…favored the wrong side of an argument.
But that’s life. In spite of all the “life is a bowl of cherries” stuff that we read and hear, once in a while the wheels fall off and “life” comes to a screeching halt.
What to do??
As the old song goes, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”
Just don’t do the same things/make the same decisions the next time. You’ll get better, but…you will make wrong decisions or choose wrong courses of action again.
That’s okay. That’s called life, and we all experience it. Keep smiling and move on!
It seems like a lot of my conversations with students at Curry College, where I teach most of the Public Relations courses in our undergraduate Communication major, lead off with the question “Where do I start?”
Most of the time they’re talking about their job or internship search. But occasionally we’re talking about their future at Curry…what should they study…what’s best for them and their interests…should they stay at Curry??
I often assure (or perhaps frighten) them that we all have had to start somewhere…that there are no cleanly and clearly marked roadmaps to show them the way.
But there is guidance available:
- There are personal examples, which I share willingly and readily.
- There are the experiences of others just like them who have gone before them.
And sometimes they just have to forge their own path.
Whatever the case, my message always contains the reassurance that they’re not in this alone…that we all (or at least some of us) started out unsure of ourselves and where we thought we should be heading.
I’ve told my own story countless times…
- Started out wanting to be a civil engineer building highways and bridges.
- That idea didn’t work out so well, so switched to English thinking I would be a college professor (note: this was 1966!).
- Wound up after college in the Air Force first as an English language instructor, then as an audiovisual specialist.
- Stumbled upon the concept of public relations and the rest, as the saying goes, “is history.”
The funny (probably better said as “ironic”) thing is, I had no one to show me the way until I got into the Army’s public affairs intern program. I just made it up as I went along.
Thinking back on it, until I moved to New England and subsequently joined the Public Relations Society of America’s (then) New England Chapter…now Boston Chapter…I did not know one single soul outside of the military who worked in the public relations arena!
But that was then, and that was me.
Today, I would argue, is better. College students today have more resources to call on, from professors like myself who have spent a substantial amount of time working in a particular profession to others…career services folks in particular who keep their fingers on the pulse of the business community-at-large but also alumni who are ready, willing, and able to talk about their own experiences and lessons learned.
But it all has to start somewhere…asking questions…listening to advice…following up on recommendations…taking action.
There will be, as I so often caution, bumps in the road that threaten to derail plans. There will be opportunities that, on the surface, seem ideal…until you actually “see how the sausage is made.” But it all counts. It’s experience. It’s lessons learned. It’s life.
And it all has to start somewhere. Have you started??
I’m back from the Public Relations Society of America‘s International Conference and am more-or-less reasonably refocused on my “day job” of teaching most of the public relations courses in Curry College’s undergraduate Communication curriculum.
Had a chance to hang out with some very smart PR professionals while at the Conference as well as some very bright young PRSSA (PR Student Society of America) members who hold great promise for our profession’s future.
But now back to the “reality” of higher education and its challenges and opportunities.
This afternoon, though, while waiting for our shuttle to ferry me to the local subway station, I had an unexpected yet very invigorating chat with two former students, one of whom is interested in pursuing a career in public relations, the other undecided at this point.
The young lady is set. She’s actively involved in the Curry College PR Student Association, is diligently taking all the required courses for the PR Concentration, and has her eyes set on an internship that will get her foot in the door of the profession.
The young man is hovering. He kind of knows where his interests lie. He just doesn’t know exactly how to proceed both in college and in life after. But as he and I talked, I realized that he has his act firmly together.
What struck me was the unabashed youthful enthusiasm both of these young people showed. They are eager. They are interested. They are motivated.
This, in turn, reminds me that my job as a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR pros doesn’t end when my “troops” head off the stage with their diplomas clutched tightly in their hands.
No. This is a long-term commitment that promises these young people that I…and countless others…are standing by to help, to advise, to console, and to encourage. Our “bond” says that I, as the veteran, will share my knowledge, my experience, my lessons learned, and my dreams with those who choose to listen.
While this sounds daunting…and to otherwise “normal” people it probably would be…this should be the norm, especially for those of us in public relations. That’s our job…providing guidance and counsel.
But there is a “payback” in this that comes from seeing our young charges mature over the course of four years into eager, competent young men and women for whom the world, as Forrest Gump said, “is like a box of chocolate.”
From us, they get the introduction to their futures…a peek at what lies ahead as a reward for their diligence and dedication.
From them, we get the assurance that the future lies in good hands…that the groundwork we have laid either as PR professionals or PR professors or a combination of the two will be maintained and strengthened.
It all starts with a simple(-ish) state of being, that of unabashed youthful enthusiasm.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essays: First Series. Circles”
Not a huge deal, but I figured, “What the heck? Give ‘em a ‘throwaway’…a no-brainer.” All they had to do was read an article carefully and find the mistake…a fairly obvious mistake.
So I gave them the title of the article and said it was in the Boston Sunday Globe. My mistaken assumption was that they would all leap merrily on this chance to get a guaranteed “A” for accomplishing a simple task, and I would be inundated with responses.
Within a couple of hours, I had gotten four responses…
- One asked, “What section of the paper is it in?” (Apparently no attempt whatsoever to look…as the article began at the top of Page One.)
- One asked, “Where can I find the article?” (Ditto above)
- One asked, “Can you give more information so I can find the article?” (1-2-3-4-5…)
- The last was more a statement: “The least you could do is give us the link to the article so we can find it.” (Won’t comment on that one.)
The fascinating part of this is that these are not newly-minted freshmen just learning the ropes of college. These are, for the most part, juniors and seniors…many of whom are starting to set their sights on “life after college” and…jobs!
This isn’t a new topic for me. I’ve gone off on a spree before venting about the reluctance (inability?) of today’s generation to look for solutions to problems. My perception is that they are sitting back complacently waiting for me…or someone…to waltz in the door with the answer for them on a silver platter.
I do have to hasten to add that this characterization doesn’t apply to all…but It’s real.
My challenge, and that of my academic colleagues, is to drive home the point that life doesn’t come with a preset menu of choices. We have to help/make our young charges come to grips with the fact that, more often than not, they will have to sift through the rubble of decision-making to find the solution to the problem at hand.
I’m not totally discouraged by this most recent exercise, however, as I can cheerfully report that, by the end of the evening, I had received a half-dozen correct responses from others, including one who pointed out an error that I had missed.
So there is hope! But the basic point remains. Thinking…It truly IS critical.
“To most people nothing is more troublesome than the effort of thinking.” – James Bryce, “Studies in History and Jurisprudence – Obedience” 
I had a somewhat frustrating experience recently trying to help a group of would-be public relations practitioners understand the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. These are reasonably bright young men and women…juniors and seniors…all of whom should know how to format a direct quotation and use the correct wording.
Didn’t matter that I had provided them with examples. Didn’t matter that I had pointed out some excellent resources for fact-checking.
Nope. They stared at their computer screens or a printed version of their second draft with a baffled look…much like they had seen their first Martian.
One thing that I constantly and consistently hammer home to my students both at Curry College, where I teach most of the Communication Department’s undergrad PR courses, and at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication program, is that they know where to look for information.
Knowledge doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees. It is the result of hard work, diligent study, and ability to conduct at least elementary research.
I assure my students that I neither know everything needed to succeed as a public relations professional nor wish to know everything.
What I do know is where to look to find what I need to know.
There are the reference books on my bookshelves. There is, of course, the internet. There are the hundreds of human contacts I have made over the years who have become part of my global network.
These are the resources that I turn to when I need answers or information or “how-tos”…in addition to the decades of experience-based knowledge that I have stored in my fuzzy brain.
The point here is, Grasshopper, that you have to take control of your own knowledge-building and education. First, you have to know what you don’t know. Then, you have to know where to turn to get the answers that you need.
You have to know where to look.
“Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt; Nothing’s so hard but search will find it out.”
Robert Herrick, “Hesperides. Argument of His Book – Seek and Find”