Your Career and You: “Life and ‘Overloads’”

publication1I’ve been doing something recently that doesn’t come naturally…never has, so “progress” will be interesting to measure.

Apparently I’m genetically incapable of saying “no,” and I occasionally (aka: “often”) find myself on the edge of mental and physical implosion. I’ve taken the, for me, drastic step of saying “No” when asked to participate in various activities that, previously, I would have dived into headfirst. We’ll see how this exercise goes.

I volunteer for short- and long-term projects based primarily on my experience-tested theory of “that sounds like ‘fun’, so I’ll do it!” Most of them are related in some way to my 30-plus-year active involvement with the Public Relations Society of America.

PRSA has been an amazing relationship both professionally and personally.

I’ve learned so incredibly much thanks to on-line and in-person programs that have covered the full range of challenges and opportunities that a public relations professional will encounter in his or her life. I can honestly say that I would not be where or who I am today had it not been for PRSA, both the national organization and the local chapters that I have belonged to.

On the personal side, I count as friends public relations professionals around the world…some of whom I’ve never actually met in person but with whom I have had a virtual relationship, in some cases, for years.

That being said, these friendships, opportunities, and challenges have come with a “catch.” I often get asked/invited/urged to take part in something. Maybe it’s a blog post. Or participation on a committee. Or lending a hand with an event.

Whatever the case, I wind up with just one more thing on my already-overloaded plate. And, occasionally, deadlines for multiple activities run headlong into each other and I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat realizing what I’ve gotten myself into.

The good news is that I rarely, if ever, let anyone (or myself) down. Deadlines are met. Events come off without a hitch. Blog posts get written and published.

The other “good” (or “bad,” depending on your point of view) news is that I share something in common with many of my students at Curry College where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses…the propensity to test my physical and mental limits.

I had a meeting with one of my student advisees recently and, in the course of our conversation, was reminded that she is taking a full load of courses (and doing very well in every single one) in addition to a two-day-a-week internship and a part-time job. AND she was meeting with me to discuss another part-time job offer that has the potential to turn into a full-time job doing exactly what she wants to do when she graduates in May 2017.

Her enthusiasm was clear. She’s loving every single moment of every single day.

She also realizes that there are limits to how much she can take on and still maintain the high standards that she has set. So we worked out a “work-around” on the second job offer, and we’re waiting to hear how our (her) counter-offer will be viewed. Fingers crossed!!

The point of this story is simple…sort of. For many of us, life is not about “settling.” We want to exceed our wildest expectations. We want to make our mark on our world and our chosen profession.

My advice, then, to myself, to my students, and to anyone who will listen is just this. You know that you’re not going to accomplish this by doing just what’s required to get by. You’re going to have to push yourself…to embrace the “overloads” that life sends out way. But be mindful of what you’re getting yourself into…what you’re promising others that you will do for them.

Don’t let the overload become a burden.

Posted in careers, feedback, Inspiration, overload, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Your Success…Your Responsibility”

publication1_editedSeveral years ago, we had a news release writing assignment for homework in my “Principles of Public Relations” class at Curry College. It was a simple task, but I cautioned the students that spelling, grammar and punctuation would be THE most important part. Content, while obviously important, was secondary.

While most of the students turned in reasonably well-written releases, one person actually had a typo in the headline!

She earned the “F” that I had promised for shoddy work and was self-righteously incensed. “How dare you give me an ‘F’???”

I pointed to the misspelled word and asked, “What do you think would have happened if you gave this to your boss?”

“He would have fixed it for me,” she replied.

I won’t bore you with the details of the minor eruption on my part that followed. Just let the records show the “F” was confirmed.

I use this example in many of my Public Relations Concentration classes to drive home the fact that, especially in PR but also in other professions, attention to detail is crucial. “Someone else” is not going to fix your mistakes for you.

And, to play “got one better than that,” I recently had to send a warning to a student who had missed two classes in a row. His response was that his “alarm clock didn’t go off,” so he overslept.

The class starts at 11:30 a.m.!

We all have a lot of “stuff” going on, and sometimes it feels like the whole world is leaning over our shoulder poking and prodding.

College…and professional…life can be challenging, and the stakes are high as you prepare to either venture into the “real world” with your newly-minted diploma or embark on a crusade to climb higher on your career path.

The good news is that there are others who are standing by to lend a helping hand.
The not-so-good news (for some) is that those folks are not going to do your job for you.

You’re going to have to start the process. You’re going to have to do your homework on opportunities available to you, requirements to qualify for those opportunities, and steps to take in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

Your supporters will be on the sidelines cheering you on…offering advice…perhaps opening a door or two for you.

But they’re not going to proofread your hastily slapped together “resume” that’s chock-a-block filled with grammatical errors and kindergarten-level descriptions of your “experience.”

No. You are going to have to do the gruntwork. You are going to have to do the research on potential opportunities.

Then you can turn to your support network to ask for advice or for a final “did I miss anything?” proofread.

It’s not easy starting out or moving up in professional life. But it can be done, and you can succeed. But you have to take this bit of advice to heart.

Your success is your responsibility.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, job hunting, job search, PR, PR students, public relations, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Finding Inspiration”

publication1Occasionally I hit a wall with my enthusiasm. I feel like I ought to be doing something. I just don’t know what that “something” is, and I’m not terribly motivated to go looking for it.

I just finished reading a college-application essay written by my cousin’s granddaughter in which she addresses the same thing! So three generations apart…joined by the same challenge!

It’s sooo easy to slip into a comfortable “been there” mindset and spend your days just…“doing that.” But I’m not wired that way; I have to be doing something that is meaningful both to others and to me!

I sense this in a lot of my students at Curry College as well. As I get to know them in one or more of the classes that I teach in our Public Relations Concentration, I find that they, too, are looking for ways in which they can make a difference somehow. They may not know what that “difference” is or how they’re going to make it happen; but they are determined that it will happen.

The major challenge in this is that the opportunities are not going to come knocking on your door. You have to seek them out.

It took me a very long time to figure this out, so I’m not going to get all preach-y and wag my finger at you. I’m just suggesting that you’re going to have to do most of the legwork in this.

How to get started?

My favorite phrase: “Test drive.” Get out of your room/office/cubicle and pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you’re a student, what’s happening on campus? What types of organizations are there that, at first glance, sound interesting? Go to a couple of meetings and get a sense of what they’re about and how you might be able to get involved.

Then do something you would never do in class…raise your hand and volunteer! Is there a committee that sounds interesting and could use some extra help? Let them know you’re interested!

For example, in my very early years as a PR professional in Boston, I attended meetings of the local PRSA chapter. At one meeting, the chapter president made a pitch for volunteers to assist with the membership committee.

Immediately after the meeting, I volunteered to take on the challenge. She accepted my offer; I got involved; and more than 30 years later, I’m still an active PRSA member…and I’ve met a TON of PR pros around the world…and have gotten two very cool jobs as a direct result of those connections.

I tell this story often for several reasons. First, it’s a real-life example of how you can find something that gets you excited and makes you want to do more because you’re making a difference. Second, I’m not an outgoing type of person…I’m a serious introvert…I do not feel comfortable talking with people I don’t already know; I have a tendency to want to curl up in a ball in the corner and hide.

But as I’ve gotten more and more involved in PRSA (yeah, this is a not-so-subtle plug for joining a professional organization and becoming an active member…doing things, not just “being a member”), I’ve been offered a growing number of opportunities to use my energy and enthusiasm to help promote programs and activities. And I’m always inspired by the creativity I see in others.

The moral of this wandering tale is that you won’t accomplish great things by sitting around. You have to get out of your comfortably-familiar rut and actively seek out ways in which you can add value.

You have to find inspiration…it’s not going to come looking for you!

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, networking, PR, PR students, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Where Do I Go Next?”

Publication1One question I am asked most often is: “Where do I go next?”

Most of the time it’s from young professionals who have just gotten a start in their career and are eager to move onward and upward. I get similar questions, though, from many of my Curry College Communication students…especially those in the Public Relations Concentration who have tasted the nectar of the PR world and want to experience more.

My answer is similar regardless: “What do you want to do? What makes you excited?”

I love this quote from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice comes to a fork in the road and asks the Cheshire Cat which path she should take.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where…,’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘…so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”

In other words, you need to have a plan. Sure, you might be just starting out, but you need to have some idea “where you want to get to.”

Of course, the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra also had a pretty good take on this with his own pronouncement: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Hmmm…

The point here is, we all sooner or later reach a point in our professional (or personal) lives where we feel like we need someone smarter than us to help guide us along the path to success. In professional parlance, this person is called a “mentor.”

The Public Relations Society of America’s College of Fellows has a mentoring program through which senior practitioners provide advice and guidance to other public relations pros to help them navigate the choppy waters of their careers. Not only did I take advantage of it myself back in my “PR professional” days; I also volunteer as a mentor at PRSA’s International Conference each year, meeting with and offering advice to PRSA members.

Regardless of what your career field is, there are folks out there who are ready and willing to share with you their own knowledge and experience to help you “sort stuff out.”

How do you find these people?

  • If you’re in college, start with your professors and your career services folks. Believe it or not, they are there to help you!
  • If you’re out in the working world, check out the professional organizations in your area. I mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating.

For those of us in the communication arena, national organizations include PRSA, IABC and AMA. Each of these has local chapters that are readily accessible. In addition, especially in major cities, there is a “Publicity Club”; here in Boston it’s the Publicity Club of New England. (There are other, similar organizations in cities around the country, and this is just a sampling. Check ‘em out!)

Bottom line here is…you’re not in this alone. There are others out there who are more than willing to help you. But they’re not mind-readers. You have to start the process by asking the simple question: “Where do I go next?”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Passion for Your Profession”


Photo by Sheehan McCarthy

A photo on Instagram taken of and posted by my friend/former Curry College student Samantha Valletta drove home for me the absolute need to love what you’re doing for a living. Samantha has multiple passions including theatre, dance, yoga…and public relations, and she’s having the time of her life juggling all of them. (And, yes, that’s the photo…used with her permission.)

One fringe benefit of my current life as coordinator of our Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration is the opportunity to meet, study, and become friends with young men and women who are hell-bent on finding a career path that allows them to do something they really love doing.

Some actually wind up working in PR. Others head off on different paths, combining and using the multiple skills and interests that they have found in the course of their college life. And that is as it should be.

I always think of my younger brother, Jimmy, who initially studied law in college and built himself a very successful law practice afterwards. But his heart wasn’t completely in it and, after a number of years of “doing ‘okay’,” he made a radical change, earned his ministry degree, and the past 10 years have been for him, in my own biased opinion, “pure heaven” as Senior Pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, GA.

But it was a daring move on his part, and Jimmy was careful as he moved forward with this major shift in his life. He had the support and encouragement of his family, so that eased the load a little.

The lesson in this is pretty simple…and very complex.

Many people settle on and in a “job” that pays the bills, is socially acceptable, and offers some hope for a decent retirement. They go to work, do their job, and go home at the end of the day.

Others, either through careful planning or, as was the case with my own career, through sheer luck, find career paths that allow them to do something that gives them pleasure, allows them to use their skills, and pays the bills.

It doesn’t come quickly to all…took me 10 years to actually figure things out…but it will come. You just have to believe in yourself and believe that it will happen.

You have to do some “stuff” up front, though, if you want to have at least a decent shot at this.

If you’re in college, talk to your professors and your career services counselors about internship opportunities. Get started on this as soon as you can…internships help you figure out what you like to do as well as don’t like, what type of organization you like working for, what makes you happy.

If you’re in college or are graduated and are working but don’t feel like your current job is “it,” one word… “network.” Connect with the professional organizations (here in the Boston area, for communicators, it’s PRSA Boston, Publicity Club of New England, IABC Boston, AMA Boston, for starters). Attend meetings; meet people; find out what’s out there.

Yeah, I know. All of this sounds like work, and it is. But this is how you find the profession that fulfills your passion. As Nike likes to say, “Just do it!”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, Inspiration, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, Planning, pleasure, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, PRSSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Good Housekeeping = Good PR”

Publication1In one of my previous lives as a public relations practitioner, I developed an odd (to my co-workers) habit of stopping on the way to my office to pick up stray bits of paper in the parking lot and dust the (fake) shrubbery that adorned our lobby.

This routine struck a lot of folks as strange because, according to my job title, I was “Communication Director,” not “Housekeeper.” But, as I explained time and again, I was, in fact, “housekeeper”…as should each of them be.

I tell this story regularly to my Communication students at Curry College, especially those who take my “Principles of Public Relations” course as part of their PR Concentration requirements. The point I try to drive home is that public relations is much, much more than writing news releases or organizing events.

No. Public relations in general terms is about “appearance.” As communicators, we spend a lot of our time telling others about our client or employer’s activities. We do our best to paint a positive picture that encourages their support.

But, as I also often say, “appearance is what’s in your front yard”…what you want passers-by to see and think of you…your reputation.

There’s another side to this, though, and that’s your “back yard” where you store your junk in hopes that no one will see it…the “real” you…your character.

Back to my plant-dusting. At this particular organization, we spent a lot of time and energy emphasizing the cleanliness of our operations. And we did a pretty good job of it.

But it hit me one day as I walked from my car to our main entrance that there was a bit of a disconnect. The question popped up in my mind, “How can we credibly communicate ‘cleanliness’ when people have to walk past trash on their way in to our building?”

Then I spotted cobwebs on the fake plants. To quote Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, “Bazinga!”

Thus began the daily ritual…pick up pieces of trash on the way in; check the plants…and other spots…for cobwebs or anything else that might contradict the perception of “cleanliness.”

Ethical business practices are much the same. Organizations say they care about their customers and the general public and society and all that. But what goes on “behind closed doors”?

This is where we, in our role as communicator and corporate conscience, come into the picture. We (ideally) should be part-and-parcel of the corporate decision-making process, lending our perspective as a communication professional to the conversation.

We should be plugged into the thoughts of our stakeholders…aware of their opinions, wants, and preferences. If our leaders are considering actions that are contrary to what those important audiences are thinking, we should be ready, willing, and able to speak up. As I so often say, “If it makes the hair on the back of your neck get all creepy-crawly, there’s very likely a problem.”

And this leads us back to my original thoughts on good housekeeping. It’s our responsibility to make sure our “front yard” is neat and tidy. But we also have to keep an eye on the “back yard” where plans and programs are created…is everything equally presentable? Would we be proud of what passers-by (stakeholders) will see?

After all, “good housekeeping = good PR!”

Posted in Action, Communication, Curry College, Customer Service, Ethics, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Public Relations and Ironing Clothes”

Publication1It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve just wrapped up the first set of tasks that I’ve inherited over the past 40-plus years of married life, one of which is ironing clothes.

I actually enjoy this chore, and I used to think I was probably a “little” weird because of it. That is, until I was having a chat with my president at the Blood Bank of Hawaii way back when. We were comparing notes on our relatively frenetic lives, and I mentioned that I enjoyed ironing clothes, to which she responded, “So do I!”

We both agreed that ironing clothes was a therapeutic action for us. Our workdays were filled with ever-changing twists and turns that kept us “on” pretty much all the time. Ironing clothes on the other hand, as we both agreed, had a beginning and an end. We could control the action.

As we talked more, I realized that this seemingly mundane task was very similar to my day-to-day challenges as a public relations professional.

How and why? Simple! The basic steps in ironing are…
1. Gather all the clothes in need of ironing. (Research)
2. Set up the ironing board; fill the iron with water and turn it on. (Action)
3. Take each item and iron until wrinkles are gone. (Communication)
4. Check to see that all clothes in need of ironing are, in fact, neatly ironed and ready to wear. (Evaluation)

Sure, you will have to repeat the process next week or whenever your ironing cycle comes around again. But you will have successfully addressed the challenge and you have an operable plan!

And, just as in public relations life, occasionally there will be a need to re-iron a recently-worn item because of an unexpected occasion that requires wearing it. (Crisis Management)

Our main goal as public relations professionals is to “engineer” (Edward L. Bernays’ description) a mutual understanding between our client or employer and those publics with whom we wish to (or must) conduct our business. (Wrinkle-free clothes)

We want those publics (or “audiences” if you prefer that term) to view our client or employer favorably. (Neatly-pressed appearance)

Occasionally we will have to take special extra steps to ensure that favorable opinion. (Starch on clothes)

In the end, though, we will have accomplished our mission. So the next time you’re facing a pile of wrinkled clothes, don’t think of it as “another mindless household chore.” Look at it as a very solvable public relations challenge!

Posted in Action, Communication, Evaluation, Planning, PR, public relations, Research, Thinking | Tagged , , | 6 Comments