“This Is Just A Test”

I’ll say it again…”I am totally done with this pandemic.” Granted
we (Margaret, my wife, in particular) have ramped “precautionary measures” up a few notches. And, to be perfectly honest, I am damned sick and tired of the routine.

But I also keep reminding myself that this whole exercise isn’t just
about “me” and “my” inconveniences. There are a bazillion people the world over who are much worse off. So…stiff upper lip, Kirk.

I also keep reminding myself that this is an opportunity to step back and recalibrate my activities. I’m still teaching part-time at The University of Tampa and am doing my best to maintain constant and supportive contact with my future-professional friends in the UT Ad Club and UT PRSSA chapters. I’m sort of their faculty adviser and am doing whatever I can to (a) keep them motivated and excited about their chosen career fields and (b) provide them with advice and counsel whenever needed.

But I want to do more. I truly miss my decades-long affiliation with Boston Harborfest, a nonprofit organization created to draw attention to the City’s wonderful history and heritage, Thanks to the efforts of an amazing board of directors of which I was a member for close to 40 years and a motivated, dedicated community of nonprofit institutions located primarily in Boston’s waterfront area, millions of people…local and international…come to Boston annually to experience an incredible week of events showcasing all that Boston has to offer.

I’m here in Tampa now, though, and am still a “newbie.” But things are picking up. I’m mega-involved with PRSA Tampa Bay, PRSA New Professionals and PRSA BEPS activities. And there are a couple of new Tampa-specific activities that have bubbled up in the past month or so that I’m hoping to also lend a hand with.

And that’s what I mean by “a test.” Where can I make a meaningful contribution? Will I feel as fulfilled as I did (still do) with my Harborfest memories? The future is just that…the future.

This, too, is something I try to pass on to my student-friends and others. Yes, you have a “real” job that, hopefully, gives you personal and professional satisfaction. But don’t let that consume your whole life. Find ways in which you can give back to the communities that helped you get where you are today. You’ll find, as I have, that your whole outlook on life improves because you have been able to make a difference.

Life itself is one ginormous test. You just have to “fill in the blanks.” As Nike® says so well, and I repeat so often, “Just do it.”

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Wow…What a Year!

Somehow the first four months of 2021 have managed to sneak in and out without my having consciously noticed them. To be totally honest, so far this year has sucked BIG TIME. But a couple of things have gone right…

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  1. My wife and I are fully vaccinated. Doesn’t mean we’re “out and about” like in olden times. But at least we’re starting to entertain positive thoughts about a vacation…in mid-2022.
  2. An interview that I conducted with Craig Newmark, Founder of CraigsList and Craig Newmark Philanthropies,” was published by the Global Listening Centre for whom I serve as Director and Ethics Committee Chair.
  3. I got a very cool award from The University of Tampa College of Arts and Letters recognizing me as “Outstanding Part-Time Faculty.” Totally unexpected and immensely appreciated!

Classes are finished for Spring 2021 semester at UT, so my brain is on autopilot for a month or so. I’ve got a Summer II class starting in late July, but that’s it for the year. The university is going back to fully in-person classes in the Fall, and I have opted (reluctantly but realistically) not to be a part of the experiment. I’m not convinced that we (Florida/America) will be out of the woods by then. I hope, hope, hope I’m wrong. Time will tell.

That being said, I have absolutely NO intention of slowing down. Planning for various PRSA and PRSA Tampa Bay, as well as UT PRSSA and UT Ad Club, activities is already underway. PRSA and PRSA Tampa Bay will have special “Ethics Month” programming in September which, “coincidentally,” is also the kick-off month for student-focused initiatives. Summer promises to be “interesting.”

But the year’s not even halfway finished, and things in the national/global arenas seem to be falling apart at an increasing speed. The pandemic has definitely brought us a new set of challenges.

So there you have it. Let’s just keep our respective chins up as confidently as possible and hope that, by year’s end, there will, in fact, be a positive light shining at the end of this dark tunnel.

Until then, my friends.

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Just Believe In Yourself

There are those nights…usually around 2:00 AM…when I’m lying in bed wondering if I ever will be able to succeed. It’s nothing new. For
as long as I can remember…even as a kid…I had these doubts.

That’s not to say I didn’t get encouragement from my parents, teachers and others. I just never felt like I’d really accomplished anything meaningful.

On the other side of this, though, is a wall and a bookshelf in my home office each filled with letters, certificates, awards, trophies recognizing something that I’ve done or accomplished somewhere…Vietnam, the Philippines, Massachusetts, Hawaii and elsewhere…for some organization that I’ve been associated with. So, maybe, just maybe…

What’s this all about, you ask?

It’s a reminder to myself…and to you, my faithful reader…that there are good things that we can look back on and be proud of. We’ve made a difference to someone somewhere. And that, in my mind, is reason enough to keep doing what I’ve been doing in my professional and personal life and…in spite of my decades-long self-doubt…find satisfaction.

This is something I have always tried to pass on to co-workers, to folks who have worked for me at one time or another, and…for the past going on 20 years…to students. We’re not…at least not most of us…going to accomplish something that will change the world or even society. But we can make a difference to an individual or to a community organization…smaller in concept but equally important.

So while you’re sitting in your dark closet with a blanket over your head, take a few minutes to think back on things that you have done with and for others where the end result was something good.

Maybe you didn’t accomplish the whole thing by yourself…as English poet John Donne said so beautifully, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Or as our theme song when I was stationed in the Philippines with the 13th Air Force emphasized, “We all play in the same band.”

The point is, you contributed to success in some way, and you should be proud. You did it, and you’ll do it again…just believe in yourself.

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Patience and Persistence

These two deceptively simple concepts can make a world of difference in how things turn out for someone…including you, dear reader. Yet so many folks can’t seem to wrap their heads around either.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m in that category more often than not. Part of it is that I kind of get this “been there; done that” feeling when something starts falling apart. For me, it’s definitely not new.

Maybe I’ve been around the track more times than most people. Tried a lot of different things. Some seemed okay at first (like my 18th century British literature degree way back when); others took a little while to show their true colors (my last full-time PR job?!?). But in both and all cases, I learned something from the experience… “Don’t Give Up.”

And this is what I try to pass on to my University of Tampa now and Curry College before student friends and others. Not everything is going to just glide along smoothly…not in your schoolwork…not in your attempts to figure out what you actually want to do after college…not in your job search(es). There will be bumps along the way, and there will be those days when you just want to go outside and kick a squirrel. Patience.

You just have to take a long, deep breath and remind yourself again and again…”This  is not the end of the world…What have I learned from this particular experience?”

A friend/former student just recently informed me that, at long last, after countless searches and near misses, he had been offered a very cool job doing what he really wanted/wants to do. TIme will tell, of course, just how things will turn out, but…he didn’t give up. Persistence,

I know I’ve said this a bazillion times. Don’t bottle up your feelings. Have someone you can have a reality-check conversation with…a mentor, a professor, your parakeet… And have confidence in yourself and in your ability to make good things happen.

There you have it. My “sermon” for the day. You have a bright, successful future ahead of you, but it’s not going to come easily. That’s perfectly normal. Be patient…be persistent…and it will come!

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You Can DO This!

I had a brief exchange of messages with a friend/former student this morning about his current job search. He’s feeling a bit frustrated…it’s been a few months, and nothing yet.

I try to be both sympathetic and empathetic. Most of my Curry College and, now, The University of Tampa students have heard my story(ies). “Been there; done that.” If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you’ll see a laundry list of past jobs…most in the 2-3 year range; a couple just over a year.

There’s a back-story to every one of the transitions…a couple were bad fits from the get-go; a couple were good tries but…; a couple were absolutely awesome.

As I try to help everyone understand, this seemingly erratic career path was/is “normal” in today’s world. Up-and-coming professionals are looking for both challenges and chances to learn. This holds equally true for the folks to whom they report, The “trick” for both is to find a common ground for serious discussion of what lies ahead and expectations on both sides of the desk.

It’s not easy. As we have seen over the past year-and-counting, things change fast…and unpredictably. I find myself wondering once in a while how, as a manager, I would have handled the challenges that this blasted pandemic keeps throwing in everyone’s way. Just when you think you’ve found a way to deal with remote working, ongoing client/employer expectations, and accounting and finance realities, something new comes along and we’re back to the good ol’ “Square One” once more.

For my student-friends who are new or relatively new to the “life after college” game, it can be especially nerve-wracking. They’ve gotten used over the past four-ish years to getting almost instantaneous results on things…test grades, assignments, you name it. Now they’re applying for job after job and…crickets.

I’ve had at least a half-dozen “talk off the ledge” chats in the past couple of months with folks who are starting to get a little panicky after having sent in a job application, doing the appropriate follow-up, and, now…nothing.

I wish I were able to offer each of them at least one solid reassurance. But I can’t. And I refuse to make “promises” of better things ahead…there are but I don’t know when and I don’t want to raise hopes too high.

All I can really do is listen patiently and reassure each and every one of my friends that it’s not about them. This is today’s “real life” and all they can do is believe in themselves and, as challenging as it might be, not give up.

As I say time and time again, in various forms…”You can DO this!”

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Mentoring…“Which Road Should I Take?”

One of my favorite quotes is from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” when Alice, not sure where she was going, asked the Cheshire Cat for directions…

“Cheshire Puss…would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good 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.’”

This is sooo similar to the conversations I’ve had over the years with students, previously at Curry College, now at The University of Tampa, who have come to me looking for suggestions on what they should be doing in preparation for their futures and how to get started.

I always try to emphasize, though, that, unlike the Cat, I’ve been in their shoes more than once in my own professional lifetime and am here, now, to help each and every one of them…hopefully…find the right road.

I get it. “What’s next?” is a scary question when you’re just starting out on your professional adventure. As the years and the experiences build up, you’ll have better reference points. But this is “Step One.” Deeep breath.

The bottom line here is “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” If you’re a student, start with your advisor or with the professor whose class you really enjoy and you feel like he or she actually has a clue when it comes to “real life.”

Or…and here’s a plug for becoming an active member of a pre-professional organization (for PR majors, it’s PRSSA with connections to the local PRSA chapter) and taking advantage of the learning and the networking opportunities that come with the package…put yourself out there to see and be seen!

But, most important…ASK QUESTIONS!

Over my own somewhat disorganized professional past, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had colleagues to whom I could turn when I had a question. For those of you who know me, this wasn’t easy…I’m a certified introvert and would much rather sit in my dark bedroom with my teddy bear than go out and actually talk to someone. But I knew in my heart-of-hearts that putting myself “out there” was the smart thing to do. So I did…and it has paid off countless times.

So take the initiative. Give some thought to what you think you would like to do and, then, decide who you want to start with for information.

Just remember that not every person is going to have the answer(s), so be prepared. And don’t hesitate, if the person to whom you are talking doesn’t seem to have exactly the answer(s) you want, to, first, ask if he or she knows someone else you could talk to. Or do some extra sleuthing yourself and find other possibilities.

It’s not always going to be a smooth process. There will be bumps in the road. But, in time, you will start getting a clearer idea of which “road” you want to take. And, although it may not always be the perfect direction, at least you will be moving…and that’s a good thing!

And, oh…by the way…enjoy the trip!

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Ethics…The “Right” Thing

In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself focusing a lot of thought…and putting words on paper…about ethics and ethical behavior. This is in large part due to my involvement as Ethics Officer for the Tampa Bay Chapter, Public Relations Society of America, and Ethics Committee Chair for the Global Listening Centre.

I’ve also spent a good bit of time in my “Intro to PR” classes, previously at Curry College and now at The University of Tampa, trying to get the point across to would-be communicators…PR, advertising, whatever the focus might be…that ethical thought and action is non-negotiable. You can’t be “sort of” ethical. You either are, or you’re not. The Public Relations Society of America has a very comprehensive Code of Ethics to help members and others get a handle on what IS and ISN’T considered “ethical” behavior.

I like this quote from Edward L. Bernays, who I had the great honor of knowing in the late 80s/early 90s in Boston: “The general attitude toward public relations, now only four decades old, is often characterized by ignorance, prejudice, skepticism, apathy and confusion.”

This was more than 50 years ago, and I would offer that, while we have made some headway in the public perception category, there’s still a lot to be done, not the least of which is a more proactive effort to educate both PR professionals and the general public. And to figure out some way to regulate our profession so that, for wrongful actions, there are clear and enforceable consequences.

But that’s enough lecturing for today. My main purpose here is to get you, my patient and loyal reader, thinking about how you, yourself, “do business,” regardless of what that business might be. When someone comes to you asking for your advice or your help, do you treat each person who does so equally?

Now I’m not talking about someone asking if you would help him or her rob a bank! Hopefully you don’t even know anyone of that sort!

No…I’m talking about the “I’ve got XYZ problem. What do you think I should do about it?” kind of situation where you can (and should) give your best, most helpfully relevant advice.

You probably won’t…and shouldn’t expect to…benefit from this action. You’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

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Details…Details

Once again I am reminded that my obsession with correct
grammar, spelling and punctuation is NOT shared by all.

I’m in the midst of paper-grading for my “Introduction to Organizational Communication” class at The University of
Tampa and already have had to gently chide a student for
incredibly sloppy writing.

Okay. I know. “They’re students, Kirk. Lighten up.

Unh-unh. Not gonna happen.

My goal, besides introducing these folks to various aspects of the communication world, is to make it crystal-clear that attention to detail is a major factor in our world of written and verbal communication. As I rant over and over, “Sloppy writing is a clear sign of laziness. You were too lazy to even ask someone else to help you proof your work.”

I once had a conversation with a good friend… PR agency president…about the dozens of resumes we both got virtually every day from wannabe job applicants. I asked her, “How do you deal with this challenge?”

Her response? “Easy. First typo, trashcan.”

Wow! That cuts to the chase pretty fast, doesn’t it?!?

So here’s the deal as I explain it to my college students. Every college, large and small, has some version of an “academic success” office with professionals on staff to help you with your writing. Take advantage of this benefit. After all, a part of your tuition is used to fund it.

Now, having gotten THAT rant off my chest, I want to hasten to add that I don’t do an Attila-the-Hun assault on sloppy writing. It’s usually just half-a-letter-grade (A-minus instead of A, for example) to get the point across. But, for students who, for whatever reason, are dead-set on making Dean’s List, this “minor” markdown can make a difference.

The bottom line is that I want my students, whether or not they drink the Kool-aid and focus on Public Relations as their area of interest, to be as prepared as possible for their entry into the professional world of communication.

“The Devil is in the details.”

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Giving Back

I had a really encouraging meeting (Zoom, of course) with
Global Listening Centre selection committee members to review and discuss nominees for GLC’s “25 Top Women Listeners,” an initiative designed to recognize women in academia and elsewhere who have demonstrated a commitment to their community and to society. (The list hasn’t been made public yet, so stay tuned!)

Although I serve as the GLC’s Ethics Committee Chair, this was my first experience with this particular activity, and I came away really inspired and reassured that my colleagues around the world are committed to giving back out of appreciation for all that they, themselves, have received thanks to the actions of others.

This is something I try, without getting too smarmy about it, to pass on to my students…before at Curry College and now at The University of Tampa where I am so fortunate to be able to teach as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.

Yes, we (you, me…all of us) got where we are today partially because of our own skills and abilities. But there was also someone “out there” who was cheering us on.

There’s no price tag on this type of support. We do it because we truly believe that someone…a mentee, a close friend…is capable of succeeding and just needs a “cheerleader” to keep him or her motivated and focused.

I don’t have enough fingers on both hands to count all those wonderful friends and colleagues who were “there” when I was absolutely ready to throw in the towel and give up. And I can only hope that, over time, I have in some way conveyed to each and every one of them my heartfelt thanks.

This is what keeps me going today as well, as I hope it does you. Don’t kick off your shoes and sit back with a self-satisfied “well, that’s taken care of” mindset. Look around you. Where else can you lend a literal or figurative hand? Giving back doesn’t have an end-date. It’s a lifelong commitment that, in the process, delivers you even more rewards.

As I say time and time again, “Let me know how I can help you.”

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It’s Around the Corner

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m an incorrigible optimist. I firmly believe that something good is out there for me…and for you. But we have to go looking for it. It’s not coming to us.

I’m not sure when this began for me. My childhood kind of got off to a rocky start, and challenges have continued to present themselves ever since. But good things have happened in spite of (or, perhaps, because of??) this.

I’d love to say the good stuff that has happened over the years has been the result of something that I did. And, maybe…just maybe…it did. But I’ll be the first to state categorically that I did not actively try to change the course of things.

Maybe once…when I volunteered for a second assignment to Vietnam so that Margaret (my wife) and I could figure out if we really, really, wanted to get married. (As we begin wrapping up 49 wonderful years together, I guess the answer to that one is/was “Yes, dummy!”)

A lot of cool things have come my way over the three-quarters of a century that I’ve roamed this earth. In spite of my best misguided efforts, I stumbled into a career field…public relations…that has been so incredibly rewarding. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to help organizations succeed. And, as the direct result of a not-so-good employment choice (nothing like getting fired to perk up your day!), I have now been doing what I absolutely love doing for nearly 20 years…teaching public relations.

So now I’m sitting in Riverview, Florida…just outside Tampa…and I’m trying to figure out “What’s next?” Granted, I’m teaching part-time at The University of Tampa (thanks to my faculty colleagues who have made this possible) and I’m actively involved with PRSA Tampa Bay. But that only fills in a few hours a week. The adventure continues…!

As always, the question arises: “So where are you going with this, Kirk?”

The answer is what I try to pass on to my students and anyone else who will listen: “Don’t ‘settle.’ Be curious. If something sounds interesting, try it out. You never know.”

This was me back in 1977 when I decided that eight years’ Air Force service was enough. I wasn’t excited about the things I was doing even though, as I look back on them today, I realize that I was actually building an arsenal of skills and experience that would help me in the future.

So I left the Air Force and started looking for something else. What that “something else” would be, I had absolutely NO clue. Applied for a few entry-level (sort of) management positions. “Thanks, but no thanks” became an all-too-familiar response. Then a newspaper ad announced that the Army Training and Doctrine Command had a paid Public Affairs Internship opportunity.

It sounded “interesting,” so I applied and, son of a gun!, I was accepted! And the rest is, for many of you, all-too-familiar “Kirk history.”

The point here, though, is that I had absolutely NO clue where this adventure was going to take me. But I tried it anyway and now, 43 years later, I am where I am because I was curious about what might be “around the corner.” And here I am, smiling contentedly and looking for what lies ahead for me.

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Bus-ted!

As Ethics Officer for PRSA Tampa Bay as well as a frequent participant in/contributor to PRSA BEPS programming, and Ethics Committee Chair for the Global Listening Centre, I try to portray the highest standards of ethical conduct practice and encourage others to do the same.

I also try to convey the importance of ethical thought and action to students who are interested in the public relations career field (and others!), previously at Curry College in Massachusetts, now at The University of Tampa here in sunny Florida.

One thing I try to reinforce is the relatively simple concept that whatever you do or say, someone is paying attention. And they may or may not know a whole lot more about a particular topic that you’re addressing than you do. So, to cut to the chase…be mindful of what you say or do.

Where is this going, Kirk? So glad you asked!

I often talk about…and vividly remember…an occasion waaay back in the day when I was teaching conversational English to Vietnamese military. I had been selected while in Air Force basic training to attend the Defense Language Institute’s English Language School at Lackland Air Force Base where I was stationed. It was a voluntary thing that I thought sounded pretty cool. The result was two tours in Vietnam (1969-1970 and 1971-1972, with a brief one-year assignment back in the U.S. in between).

Anywho…I was teaching basic grammar so that Vietnamese student/soldiers could master the language well enough to come to the U.S. for advanced training in some aspect of their specialty area. Not looking for expertise…just basic familiarity.

Now, to be clear, I was/am NOT a grammar expert. My English degree was a specialty in British literature…NOT grammar.

Obviously, in the course of a semester of teaching, students would ask, on occasion, “Mr. Hazlett, what is that verb form?” Sometimes I would know and would confidently provide the answer.

Other times, I had no clue, but figured that these folks just barely understood what was being taught, so I could make up an answer and no one would know differently.

Until that fateful day…

Sentence is on the chalkboard. Student raises hand and asks, “What is that?”

I look at it and have absolutely no clue. So, using the rationale mentioned earlier, I make up an answer.

Suddenly a quiet voice comes from the back of the classroom. “Excuse me, Mr. Hazlett, but you’re wrong.”

Fifty (FIVE-ZERO) years later, I remember his name…Mr. Phu.

“Oh really, Mr. Phu. What is it, then?”

Mr. Phu then launches into a VERY detailed explanation that I recognize immediately as being absolutely correct.

“Mr. Phu, how did you know that?”

“Before I was drafted into the Army, I was a Professor at the University of Saigon. I have a Ph.D. in French. I also studied English.”

Bus-ted!

So the takeaway from this is, my friends, is just this. Don’t make statements or take actions assuming that “no one else will know.”

Ethical thought and action means taking into consideration the impact you can have on others either positive or negative. It’s doing the RIGHT thing…not just the CONVENIENT thing.

And…Mr. Phu is paying attention!

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