Friends Helping Friends

Publication1Over the past few days, I’ve had conversations with various people about everything ranging from “What should I do?” to “Where should I go?” to “Is it really worth it?”.

I think we managed to get to a final conclusion/decision in each one, but one thing was patently clear…if you’re facing some kind of personal/ professional challenge, there’s nothing more reassuring than having a friend to turn to.

That’s what has gotten me through the various dilemmas that I’ve faced over the years, and I have come to realize that a strong network of friends/colleagues to whom you can turn is one of the most valuable assets you can have. It’s a lonely feeling when you’re faced with something that threatens to disrupt your life in some way and you don’t have anyone to whom you can turn “just to talk.”

This isn’t just something that happens when you’re starting out in life…we all run into it at some point…me included. The good news is that you can prepare for the inevitable. The bad news is that so many of us don’t.

There are no magic bullets in this. But there are things you can and should do.
> First…don’t be a hermit. Don’t hole up in your office and not venture out.
> Second…don’t be Mr./Ms. “Anonymous.” Be visible. Be seen. Be there.

Those are the “don’ts.” Now how some “do’s”?
> First…wander around. You’d be surprised at how relatively simple it is to strike up conversations with co-workers in the company cafeteria or local coffee shop or wherever folks tend to hang out.
> Second…whatever your profession…become an actively-participating member of the local organization representing your profession. For me now, for example, it’s the Tampa Bay Chapter, Public Relations Society of America. For you, it’s whatever your line of work is. I can guarantee you there’s an organization in the area for folks just like you.

Things aren’t going to happen…or change…overnight. But in time…patience is a virtue…you will start making new friends/acquaintances and will find that, lo and behold, you’re not the only person who has faced this challenge. And, son of a gun, you’ll find that there are others to whom you can ask “What if…?” or “How did…?” questions.

Now…memberships. As so many of you already know, I can’t not talk about memberships. I’ve been a member of PRSA…Public Relations Society of America…for going on 40 years. And I have more than gotten my “money’s worth” from that connection. From job opportunities to career advice to real-time PR advice, I’ve had more opportunities to draw on the wisdom and expertise of my fellow members than I can begin to remember. And, conversely, I have made myself available to others for just the same.

And that’s what it’s all about, folks. It’s recognizing and accepting the fact that we’re all in this exercise called “life” together. It’s friends helping friends, purely and simply.


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Publication1We’re closing in on the third anniversary of the signing and handshake that finalized our “Where do we retire?” planning and landed us here in Riverview, Florida.

For anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to my places-lived record over the past 50-ish years, you’ll have noticed that, with a couple of exceptions, three years is the average. Philippines…3 years; Hawaii…3 years; Virginia…3 years. There have been a few shorter stints scattered in between, and we were physically located in Massachusetts for 36 years, but you get the drift.

Coincidentally, my work history has had a similar pattern. With one extremely rare exception…Curry College…I have stayed in my various jobs for anywhere from one to three years. Yes…I was in the Air Force for eight years…but I racked up a total of SEVEN different assignments in that timeframe! I then worked as a civilian employee for the Army for seven years…and three different organizations. The private sector wasn’t any different…16 years…seven different jobs.

Then I lucked..and that is the only way I could possibly describe the occurrence…into a part-time teaching opportunity at Curry (I was also teaching part-time at three other colleges during that period). The part-time gig turned into a full-time position, and the rest is bliss.

Now, in my “sunset years,” I’m happily ensconced at The University of Tampa as an adjunct faculty member, and the troops there are getting used, by fits-and-starts, to my less-than-orthodox approach to life in the “real world.”

I absolutely don’t actively encourage bouncing around your career field as I appear to have done. But I do encourage being realistic about your circumstances and being ready to make a change when it becomes apparent that where you currently are is not the ideal situation. As a very wise (and obviously very tired) salesman sighed to my wife early in our marriage as she found yet another flaw in the household item we were interested in, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

So don’t despair. Take a deep breath. Organize your resume and your job search plans. Talk to people…colleagues…friends…current/former teachers. Get as firm a grip as possible on what lies ahead, and (my all-time favorite saying), “Dive into the deep end.”

Success, both personal and professional, is about facing and managing change. Who knows? You might, as I did, wind up working for someone doing something you absolutely love doing for 16 wonderful years!!

“Still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet”
–David Bowie, “Changes”

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Finding Inspiration by Inspiring Others

Publication1I had a major epiphany this morning while chatting with a recent University of Tampa graduate/absolute rising PR rockstar. I’ve recruited her to serve as co-chair of the PRSA Tampa Bay “New Professionals” committee, and I was talking with her about the many benefits of both PRSA and local chapter membership.

She mentioned having participated in a recent webinar that the Tampa Bay chapter had presented and how inspired she was to have been able to hear so many valuable tips and techniques from (in her words) “a woman of color in an important position.”

It took about an hour for the full impact of that statement to sink in. Not so much about the “woman of color” or “important position” pieces although they certainly are significant.

No. What hit me like a ton of bricks was the fact that an up-and-coming PR pro…a college student at the time of the event…was inspired by an experience made possible by a professional organization’s efforts to inform and educate its members.

You see…this is what we, the “experienced” generation, should be doing…inspiring by our acts and our words those who will ultimately replace…or possibly work with…us. We should be consciously asking ourselves, “What can I do or say that will encourage someone else to strive to achieve success?”

I know this sounds all hoity-toity, but to be perfectly honest, I have been walking on air since our chat because I’m seeing an example of what inspired me to make the public relations profession my life’s passion. And it reminds me that I still have this opportunity each and every day that I’m in the classroom sharing information and experience with young men and women who, like me so many years ago, are hoping to find inspiration in either their studies or in the interactions with faculty and others.

Our challenge…and opportunity…then is to consciously be looking for ways in which we can share our knowledge…our experience…our hopes and fears…our lessons learned…with those who are eager to soak in our wisdom. And this is the value that organizations like the Public Relations Society of America and so many others bring to the mix…the chance to interact with and learn from those who have succeeded.

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet – On Teaching”

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Summertime…and the livin’ is queasy

Publication1I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am having a devil of a time trying to convince myself that there is a bright-ish side to all this chaos and uncertainty that we have been experiencing.

I realize there’s not a whole heck of a lot…as I’ve said before…I, as a well-intentioned humanoid, can do about things in general. But I sure would like to have some sense of stability. It seems like just when there seems to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, something else falls out of the sky and we’re scrambling again. I feel like I’m living H.G. Welles’ “War of the Worlds“!

It’s apparent from various posts that I see on social media that others are feeling pretty much the same. The interesting thing for me on reflection is that, in today’s world, we actually have these platforms on which to air our concerns…our revelations…our hopes and fears. Better to put those emotions into words than to bottle them up and, sooner or later, explode in often very unpleasant ways.

I try to keep tabs…at a distance, mind you…on my former Curry College and my current University of Tampa student/friends. I’m not trying to be nosy. It’s just that I know what I’m experiencing emotionally myself, and I want them to know that someone’s listening and cares.

We will get through this madness, and we will all come out the better for the experience. But it’s going to be an uphill slog with no clear end-point in sight. To quote, as I do so often, John Masefield in “Tomorrow“: “And many a broken heart is here and many a broken head; But tomorrow, by the living God, we’ll try the game again.”

Be strong, my friends.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

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No surprise here…I have NO idea what the future holds for any of us.

The optimist in me says “Hang in there. Things WILL get better.” The world has been through other, at the time equally daunting, challenges and somehow has always come out bruised a bit but wiser for the experience.

My internal pessimist, on the other hand, keeps muttering “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and no one anywhere has any idea how to deal with the situation.”

I’m old enough to know that there’s not a whole heck of a lot I can do other than “do the right things.” Not crazy about the disruption of my routine and daily feeling of uncertainty about what lies ahead. But certain previous life experiences have taught me that somehow, someway, I’ll get through it.

But others, in particular my amazing students from my previous Curry College and now my University of Tampa days, don’t have this personal “been there” reference point. They’re just starting out on their life’s adventures, and this pandemic pestilence is totally gumming up the works.

I can’t fix things, as much as I wish I could. All I can do is be “be there” for them and encourage them to talk to me when they’re feeling overwhelmed or at a loss for next steps in their lives.

Yeah, it really sucks. Companies, as much as they would dearly love to get back to “life as usual,” are just as much playing it by ear as my student friends. They’re slowly and carefully easing back into previously “normal” work/office routines, but they’re reluctant, for all kinds of good reasons, to make a definitive “we’re back” declaration.

So what do we/you/I do in the meantime?

First of all…Do. NOT. Give. Up! You got where you are because you put your heart and soul into everything you did. Believe in yourself, and believe even moreso in your ability to overcome the challenges that you will encounter.

Second…talk to others…friends…professors (current and past)…parents. Sometimes just the simple act of talking helps put things in perspective and you see more clearly what you need to be doing.

Third…go kick a squirrel. Just kidding, folks. It’s not the squirrel’s fault that things are this way. He (or she) is having enough trouble finding extra acorns to stash away for the winter!

I truly believe that things will eventually return to a modified form of “normal.” I recalled the other day a conversation I had with a student back in the early 70s when I was teaching English to the military in Vietnam. We were chatting about the current state of affairs (our school was on yet another “high alert” status due to reports that we might be attacked by enemy forces).

I asked the student if, at his age…mid-20s, he could remember a time of peace in the country. His answer, very simply, was “No.”

Wow! Talk about “normal.” For him, being on constant alert for possible danger was “normal.”

So welcome to our “new normal.” We will resume doing so many things that we have grown so accustomed to doing…only slightly differently. But we will resume doing them. And we’ll get used to the new way of doing them.

Or as Admiral David Farragut famously said to his fleet during the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”

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Patience…A Virtue That Must Be Nurtured

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I’ll be the first to admit it. When I think of something that I want or want to do, I want it NOW. Not “later.” Not “tomorrow.” NOW!!

I’ve “kind of” mellowed over the years, but this trait has always been my fall-back attitude. And, truth be told, I’ve had a couple of supervisors over the years with whom I’ve had a “let’s face facts” conversation about this tendency.

It’s probably a good thing that, in the latter years of my professional activities, I’ve been in the classroom introducing young men and women to the public relations profession, a career field that occupied the first 30-plus years of my working life. I’ve learned, albeit not without some “differences of opinion” expressed by a few students over the years, to temper my expectations…and my temper.

The deal is, from my perspective, that when you ask (or tell…memories of my active duty Air Force days) someone to do something, you’re making that request for a reason. It’s not “make-work” stuff; it’s REAL. And, especially in public relations, if there’s something that needs to be fixed, reputations and/or customers can be lost if nothing is done.

So two parts to this rambling…

One, be real and be realistic in your request and your expectations. I once lost it with my commanding officer at one Air Force assignment because he had no clue what my job entailed and he kept demanding, basically, the impossible. I “made” him take on my job, and I took on his role. It took him about five minutes of this role-playing to realize that what he was asking/demanding that I do simply could not be done. (Note: It helped that he and I were personal friends in off-duty life, so he didn’t perceive my actions as being insubordinate.)

Two, learn from your own mistakes and those of others. No one is perfect. Period. We all have our flaws, and we all manage to muck things up once in a while. I learned as a very young boy that sticking a metal fingernail file in a wall socket is not advisable. Things go “bzzzzt”…the lights go out throughout the house…and you turn, according to my Mother, a very interesting shade of purple. I also learned in Hawaii during my tenure as Communications Director for the Blood Bank of Hawaii that it’s not a good idea to have a pile of metal poles dumped into one of the four lanes of a heavily-traveled city street. Something about “impeding traffic,” according to the Honolulu police commissioner.

At the same time as all this, though, you must not lose sight of your goal. What is it that you hope to accomplish?

And, what’s required to make it happen?
> Who do you need to help you get it done?
> What resources do you need? Are they readily available?
> What’s the timeline? When does it HAVE to be done?

All this doesn’t come easily to everyone. But if you really want to stand out as a leader, you have to get comfortable with the process. And you have to accept that you, too, will probably stumble along the way. Guess what? You’re human, just like the rest of us!

So tighten up your shoelaces and get started.

Oh, by the way, even tying shoelaces takes patience! How many times have you rushed to tie your shoelaces only to have one or the other come undone while you’re rushing to get “somewhere” on time?

Patience truly is a virtue. Don’t rush it!

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Hurry up…and wait…

Publication1Maybe I’ve got the “quarantine quibbles” or something, but I feel like I’m seeing a lot more of what I have always described as “unprofessional behavior” these days. You would think grownups would act like grownups, but noooo.

I wrote about this just last week and, lo and behold, I ran smack dab into another glaring example right after that post was published. (For an update on last week…still haven’t heard from the colleagues I wrote about…and I have yet another one to add to the list…all three from the same organization!!)

I know. Waah…waah…waah, Kirk. Get over it. People are busy.

That’s just the point, though. We’re all busy. Even if we’re not working full-time (moi), we still have things we have to do. We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Which means that when we set an appointment or promise to have something done by XX time, someone else is standing by waiting for us to follow through. And vice-versa.

Why am I talking about this? Because I am acutely aware, in my present roles as adjunct faculty at The University of Tampa, director/ethics officer for PRSA Tampa Bay, and director/ethics chair for the Global Listening Centre that what I do or say will be noticed by others. The unasked question that I have to answer is, “What kind of example am I setting for others…students, current and prospective association members (…the list can go on for miles)?”

In particular these days, I want my students to see how I conduct myself as a professional and say to themselves, “Okay. That’s what a professional looks and acts like. I need to do the same.”

So here’s the deal, my friends. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do what you’ve been asked to do, say so. Don’t leave others flapping in the wind waiting for you to come through with something that, in your heart, you know you’re not going to be able to do at that time.

Yeah…sometimes we hurry up. Sometimes we wait. But the two should not be jammed together. Don’t be Alice’s White Rabbit who kept muttering, “I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”


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Professional Courtesy…It’s Not Rocket Science

Publication1Okay. You haven’t heard from me since forever. Let’s just say things have been “different” these past several months and let it go at that.

But I haven’t just been goofing off…at least not all the time!
> I taught an “Intro to PR” course Spring semester at The University of Tampa, and I’m prepping for an online “Intro to Organizational Communication” course Summer II.
> I’ve gotten actively involved in a cool international organization, “Global Listening Centre,” as a Director and Chair of their Ethics Committee.
> I’ve been (slowly) organizing an ethics program for the Public Relations Society of America‘s “Ethics Month” in September with an amazing guest (details coming soon).
> And I’m doing my best to adjust to this new existence called “Florida retirement” which is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

So be it. One thing I have noticed is the annoying habit of some individuals (who will go unidentified in this rant for a number of reasons) to not respond to legitimate requests for information, etc., via email. For those of you who know me, apparently I live on email. Regardless of where I am or what I might be doing, I read…and respond to…any and all legitimate emails that I receive.

My Curry College and Regis College students figured out early on that I might be relaxing in my favorite city, Taipei, eating amazing food and generally having the time of my life, and 12 hours ahead of them timewise…but I was available and I responded. My University of Tampa troops are coming to realize this as well.

Why? Simple. I consider myself a professional. I make a commitment to my “clients,” in today’s cases, students, that I am and will be there to help them when and if they need my assistance.

That’s what we’re here for, folks…to lend our professional assistance when and if needed. And, sometimes, that means “sensing” that there might be a problem and offering a helping hand without being asked.

It’s called “professional courtesy” or, simply, “professionalism.” And one thing I have learned over the years is…it’s not “rocket science.” It’s simply a case of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Or, as the “Golden Rule” suggests: “Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you.”

So, to close out this little rant, “Check…and answer…your damned emails!”

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Paying It Back…and Forward!

Publication1Let’s face it. We don’t…not a single one of us does…get where we are in life without the encouragement and help of others. If you look back on it, there has been someone who you have turned to at some time in your life for help, for advice, for reassurance.

As I look back on my own life, I remember the many people…family members, school and college friends, friends from my various professional lives…who helped me, an insecure introverted loner, move onward and (usually) upward. I’m not sure if all of them realize just how grateful I am for that support, but, believe me, I am.

So we move forward to today as I ease slowly into “senior” status (note: there are a few out there who are already muttering, “You idiot. You’re already there!!), I find myself wanting to do more to pay back the past kindnesses and pay forward for what inevitably will be my next adventure.

The “pay back” part is pretty self-evident…I just talked about that part. But the “pay forward” part??

Well, I’ve known myself long enough to know that there is inevitably a next great adventure on the horizon. I have no clue what it might be. But, as many of you reading this post know, I’m on “Page 1” of “Chapter XX” of Kirk’s lifetime adventures. Margaret (my wife) and I are slowly but surely adjusting to a new way of life in a new-ish environment here in the Tampa Bay area.

I’m teaching part-time at The University of Tampa and am heavily involved with the PRSA Tampa Bay Chapter…kind of a repeat of just what I had been doing in Boston for the past umpety-ump years and in Hawaii for a few glorious years as well. But I’m getting a smidge itchy…I need more. In Boston, I had Boston Harborfest…devoted 30+ years to helping this amazing organization. I was also involved in my communities, serving on various nonprofit boards over the years.

So I know me, and I know my passion for “being involved.” I also know that I’ll need someone’s help to make that happen. So I’m hoping by “being there” in the community that something will come my way. Fingers crossed!

This is something I try to pass on to my students…previously at Curry College; now at UT. Don’t just sit, waiting for something to happen. Get out there. Be proactive. Make connections. Ask questions. Only you can make you you!

So to turn the conversation back to you, gentle reader. What have you done, what are you doing, and what will you do to pay back the countless acts of kindness and support that have helped you get where you are today? And what are you doing now to open doors to new opportunities that will move you to the next level?

Onward and upward!

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Evaluation, feedback, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, mentoring, Planning, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Tampa Bay, public relations, The University of Tampa, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication, University of Tampa | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Get A Grip

Publication1The past year has been, to put it politely, a royal pain in the @$$. Seems like for every reasonably good thing that happened at least two not-so-good things stuck their snouts into my business. Nothing cataclysmic, mind you. Just annoying as the dickens.

If there’s any comfort in this world, it’s that I’ve noticed, via Facebook and Twitter posts, that more than a few of my Curry College COM/PR friends…most of whom are just really getting a firm foothold on their professional lives…have experienced or are experiencing this same thing.

As proof positive that I have absolutely no common sense, I’ve assured each and every one of them that what they’re experiencing is perfectly normal. Life is filled with speed bumps and potholes, and you have to accept that once in a while, just when you felt like you were cruising along comfortably…BLAM…you hit one of those suckers and feel like you’re losing control.

Note to self: “This applies to you, too, knucklehead.”

There’s no way to totally avoid these things. For one, they’re proof that you’re not stuck in a rut and just doing same ol’-same ol’. You’re trying new things, which in and of itself, can be unsettling. And, as I’ve learned from a gazillion years’ experience, the process doesn’t always go smoothly.

Second, you’re learning the “adulting” routine. No one is sitting patiently on the sidelines watching to make sure you don’t get an “owie.” Yeah, if you’re lucky, someone…a supervisor, a mentor, an amazing friend…is there to comfort you when the inevitable does happen. But, for the most part, you’re on your own.

“So what do I do, Kirk?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked myself that deceptively simple question, I’d be retired and living in Florida. Oh! Wait!! I am retired (well, sort of) and living in Florida! Hmmm….

There’s not really a simple answer to any of life’s ever-changing challenges. But you can get started with one relatively simple act: Believe in yourself.

I know that sounds incredibly basic. But, speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that having faith in your own ability to accomplish amazing things will give you a rock-solid foundation on which to continue building your confidence.

Will you trip and skin your knee once in a while? Of course you will! It’s called “life”…it happens.

But once you start this first step, you’ll find yourself more and more willing to turn to others to test out new ideas or validate decisions. Not because you’re afraid to do it on your just want verification from others that what you think is a good idea is just that. I call it a “reality check.”

Now I mentioned that the past year has not been one that will go in the “all good memories” book for me. A couple of things went totally kerflooey. (For what’s it’s worth, just looked that word up and discovered that I’ve been spelling it wrong for years!) A couple of self-made…I shouldn’t have done it…I did it…Bad decision things. Period.

But, for each of these owies, there has been at least one attaboy that offset it. So, in looking back, kind of an average year.

The main lesson that has taken me longer than I expected to accept is that, like my Curry College friends who I mentioned earlier, I started a whole new life a couple of years ago, Packed up and left close to 50 years’ worth of experiences behind. The memories are still there and always will be. But it’s “history” now…not “today’s reality.”

So what am I doing about it? Just what I suggested earlier. I’m making new friends whose wisdom I respect and who, I believe, can provide me the feedback that I am looking for as I dive into the deep end once again and start a “new” life.

Lesson? Just that it has taken me two looong years to accept the fact that I’m, once again, a “newbie” and that, like everyone else, I have to get a grip on reality.

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