Your Career and You: “Dare to Dream”

Publication1Three simple words that my “home” from 2004-2017, Curry College, proudly and confidently displays around campus for students to see, think about, and aspire to.

Samuel Silas Curry championed this thought…and I embraced it wholeheartedly from “Day One” of my love-affair with the college Mr. Curry founded… “Dare to dream.”

I wasn’t a career educator by any means, although I actually began my professional life as an Air Force English Language Instructor and closed it out as Associate Professor, Communication/Public Relations.

If you had asked me in the early years if I were going to be a “teacher,” I would have snippily said “No way!” In my own mind, I wasn’t cut out to teach others how to do something. In fact, I had serious doubts about my own ability to do virtually anything.

But life…apparently having a mind of its own…took over and catapulted me through an incredible assortment of experiences INCLUDING teaching English in Vietnam, teaching audiovisual media classes in the Philippines, and, ultimately, starting as a part-time, segueing to full-time, public relations professor…with a bazillion other types of adventures in between. (Wow! THAT was a loonngg sentence!)

Looking back on it, I kind of instinctively took on the unofficial role of advisor/mentor for hundreds of students over the years. They would come to me…tentatively at first…with various questions about courses to take for their degree and about the course they should take in life.

I would inevitably ask, “What do you want to do? What gets you really excited when you think about or do it?

We would chat for a while and they would eventually say, “Well, I really like doing XYZ.” To which I would respond, “Then DO it! You’ll never know until you try!”

And this, I believe, is what Mr. Curry was thinking when he uttered those three words.

Don’t just “settle.” Just because “everyone else is doing ABC” is not a reason why you have to. There’s always XYZ!

So (a) talk to others…teachers, friends, family members, contacts you’ve made in the course of your life…and get their input and ideas.

Then, (b) have a long, serious conversation with yourself. Think about all the things you’ve done…all the experiences you’ve had…and identify those that bring back the best memories and feelings.

Then, (c) as Nike would have it, “Just do it.”

You might find yourself in exactly the place you want to be doing exactly what you’ve always wanted to do.

Or maybe not…

And if it’s “maybe not,” try something else! It’s like buying a car…you “test drive” it first to see if it’s what you really want.

Whatever the case, it’s your future. As our motto said when I worked as a civilian Public Affairs Specialist for the US Army Recruiting Command, “Be all you can be.”

Or, to wrap this up, as Mr. Curry said so wisely, “Dare to dream, but be not an idle dreamer.”

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Your Career and You: “I’m a Vampire!”

Publication1The past month was hands-down the loonngggest month I’ve endured in my entire life. Margaret (my wife) had cataract surgery on both eyes, and I voluntarily put all my own activities (PRSA Tampa Bay in particular) on hold so that I could be around just in case…

The “good” news is everything has gone well with the surgery and recovery. The “interesting” (for me) news is that I now have indisputable confirmation that I am a living, breathing vampire.

I have said this to my students at Curry College, where I headed the Public Relations Concentration and taught most of the undergraduate PR courses until August of last year, seemingly forever.

But this past May confirmed it.I absolutely, positively, no-two-ways-about-it NEED “fresh blood.” I have to have living, breathing human beings around me. I feed off their enthusiasm…their own thirst for knowledge…their energy.

I’ve also learned through this recent exercise that my mind literally (or figuratively…your choice) shuts down when I’m deprived of this energy source.

This discovery presents an equally interesting challenge for me as I continue to settle into my “Communication Professor – Retired” role. I love doing new things…coming up with new ideas or new ways of doing something.

My operating theory over the years has sort of been “If it’s not broken, it WILL break at some point, so go ahead and fix it.” I absolutely love taking a program or an activity that is doing well and figuring out how to make it even better.

In my mind (at least), it’s easy to fix a broken program…it’s BROKEN. DUH! But a program that’s chugging along nicely. That’s a new level of challenge.

One of my first realizations of this “quirk” came when I was a Public Affairs Intern for the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Ft. Monroe, Virginia. I was given an assignment to the Command’s editorial branch (where training manuals were created for the various skills taught to soldiers).

About two or three weeks into the assignment, I developed a sense that the form used for “grading” drafts of training materials, while “okay,” could be better. So I created a new form.

Initially I just used it for my own purposes, but a co-worker happened to see what I was doing and how quickly I was able to get results. She asked if she could have a copy of the form…then another co-worker noticed…then another. Pretty soon the entire department had discarded its years-old system and had adopted something that a wet-behind-the-ears intern had developed. Wound up getting a letter of commendation from the head of the editorial branch for my contribution to the operation’s success.

But I accomplished this while soaking in the energy of those around me. And this practice has continued throughout my professional and academic careers. Especially in academia, where I was surrounded by young inquiring minds looking for guidance as they were forging their own career paths, I was in vampire heaven! Just walking into a classroom was enough to recharge my brain and get me thinking of as many ways as possible to make things interesting/better.

So there’s my challenge. I’m in a different “place” now and have to seek out opportunities that will put me in direct contact with living, breathing, creatively-thinking human beings.

I’m a vampire!!

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, Inspiration, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA Tampa Bay, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Your Career and You: “‘Customer Service’? Or ‘Sales Pitch’?”

Publication1I read a terrific post by David Meerman Scott recently that rekindled my ongoing passion for spectacular customer service. Then I made my second trip to a local car dealer to get some critical recall replacement work done on my ancient but incredibly loyal car.

I suppose the fellow who processed my paperwork thought he was providing great customer service. His attitude and words were, I’m sure, verbatim copies of what he got in the dealership’s training programs.

But…everything was a smidge too quickly delivered…too “tick off the steps on my mental ‘great customer service’ list” wordy.

The problem, in my cynical not-enough-coffee-yet mind, was that his spiel was almost identical to the pitch I got the last disastrous time I came to this dealership for the exact same service…that, due to a laundry list of total service screw-ups, never happened.

Okay…for those of you who have put up with my ranting and raving over the years…here we go.

The key to quality customer service is engagement with the customer.

  • To make this happen, you have to care about the product or service you represent.
  • Then you have to care about the customer’s connection with that product or service.
  • Then you have to make the connection between the two, blending attitudes and perceptions into a seamless experience.

I “preached” this scenario year-after-year to my students at Curry College where I headed the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration and taught most of the undergraduate public relations courses.

Passion” has always been a key element in my examples. If you truly love what you’re doing and understand deep inside why it benefits your customer, you’re not “working”…you’re sharing your love with others.

I know that sounds totally Zen-ish, but I’m not sitting here staring at my navel and chanting. I’m talking about what kept me totally engaged both as a public relations professional and, later, as a public relations professor. Again…“passion.”

Sadly, experience tells me that this idyllic situation doesn’t exist for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you should just curl up and meekly accept “what is.”

Look at your job…its requirements…its demands on you as the agent in the customer-service cycle.

  • Is there room for you to personalize the service you’re providing?
  • Do you feel as though you’re fulfilling your own aspirations as a customer service provider?
  • Is this where you really want to be?

My rationale for that last question is just this…sometimes things aren’t going to change. So you will have to change!

Now this last bit addresses an unavoidable fact. Your job satisfaction and your success in providing outstanding customer service depend on you and your approach to the challenges.

You have to face and evaluate the realities of what you’re doing. How do you feel when you get up in the morning…or whenever it is you go to work? I once had a job that required…temporarily…that I be at work at 3 AM. I survived but hated every minute of every day.

Do you wake up and mutter “Gotta go to ‘work’”? Or, when you wake up, do you smile and start thinking about ways in which you can make a difference for your customers?

Your attitude toward your job and your belief in the product or service that you represent will make all the difference in your success in providing outstanding customer service and not just be mouthing a sales pitch.

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, Customer Service, feedback, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, pleasure, PR, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Waiting Rooms”

Publication1I’m experiencing new situations these days as I settle into my “new” life as a new retiree in a new home in a new town in a new state. The overall experience has been relatively painless…stuff gets done…usually on time…getting a LOT more sleep than in previous “lives.” But I’ve had to re-learn one important thing…waiting is a major exercise.

And that realization got me thinking about life and careers. We spend a good amount of time planning the next steps in our lives, checking off all the required steps in our life-plan, and then being told… “Wait.” Most of my waiting of late has been in various doctors’ offices and, today, at a local car dealership, but the main lesson is the same…

It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It can be downright discouraging.

But we don’t have a choice. The world isn’t sitting patiently for us to do something. Wheels are turning. Plans are being made. And decisions are being made…slowly and methodically.

A couple of observations here.

First, time is of the essence. Yeah, I know that’s an oldie-but-goodie, but…

Hiring managers aren’t sitting patiently waiting for you to act. They have needs, and they have deadlines. If your name isn’t in front of them when it’s time for action on their part, too bad…for you.

Second, patience is a valuable asset.

In the “real world,” sometimes even critical actions seem to take a lifetime to resolve. And there’s usually not a blasted thing you can do about it.

One thing that I always encouraged my Curry College COM / PR students and CCPRSA members…and now will be urging my new friends in USFPRSSA and UTPRSSA… to do to gain some control over these two realities is “network, network, network.”

Why? Because, first off, you move from “unknown name” to “oh yeah…I met him/her at XXX.” It’s not a slam-dunk guarantee of success, but it gets the door opened a smidge.

Second… “don’t sit around waiting for things to happen.” It’s up to you to get the wheels turning. So when you see or hear of an opportunity that sounds like it’s a good one for you, actnow. And be proactive in your follow-up…not annoyingly so…but take the initiative. Contact them so that they know you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ve just been told that, instead of a two-hour wait for some car repairs, I’m facing possible THREE hours or more.

Deeeep breaths, Kirk. Deeeeep breaths!

Note: After having written the post above while sitting in the dealer’s waiting room for three hours, I was informed that nothing had been done during that time…the person who was supposed to do the work never even showed up!

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Your Career and You: “Reading Minds”

Publication2_editedA brief…and, as yet unresolved…conversation with a former student reminded me of one of the key guidelines for getting ahead in your job… “Tell them what you’re thinking.”

I’m not pointing accusing fingers at anyone here. I’m as guilty of this “failure to communicate” as anyone. It’s not easy going up to your boss and saying “I’m not happy here and here’s why.” It should be easy. But it’s not.

The “trick” in this tap-dance is putting your feelings/observations into words that don’t immediately send the receiver into a blazing orbit of “How DARE you??”

As tempting as it might be to say, “Almighty one, this place sucks,” trust me…not advisable. The world in the 21st century is really, really, really small, and you don’t know when, how, or where your departure with guns blazing is going to sneak up and bite you in the tuchus.

I remember so fondly the greeting I got from my new supervisor-to-be when I finagled a reassignment from Clark Air Base in the Philippines to Langley Air Force Base, VA. His words…verbatim…were: “I heard you were coming. Don’t make waves.”

Now I wasn’t really unhappy at Clark, but a confluence of personal/family circumstances left me (in my mind) with no choice but to finagle an earlier-than-expected reassignment. Stepped on a few higher-ranking toes in the process.

Everything worked out okay, thank goodness. But I learned quickly (and painlessly) that telling your superiors what it is that you’re experiencing can really go a long way toward maintaining good relationships.

So here’s the deal…and here’s what I suggested to my friend.

  1. Plan your approach.
  2. Write out your statements, being careful that you’re putting things in a positive light.
  3. “Listen” to yourself as you make your case. Are you sounding positive? Whiny? Accusatory? If possible, get someone else (good friend?/professor?) to listen to you. What does he or she think?
  4. Adjust and make your case.

The main thing to remember here is that, as caring as I might be as your supervisor, I can’t know how you’re feeling about your current work situation unless you tell me. I can’t read your mind!

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Your Career and You: “What’s Next?”

Publication1One of the hallmarks of my own professional life has been a never-changing “itch” to try something new or different.

Even while in high school and college, I dabbled in jobs like grocery store bagboy, bartender, poolroom manager, highway department engineering intern, maintenance worker at the local woolen mill…I even tried working on my Grandfather’s farm (THAT one didn’t work out so well!).

My parents weren’t pushing me to do these things. I just, as I’ve said so many, many times, was not/am not wired to sit around twiddling my thumbs. “Kirk” and “doing nothing” are NOT compatible terms!

That pattern has continued throughout my entire adult life as well. Even when I was in the Air Force and stationed in Saigon, Vietnam, teaching “English as a Second Language” to Vietnamese military, I finagled part-time gigs doing everything from bartender to events planner to assistant in a military library…in addition to teaching five days a week and dating my then-girlfriend/now-wife as often as our work schedules allowed.

When I segued into my most recent persona…college professor…I found that this seemingly haphazard lifestyle came in handy when counseling my advisees at Curry College, where I oversaw the Public Relations Concentration, taught most of the undergrad PR courses, and served as Faculty Adviser to the Curry College Public Relations Student Association.

Throughout the year, but mostly in the spring, student after student would come to me with the inevitable “What do I do next?” And, inevitably, I would find myself getting excited as I explored with them interests, abilities, strong and weak points…looking for a possible avenue for them to explore after college.

I highlight “possible” because, even today, I don’t believe there’s a “one right answer” solution to life’s challenges. It might look good and sound good…but you won’t know until you try it.

Now don’t get all huffy and mutter “Kirk, you idiot. I know a LOT of people who have been with one employer for YEARS and are having the time of their life!”

I agree. I know quite a few myself…but they’re not doing exactly what they started out doing. They took their original “job” and transformed it into something bigger and better. “Same ol’; same ol’” wasn’t an option.

And that’s kind of where I’m going with this rambling. Don’t just “settle” as you explore options for your future. Even when you’re interviewing for a position, be sure to ask this one crucial question of the person who will be your boss/supervisor/whatever: “Where do you see this position going in the next few years?”

And listen to the response. Is there a sense of growth and opportunity in the answer?

But also have a serious discussion with yourself. What do you want? Are you willing to simply do whatever has to be done to “get by”? Or are you looking ahead and around the corner to see “what’s next?”

It’s your future, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. Or, as Mr. Spock would say, “Live long and prosper.”

Posted in Action, careers, CCPRSA, Communication, Curry College, Curry College PR Student Association, Curry College Public Relations Student Association, Education, Evaluation, feedback, Inspiration, internships, job hunting, job search, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “New Experiences…Be Excited!”

Publication1I just had a fun chat on Facebook with a young friend/former Curry College COM/PR student who has just started his spring semester internship with a prestigious Boston PR firm.

Right from the get-go, they’ve put him on two account teams and have him taking on  client-service tasks that would otherwise be done by more seasoned team members.

His excitement was obvious as he described to me the environment and the “vibes” of this new experience. As we exchanged comments, I found myself getting just as excited. He’s obviously in a good place now (graduating in May!) and is adding yet another pre-professional experience (aka: “internship”) to his already pretty impressive resume.

This is exactly what I tried throughout my third reincarnation as a college professor introducing young men and women to the profession that has been my own life’s passion for close to half a century.

Be excited…and let others see your excitement! Why? Because when you do, you visually and verbally tell your supervisor and your co-workers that you like what you’re doing…which implies that you want to remain a part of this awesome environment and to do your best to help everyone succeed.

In my mind, there’s nothing worse than to have someone higher up the “food chain” in an organization say something like “You don’t seem to be very happy here.”All of a sudden, you find yourself on the defensive sputteringly denying the observation and trying like crazy to reclaim lost ground.

Now I’m not suggesting that you go enthusiastically nuts and annoy the dickens out of everyone around you. But allow yourself to show your excitement at having done a project well…you’re telling others that you really enjoyed what you were doing and are proud of having done it well.

More important (in my mind), you’re subtly saying to your superiors, “I would really like to continue my relationship with your organization as a full-time employee.”

So that’s my start-of-the-new-year advice to you, my friends. I believe in your ability to succeed. And, as a hiring manager/business owner, I value people like you who I believe can help me succeed.

But you have to show me that you take pride in your work and that you want to continue to make a contribution to my business’s success.

So do your assigned tasks. Do them well. And, when I or someone else with whom you are working commends you on a job well done, be excited!

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