Your Career and You: “The Rollercoaster Called ‘Life’”

publication1The past several months have been “less than optimal” on my side of the world. There have been some more-than-appreciated “ups”…accompanied by what is starting to seem like an increasing number of “downs.”

Kind of like a rollercoaster…which I rode once more than 40 years ago and swore I would never…ever…do again.

But that was also very early in my professional career. Looking back on it, I now realize that I actually never got off the blasted thing!

Life is like that. You’re going to have those moments/weeks/years where everything goes so incredibly well that you have to pinch yourself once in a while for a reality check. Then…WHAM! Something happens…professional…personal…both…that sticks a giant piece of bubblegum in your hair.

Quite a few meetings with my advisees and other students at Curry College, where I head up the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, revolve around untangling the bubblegum mess.

Maybe it’s a personal thing…boyfriend…girlfriend…roommate.

Or it’s work-related…I’m always amazed at how many of my Rockstar COM/PR friends are excelling in their schoolwork, involved up to their ears in extracurricular activities, AND working one or two part-time jobs.

Or it’s about a particular course they’re taking…or a particular professor who’s teaching that course that they’re taking.

Whatever the case, the rollercoaster has reached the top and is picking up speed on the downward slope. And they’re worried/irritated/scared…pick your emotion.

My basic and unchanging overall response regardless of the cause of the mega-angst is “stuff happens, and most of the time, there’s not a doggone thing you could have done to prevent it.”

I’m not dodging the subject here. I’m trying to reassure them that we all, at some uncomfortably unpleasant time in our lives, have been through something similar. And, to put it plainly, “It sucks.”

But it also happens, so pick yourself up, get the rest of the bubblegum out of your hair, and move on.

Most of the time, the remedy to the problem is simple…ish. You make a change.

I’m not going to go wandering into the romantic briarpatch. It’s your girl-/boyfriend. Time for some serious self-evaluation and (as we/I love to talk about in “Principles of PR”) “two-way symmetric communication.”

Work problems are another thing. Especially for my students, they’re mostly part-timers and, to some extent, “disposable.” But I do recommend that they have a conversation with their work supervisor about the issue and see if there’s a way to resolve it. If not, decision time. Put up, or get out. And a few over the years have chosen the “get out” and have seen a change for the better.

Finally, course/professor… This is a tough one, too, but one for which there are proven steps to take to (hopefully) ease the agony.

If it’s the course, I advise students to have a serious, one-on-one conversation with the professor. Most of the time he or she has had other students with the same problem and has been able to offer suggestions on how to turn things around.

If it’s the professor…hooo boy…change if you can; stick it out and do the best you can if you can’t. I’m a realist here…once in a while you are going to meet someone who you just can’t stand. That’s life. It happens.

I had a professor my freshman quarter at Auburn University when I thought I was going to be the world’s greatest civil engineer. I flat-out did not like the guy, and the course was doing a spectacular job of driving me nuts. So I talked to him. It was obvious he didn’t care. I stuck it out…failed the course…changed majors…and went on to do well academically.

Looking back over my professional life after graduating, there are clearly-defined periods where I was on the uphill climb with success after success piling up. And there are the darker times when life, as I like to describe it, was “going to hell in a handbasket.”

But I always came back, and continue to do so to this day. This is the lesson/advice I try to pass on to my students, to colleagues, to anyone who asks. Have confidence in yourself. Give 110% to everything you undertake. And recognize that life truly is a rollercoaster. Wheeee!

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, overload, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “I Didn’t Have Time”

publication1A colleague at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, made an interesting comment recently that got me to thinking about priorities and common sense.

We were talking about how the spring semester had gotten off to a somewhat frenetic start and our days were basically disintegrating as a result of endless meetings and other “stuff.”

Then, out of the clear blue, he commented, “I don’t even have time to check my mail. I check it maybe once a month.”

Now on the surface this sounds like “oh, poor you, I understand completely” material except…

His mailbox is roughly 120 (I counted!) steps from his office and he seems to have enough time to go get coffee, “confer” with other colleagues on matters of “importance,” etc., etc.

As I tell my students when talking about public relations and expectations of employers or clients, “Setting priorities is a key element in your success as a public relations professional.”

Not checking mail isn’t going to bring the world to a screeching halt. But not meeting a deadline could throw a serious monkey wrench into the cogs of your own career progression machine.

How to avoid this time-controlled spiderweb? A couple of ideas…

First, know your own capabilities and available resources. If this is a project that requires skills that maybe you’re not yet at the top of your game with, find or ask for backup support. For example, I know for a fact that I’m a lousy designer so, if I’m working on some collateral material for a client that requires a certain level of design proficiency, I recruit someone to help me who does have that ability.

Second, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that “life” has a tendency to do what it wants to do regardless of what tasks I might have on my to-do list. If some unexpected (or expected) thing bubbles up, accept the fact that you will very likely have to devote additional time…in other words, you’re not going to go out with your friends tonight…you’re going to be at your desk completing the project.

Third, it’s not about “you.” You “volunteered” for this assignment/project. You put your personal and professional reputations on the line by implying “I can do this.” It’s a slippery slope that you’ll find yourself on when you start finding excuses for not completing projects on time.

So do some serious self-assessment and come to a solid understanding of how you operate. Be realistic in volunteering for assignments. And don’t forget to check your mail.

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, overload, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Time management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “So…What’s New?”

publication1I recently got an email from the Center for Career Development at Curry College, where I ride herd over the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, asking if I had any idea what a few of our recent graduates are up to now.

My immediate thought was, “Well, yes…and no.”

We (the grads and I) are connected on Facebook and other platforms, but I don’t go prying into personal/professional details unless there’s a specific reason to do so.

In this case, I know a couple are giving themselves a well-deserved extended vacation before diving headlong into “life.” Others are diligently networking and applying for jobs that will allow them to (a) make use of their hard-earned degree and (b) do something that really excites them.

So I’m not pushing. I’m not asking, again and again, “Well, how’s the job search going?”

Rather, I’ll let them tell me when they’re ready. They know I’m here and ready to listen and offer advice.

This is the dilemma we all face at some point in our lives. We reach a point where change is required…peaked in a certain job position…company changed and things are no longer the same…graduated from college. It happens. Again, it’s called “life.”

In my role as an advisor/mentor for these young men and women, I make it a point not to discourage them. “Yes, things are a little uncertain for you right now, but it’s perfectly normal. It happens to all of us. It will get better.”

In the course of my own career, I’ve resigned, I’ve been laid off, I’ve been fired. And, always, I emerged from the dust to find another opportunity that allowed me to use my knowledge and the skills even more effectively.

The “secret sauce” in this concoction is believe in yourself. No one knows you better than you. You know what you’re capable of accomplishing, and you know (or will soon discover) what gets you really excited when you’re doing it.

This attitude and self-confidence will carry you through the ups and downs of your “life after college” years and beyond. You’ll tackle seemingly impossible challenges. And you won’t be discouraged when some well-meaning relative or friend ends a conversation with the inevitable words…“So…what’s new?”

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

Your Career and You: “MBA? Do Your Homework First!”

publication1As a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR pros at Curry College, I am often asked by students whether or not they should pursue a graduate degree. My answer is invariably “yes, but don’t rush into it…don’t do it immediately…do your ‘homework’ first.”

This advice is met with skepticism by some of my more academic-minded colleagues who believe that the more “book knowledge” you can acquire the better, but I stick to my guns for some fairly simple reasons. First, particularly in public relations but other professions as well, experience (jobs, internships, volunteer activities) is a top priority for hiring managers. Second, graduate studies should provide you with higher-level knowledge about a specific area of your profession.

I advise my own students to do as I did…secure an undergraduate degree in the area (hopefully) in which they have an interest…then work for a while until they figure out/get a sense of what it is that they really enjoy doing and would like to have advanced knowledge of. Then pursue a graduate degree in that area.

I go on to explain that the benefits of this approach are two-fold. First, they will be studying something in which they truly are interested; second, in many cases, the employer will pay part, if not all, of the tuition.

Christine Santeusanio, a Boston-based recruiter with Chaloner, a national executive search firm that specializes in placing public relations, corporate communications, and internal communications professionals, says this question comes up often both from recent college graduates she interviews and from the firm’s corporate, agency and non-profit clients describing what they are looking for in candidates.

“New college graduates should gain at least a few years’ work experience in an industry and a function that interests them before pursuing a graduate degree. Working in a professional environment may help solidify someone’s desired career path. However, it might also expose him or her to other areas of the organization which may lead to an alternate path and, therefore, to a different graduate program.”

As one advances in one’s career field, of course, differentiators do come into play, and a graduate degree…along with proven work experience and skills…definitely improves one’s chances of that coveted promotion or job assignment.

A second tier of my discussions with students focuses on the “where” aspect of graduate education. This, too, should be carefully thought out. One’s undergraduate experiences will help to some extent in this area. Do you prefer a large university environment or a small college? What is the proximity to cities/areas where job and/or internship prospects are more plentiful? And, last, but not least, the graduate curriculum…what courses are offered that fit your desired goal?

I mention this last consideration speaking from personal experience. While I already had a marketing-focused MBA in the early years of my public relations career, I felt that I needed to get an additional graduate degree specifically in PR. With minimal research, I targeted a prestigious local university noted for its communication curriculum, applied, was accepted, and began my studies.

Things were rosy in the beginning…in quick succession, I took three courses that were exactly what I wanted to enhance my PR knowledge and that were applicable to current job as well as to my future plans. In a fit of giddy glee, I mentally mapped out a graduate degree that would strengthen my corporate communication skills and enable me to move up in my (then) corporate job.

Then registration rolled around for the fourth course…and the honeymoon was over! In spite of my own diligent searching and numerous meetings with my advisor, I was unable to find anything at all that met my needs. Granted my employer was footing the bill for my studies, so that was not an issue. But I could not, in all good conscience, take a course simply to fill in a blank…waste of my time and of my employer’s money. As a result, some 30 years later, the second master’s degree sits unearned.

As a public relations professional closing in on nearly a half-century of practice and teaching, I am a firm believer that one should never stop learning. I take advantage of every opportunity possible to attend programs that will enhance my own knowledge of my career field. I know very well that my profession is evolving rapidly and constantly, and I have no intention of becoming a “dinosaur.”

This is a sentiment I try to pass on to my students as well. Although it might sound like I’m discouraging further education after completing their undergraduate studies, I absolutely am not. Rather, I’m encouraging lifelong learning to ensure that they are equipped with the latest tips, tactics, and tools that will enable them to get a solid start on their career path.

A graduate degree is definitely a key factor in that start. Just do your homework first!

Posted in Action, careers, Curry College, Education, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, liberal arts education, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Looking Back; Planning Forward”

publication1Life’s funny (said the wise professor). It’s totally unpredictable, but so much of it can be, if not predicted, at least planned for.

I know that this uncertainty makes most of my PR Concentration students at Curry College a little crazy. They want life to be like the syllabus that each of their professors provides for each class they take…“on XXX date, we will discuss this…on YYY date, you will be tested on that,” etc., etc., etc.

I’ve taken this holiday respite to reflect on my own meanderings through life. Although there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of actual planning that went into stuff that I did, I actually did have certain personal goals that I wanted to accomplish.

First off, whatever I was going to do, I wanted to be able to look someone straight in the eye and say proudly, “I am a……

Yeah, there were a couple of part-time, meh gigs that I did in between my Air Force years and my civilian life. But I knew they were part-time and there was a reason for doing them. But every single professional career opportunity that I took on was something that I knew I could learn from and could make a difference somehow.

Looking back? My hapless students hear the stories until they’re ready to cry. I talk about almost every single job I’ve had in one or another class as a way to emphasize or clarify something that’s being discussed. I don’t hang my head in shame when I talk about these experiences…I brag about them!

Which leads to the second goal…I wanted to make a difference.

Now this wasn’t as clear-cut as it might seem. How, exactly, do you “make a difference”? I had to get inside the organization and figure out just exactly what I could do that either had never been done or had not been done very well. Then I had to establish myself as someone who actually could do what he said he would do.

My favorite example here (okay, students, you can take a nap here…you’ve heard this story) is the Army Intelligence School where I took an organization with literally zero public awareness and, by the time I moved on, had gotten media coverage in everything from the hyper-local Fort Devens Dispatch to the Boston Globe to the Department of Defense’s globally-distributed newspaper Soldier Sailor Airman Marine. People knew who we were!

My final goal was/is something I talk about again and again…I didn’t want to get myself into a position where I would stagnate…where I wouldn’t be able to learn something new.

Again, nothing new here for anyone who knows me. I take advantage of as many local opportunities as possible offered by the Boston Chapter, Public Relations Society of AmericaPublicity Club of New EnglandBoston Chapter, International Association of Business CommunicatorsBoston Chapter, National Investor Relations Institute and others. And I participate in countless online webinars offered by PRSA as well as subject-matter experts whose work I admire and know I can learn from.

And this is what I hope I’ve passed on to the amazing young men and women who, either on purpose or by accident, have wandered through one or more of my classes over the past 15-plus years…

Don’t settle. Believe in yourself and be proud of all that you do. Put your heart into your work and always be looking for ways to make whatever it is you do even better. And don’t get “stuck in a rut.” Always look for the “lesson to be learned” from what you’re doing.

For me, its’s not over yet. There are still figurative (I’m terrified of heights, so…) mountains to climb, and I am confident there are organizations or people who might benefit from what little knowledge I might have. And, most important, there is so, so much still to be learned.

Here’s to a fabulous 2017 and many succeeding and successful years to come!

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Education, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Decisions…The Fork in the Road”

publication2One of my favorite topics…life’s choices.

I spent an all-too-brief time with a former student/good friend a few days ago catching up on “stuff” and talking about “life.”

She has been studying for her master’s degree in London after having graduated from Curry College with a degree in Communication and a Concentration in Public Relations. And, as she enters the final stage of her college life, she’s torn on what to do/where to go next.

As usual, I was of little-to-no help given my own apparent inability to make a decision. But at least I provided a sounding board off which she could bounce her thoughts and ideas.

That’s the problem with growing up…all of a sudden you’re faced with decisions for which there are no pat answers. Sure, others…your friends, your parents…have gone through the same experience. But this is different. This is all about you.

I never fail to be fascinated by those people…mostly students these days…who seemingly have their whole life carefully charted out in a notebook. “Be here at 11:30 am” … “Do this on Monday.”

Believe me. I’m not making fun of anyone here. In fact, I’m more than a little bit envious. Why? Simply because I have never, ever, had that kind of structure. I’ve always been an “oh, it’s morning…NOW what?” kind of guy.

That’s not to say I don’t accomplish things. I actually do. But how I get them done is a genuine mystery to some who know me reasonably well.

You can’t avoid making decisions, no matter how unnerving the act can be. And the first step in the process is knowing yourself. What makes you happy? What, when you think about it, makes you go “bleaah” on the inside?

The important thing to remember is that, in order to move ahead, you have to make a decision and then act on it. As you move on in life, you’ll get better at this, but nothing is perfect…especially in life…so just act…make a decision…take a chance.

Most likely you’re not going to get it right the first time. Life is about trial-and-error. You learn from your mistakes. You focus your efforts on the good stuff. You move ahead.

Oh, yeah…and my friend? Well, we don’t know yet, and probably won’t know for a while. But she has some awesome options to consider, and, from my own completely biased perspective, is totally and completely capable of succeeding whichever she chooses.

So, when it comes to decision-making, as the great New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

Posted in Action, careers, Curry College, feedback, Inspiration, mentoring, networking, Planning, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Your Career and You: “Bumps in the Road”

publication1I spend a lot of time in my “rah-rah” mode…encouraging others (students, friends, professional colleagues) that “everything will work out…just hang in there.”

And then I crawl back into the deep, dark closet where I keep my own “stuff.”

It’s a familiar place. I’m in there a lot. And sometimes it’s a struggle to pry open the door and let a little sunshine in.

I’ve gotten used to this routine, though. Seems like it’s been a part of my life since forever, and I suspect it will be there until the end. So be it.

Growing up in the country as the oldest of six, I didn’t have a lot of friends with whom I could hang out…in fact, I didn’t…and still don’t…know how to “hang out.” The 15-mile trek into town required a “purpose,” and pre-driver’s license days, bicycling (given there were several rather steep dips in the road) was not a viable option. Did it once; ’nuff said.

Then came college…same routine. I was “around” a lot of people, but I never was “with” them. Always felt like an outsider who was tolerated because he didn’t belch while eating.

Then I dove headfirst into “life” when I joined the Air Force and found myself in Saigon teaching English to Vietnamese military. Suddenly I was doing something that had a purpose, and I was getting feedback that said that I, in some small way, was making a difference.

Today, at the end of a circuitous journey that has taken me through briars, brambles, lollipops, and “chocolate milk” to an apparently final chapter as a college professor, I find myself asking from time to time, “Was it really worth it?”

The answer…which I have to keep repeating each time I crawl into my closet…is “I think so.”

Sure, there have been tangible rewards…awards for (pat on the back) amazing PR programs; commendations for outstanding service; promotions.

And then there’s the inevitable second-guessing… “Why?”… “Was it really that good?”… “Will they take it away?”

There are also the less tangible but, to me, more meaningful rewards…comments from current and former students about something I’ve done that was of value…feedback from professional colleagues about a successful program or service to which I contributed.

Each time one of these occurs, the closet door inches open, letting a little sunlight in for a brief moment.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, if I want more light in my closet, I’m going to have to do more for others. And the good news is that this is something that truly does come naturally to me. I don’t intentionally go looking for “good deeds” to do. But opportunities seem to come my way pretty often, and I don’t/can’t/won’t say “no” to any.

As we ease slowly toward the new year and its new challenges, I look forward to continuing to do what brings me the most genuine joy…helping others. Sure. There will be bumps in the road.
But, in the end, if I’m lucky, I will smile and repeat, as I do so often, the words of Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet”: “For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

Posted in careers, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments