Your Career and You: "Get a Focus"

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try { var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-13189095-1”); pageTracker._trackPageview(); } catch(err) {} I’ve had a number of conversations this week with students, advisees as well as others, about the future…the “future” in this case being the coming semester (Spring) and, for some, impending graduation.

Just about every one of these chats began with “What courses should I take?” And that’s a very logical thing to ask since neither time nor the registrar are going to sit around and wait for them to make a decision.

My question in return was “Well, what is it that you’re interested in?” To which I usually got a panicky look that told me the individual being interrogated didn’t have a clue and hadn’t really given the matter any thought.

Not a good way to start a discussion about your life and your future.

One thing I’m crystal clear about in my work with students at Curry College, where I head up the Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as serve as Faculty Adviser for the Curry College Public Relations Student Associationget a focus.

This holds as true for college students as it does for young men and women just getting started out in the professional world. Figure out what it is that gets you excited and start shaping your academic or career path in such a way that you will be prepared to move into that area when the time is right.

When I was starting out in college, I was convinced I wanted to be a civil engineer building highways and bridges in my home state of Georgia. Went off to Auburn University with all intentions of becoming an overnight success.

Long story made very short…damn near flunked out of college! Among other things, couldn’t draw a straight line with a straight edge if my life depended on it!

Not a good sign.

I switched to an English major and transferred to the University of Georgia where I discovered my passion (at the time) was 18th century British literature. Took every possible course related to that area and had the time of my life. I also had a dream of going on to get an advanced degree in English and becoming a tweedy prof wafting through the halls of the English department and exuding some semblance of brilliance.

Then, after graduation, I joined the Air Force and wound up in Saigon, Vietnam, teaching English as a second language…and developing a knack for public relations.

(Note: Don’t try to make a connection…there was none. It’s just that the opportunity came up during my second year there to manage a mini-nightclub for our instructors, and I took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Promoted the dickens out of the operation, built the business exponentially, and left the country with a very good notion of how community relations can benefit an organization.)

I served a total of eight years in the Air Force, with assignments at various bases in the States as well as a stint in the Philippines…in all cases and places further refining my PR skills and getting a sense of what I really wanted to do in life.

When I left the Air Force, I had the good fortune to qualify for a civilian Public Affairs internship with the US Army and subsequently spent a little over seven years fine-tuning my PR skills and figuring out exactly which areas of the profession I was best equipped for.

The point to this recitation is just this…in the beginning, I didn’t really have a focus. I just was enjoying something that interested me. But it really wasn’t preparing me for a viable future.

With the Air Force/Army experience, I got a focus. I figured out what it was (a) that I was very good at, (b) that I could get excited about, and (c) that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

And I’ve never regretted that choice. For nearly 40 years, I have worked in/ succeeded in/revelled in a career field that was simultaneously maddening and exhilarating. Today that includes being allowed to share the knowledge and experience of those amazing years with young future public relations professionals.

Has it been all roses? Absolutely not.

There have been days when I wished I was back in Saigon checking classrooms for bombs before the start of the day. But there also have been days when I just sat and marvelled at the amazing opportunities and experiences I have been blessed with.

That’s the goal in all this…to find that one thing that is you and focus on it. Give it your all. Throw yourself body and soul into the deep end and start working to make your mark.

It doesn’t come easily, and there may be some missteps along the way. That’s called “life,” and you can learn from everything you encounter.

But it will come together, and you will find yourself, as I have, revelling in the sheer joy of doing what you love to do and…most important…want to do.

It all starts, though, with the most difficult step…you have to get a focus.

“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings!'”
Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”


About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 20 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
This entry was posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, job hunting, job search, mentoring. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Your Career and You: "Get a Focus"

  1. Great post! I at one point was one of those students with the puzzled look when asked what type of PR I am interested in. I am still trying to decide but I do have a much better idea than a year ago! You mentioned being in the Air Force, which is something I've been looking into as well (working in Public Affairs for them if possible). Could you perhaps share some advice or tips for me to consider in making the decision to enlist? It would be greatly appreciated! Adrians@AdriansPR


  2. Hi Adrians ~ Thanks very much for commenting! And you are doing exactly the right things so far as figuring out "what's next?" goes.My joining the Air Force was a brilliant tap dance to avoid joining the Army back in 1968 when the Vietnam War was going hot and heavy. I was very fortunate in that the Defense Language Institute/ English Language School had just been created, and I was recruited to teach English as a second language…to Vietnamese military…in Vietnam.I stumbled into what became my career and passion…public relations…while assigned to the Language School in Saigon. Subsequent assignments in the United States and Philippines allowed me to further refine my skills and knowledge.I also worked for seven years as a civilian for the US Army in public affairs…making a total of 15 years federal government.The experience definitely was beneficial. I kind of ricocheted in, bumbled around for a brief while, figured out (accidentally) what I really loved doing, and consciously…in the Air Force and for the rest of my professional career…try to be the best that I could be in public relations.So…talk to an Air Force recruiter. Tell him or her what you want to do. Ask (a) if that is possible, (b) if it IS possible, what you need to do to make it happen, and (c) what are the upsides as well as the downsides to enlisting.It definitely is worth looking into. The military isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my eight years, and, as has already been said, benefited immensely from the experience.Plus…when I go to the PRSA International Conference…I get to "talk shop" with some very smart active duty and retired military public affairs folks who are doing some pretty amazing things as PR professionals!Hope this helps a little. Fire me a note if you need more!All the very best ~ Kirk


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