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.
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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

Your Career and You: “Mentoring – The ‘Gift’ That Keeps on Giving”

publication1I thought this year was going to go out peacefully. 2016 has been one hell of a year for me, and I was kind of hoping it would just quietly slink away and out of sight. But NOOoooo!

  • Bit the bullet at the beginning of the semester and formally announced my intent to retire from Curry College at the end of May 2017. “Minor” ripple upon the waters.
  • Announced my intent to step down from a couple of PRSA volunteer positions…don’t plan to stop participating in either the Society or the activities; just want to make room for younger members to get into the game.
  • Wore a heart monitor for a month…now THAT’s a ton of fun…best I can tell, nothing has come of it other than an annoying rash where the electrodes were placed.
  • Visited with the local Social Security Administration folks to get retirement stuff on the gummint side underway.

Yeah…fun December so far.

BUT…!

I’ve also had more than a half-dozen in-person meetings and Skype chats this month…and more on the books…with current and former Curry College Communication majors, most of whom also were/are part of the PR Concentration “Dark Side.”

Enthusiasm. Optimism. Confidence. A bit of nervousness. These are common traits that we all have shared as we’ve charted our respective paths.

But one thing also has come through with each encounter…these young men and women are going to make a name for themselves whatever they ultimately wind up doing.

And each time I chatted with these young professionals who I am honored to also call “friends,” I came away reinvigorated myself…confident that whatever it is that I choose to do in the next chapter of my own life will be a success.

That’s the beauty of what I’ve been doing for the past 15-ish years. I have been given the opportunity to learn with and learn from an amazing assortment of undergrad and graduate students…each of whom has brought his or her own take on life into our conversations. I may not have always agreed with that perspective, but, as Voltaire is said to have said, “I disagree with every word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Public relations was and continues to be my passion…helping others address challenges as well as opportunities successfully. Teaching has been a personally and professionally rewarding extension of that passion. I have been allowed to help young men and women…future professionals…come to grips with the daunting challenge of “what will I do when I graduate?” and position themselves for future success.

And the opportunity to serve as a mentor to the budding rockstars has blossomed into an unexpected and deeply appreciated relationship with those who, like myself some 40-plus years ago, are just now embarking on their own life’s voyage.

The beauty of this is that the “rewards” keep flowing in. Everything from “I got a new job!” to “Here’s a picture of my new baby!” to “I’ve been promoted to xxxxx.” In each case, the sheer joy and pride of the sender gives me a little shiver of happiness, and I turn to my next task feeling a little bit better about everything.

Yes…teacher…mentor…friend. The “gift” that keeps on giving.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, mentoring, PR, PR students, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Mentoring…Why We Do What We Do”

publication1Mentoring…I talked about this in my last post but some cool stuff has happened since then, so bear with me…

I was hit (happily) with the realization that mentoring occurs on at two levels.

The one that we most often think about is where, as more seasoned professionals, we offer advice and counsel to younger professionals who are at a transitional point in their own careers.

As co-chair of the PRSA College of Fellows’ Mentoring Committee, I recently helped organize a series of mentoring sessions at PRSA’s International Conference. Nearly a dozen Fellows met with close to two dozen other PRSA members who wanted someone with whom they could do a “reality check”…“Am I on the right path?…What steps do I take to move forward?”

Based on the feedback we’ve received, the effort was successful. The mentees came away feeling grateful to have had a chance to “test drive” their own thoughts and ideas about their respective career paths. The mentors appreciated having had the opportunity to pay back the support they, themselves, have gotten over the years from others.

But then I got back to Curry College, where I oversee the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration and serve as faculty adviser to the Curry College Public Relations Student Association (CCPRSA).

Almost immediately, I experienced three different examples of the second, equally important, level of mentoring…the chance to help young future professionals get started on their own career paths. They come to us…their professors, advisors, friends…with their own questions… “Is this the right set of courses to take?…What kind of internship should I apply for?”

So…what happened that caused me to have the mentoring revelation?

First, I went with a few members of the CCPRSA Executive Board to the PRSA Boston Annual Meeting. They’re all sophomores…COM major; PR Concentration. The concept of public relations as a career path is new to them, and they’re still trying to come to grips with what PR really is.

In the course of a few lightning-fast hours, they shook hands and chatted with the chief communications officer for General Electric, the chair of the board of directors of PRSA (who is also senior vice president at a major PR firm in the Boston area), the former director of marketing and communications for a major law firm in Boston, and countless other PR pros from agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. In short…a networking orgy.

Then, during the meeting, I got a text message from another CCPRSA E-Board member (a senior) apologizing for not having made it to the meeting as planned. She was at her PR firm internship and was offered the opportunity to assist with some after-hours client-related activities. In addition she had gotten a hit from some media outreach she had done and was setting up a client interview. I honestly could see the gleam of excitement in her eyes in the message!!

THEN…the very next day…I had a chat and coffee with a Curry COM/PR alumna who, since graduating just a few short years ago, has firmly established herself in the event planning arena. Every job that she has had since graduation has moved her up the path to success. Our conversation started with her immediately saying, with one of the happiest looks I have ever seen on anyone’s face, “I LOVE my job!” As I like to say so often, “’nuff said.”

And these examples, my friends, are “why we do what we do” as mentors. It’s not for personal gain. There is no expectation of a “payback” in the future. With a tip of the hat as always to Nike®, we just do it.

There IS a “reward,” though. The reward is the look on the face and in the eyes of each one of our mentees when he or she realizes that a particular career field (PR or whatever) is “home,” and the knowledge that we have helped in some way to reach that realization.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, PR, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “On Mentors and Mentees”

publication1I’m often asked by my Curry College colleagues and students, “Why do you teach?”

Logical question given that, even today…some 15 years into this profession…I really don’t think of myself as a “teacher.”

Rather, I like to think I’m a guide…a conduit…leading young men and women from four years of college studies to and through the doorway to their future in public relations or another field.

For the longest time, I didn’t really know what this role actually was called.  “Advisor” seemed to work. “Reality checker” has often been a closer description!

Finally, a few years back, at a PRSA conference, someone handed me a pin that I proudly wear and that bears these words: “New Professionals PRSA Mentor.”

To quote the venerable sage Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory,” “Bazinga!”

So that’s what I’ve been doing! I’m regarded as a “mentor”!

It’s ironic that I’m talking about it right now because, among other things that I’m involved in with PRSA, as a member of the organization’s College of Fellows I am co-chair of our Mentoring Committee.

One of the activities that I helped organize for this year’s conference is what we refer to as “Mentor Match,” a program through which we connect members of the College…all seasoned PR veterans representing the upper echelons of the public relations profession…with newer members of PRSA who are at a point in their own careers where they realize they need a sounding board to make sure they’re on the right track.

As I’ve reviewed “mentee” requests for a “mentor,” I’ve been struck by the value that the mentee puts on the opportunity…and vice versa for the mentor. I’m excited because nearly two dozen mentees and an equal number of mentors were introduced to each other via email and met in person for the first time during PRSA’s recent International Conference.

Another irony is that I, too, got a major boost at the start of my own professional career thanks to my own mentor, my internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Division…Clinton Parks.

I’ve written about Clint before, and I’ll do it again in the future. Just let it be said that he tracked my budding government public affairs career for nearly two years after I had officially become a permanent employee and wasn’t his “official” responsibility. He didn’t poke and prod. He just, in his own quiet way, let me know that he was there for me if I needed advice or needed to talk.

I’ve tried to be like Clint with my own advisees and others. I’m not an “in your face” presence. But they know I’m always there, regardless of where I might actually be…Taipei, Georgia, Singapore…on a flight to Indianapolis.

And I’m not a mentor to each and every student who comes to me for advice. In some cases, it’s a simple “what should I do?” But, in others, it’s “where will this decision take me?” And that’s a whole ‘nother question.

It’s one thing to help a student decide on one course over another. But when your answer morphs into “and here’s what taking that course means for your future,” the relationship has taken a more committed direction…the two of you are charting out a career/life trajectory that goes way beyond college.

Please note that this in no way is being a “stalker.” I, for one, let the student decide if he or she wants to take our relationship to the next professional level. The student connects with me. And the frequency of communication lies with the student as well. The relationship is organic, not manufactured.

Mentoring is a rewarding experience. I take genuine pride in seeing or hearing about a student’s successes. And I empathize when he or she hits a bump in the road and suffers a setback. Been there; know the feeling.

So, regardless of where you are…just starting out in your professional career or savoring the benefits of having achieved a level of comfortable success in your own career, give my words some thought.

If you’re a member of the Public Relations Society of America and feel as though you really could use some advice and guidance from someone who’s been down the path before you, request a mentor today. We’ll take your request and connect you with someone who we believe will best be able to assist you.

If you’re a college student, take a close look at the professors with whom you come in contact. See if there is someone whose background and experience seems to mirror what you think you would like to do. Then reach out to him or her. If you don’t ask, you won’t get!

Posted in careers, Curry College, Education, feedback, mentoring, Planning, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Life and ‘Overloads’”

publication1I’ve been doing something recently that doesn’t come naturally…never has, so “progress” will be interesting to measure.

Apparently I’m genetically incapable of saying “no,” and I occasionally (aka: “often”) find myself on the edge of mental and physical implosion. I’ve taken the, for me, drastic step of saying “No” when asked to participate in various activities that, previously, I would have dived into headfirst. We’ll see how this exercise goes.

I volunteer for short- and long-term projects based primarily on my experience-tested theory of “that sounds like ‘fun’, so I’ll do it!” Most of them are related in some way to my 30-plus-year active involvement with the Public Relations Society of America.

PRSA has been an amazing relationship both professionally and personally.

I’ve learned so incredibly much thanks to on-line and in-person programs that have covered the full range of challenges and opportunities that a public relations professional will encounter in his or her life. I can honestly say that I would not be where or who I am today had it not been for PRSA, both the national organization and the local chapters that I have belonged to.

On the personal side, I count as friends public relations professionals around the world…some of whom I’ve never actually met in person but with whom I have had a virtual relationship, in some cases, for years.

That being said, these friendships, opportunities, and challenges have come with a “catch.” I often get asked/invited/urged to take part in something. Maybe it’s a blog post. Or participation on a committee. Or lending a hand with an event.

Whatever the case, I wind up with just one more thing on my already-overloaded plate. And, occasionally, deadlines for multiple activities run headlong into each other and I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat realizing what I’ve gotten myself into.

The good news is that I rarely, if ever, let anyone (or myself) down. Deadlines are met. Events come off without a hitch. Blog posts get written and published.

The other “good” (or “bad,” depending on your point of view) news is that I share something in common with many of my students at Curry College where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses…the propensity to test my physical and mental limits.

I had a meeting with one of my student advisees recently and, in the course of our conversation, was reminded that she is taking a full load of courses (and doing very well in every single one) in addition to a two-day-a-week internship and a part-time job. AND she was meeting with me to discuss another part-time job offer that has the potential to turn into a full-time job doing exactly what she wants to do when she graduates in May 2017.

Her enthusiasm was clear. She’s loving every single moment of every single day.

She also realizes that there are limits to how much she can take on and still maintain the high standards that she has set. So we worked out a “work-around” on the second job offer, and we’re waiting to hear how our (her) counter-offer will be viewed. Fingers crossed!!

The point of this story is simple…sort of. For many of us, life is not about “settling.” We want to exceed our wildest expectations. We want to make our mark on our world and our chosen profession.

My advice, then, to myself, to my students, and to anyone who will listen is just this. You know that you’re not going to accomplish this by doing just what’s required to get by. You’re going to have to push yourself…to embrace the “overloads” that life sends out way. But be mindful of what you’re getting yourself into…what you’re promising others that you will do for them.

Don’t let the overload become a burden.

Posted in careers, feedback, Inspiration, overload, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Your Success…Your Responsibility”

publication1_editedSeveral years ago, we had a news release writing assignment for homework in my “Principles of Public Relations” class at Curry College. It was a simple task, but I cautioned the students that spelling, grammar and punctuation would be THE most important part. Content, while obviously important, was secondary.

While most of the students turned in reasonably well-written releases, one person actually had a typo in the headline!

She earned the “F” that I had promised for shoddy work and was self-righteously incensed. “How dare you give me an ‘F’???”

I pointed to the misspelled word and asked, “What do you think would have happened if you gave this to your boss?”

“He would have fixed it for me,” she replied.

I won’t bore you with the details of the minor eruption on my part that followed. Just let the records show the “F” was confirmed.

I use this example in many of my Public Relations Concentration classes to drive home the fact that, especially in PR but also in other professions, attention to detail is crucial. “Someone else” is not going to fix your mistakes for you.

And, to play “got one better than that,” I recently had to send a warning to a student who had missed two classes in a row. His response was that his “alarm clock didn’t go off,” so he overslept.

The class starts at 11:30 a.m.!

We all have a lot of “stuff” going on, and sometimes it feels like the whole world is leaning over our shoulder poking and prodding.

College…and professional…life can be challenging, and the stakes are high as you prepare to either venture into the “real world” with your newly-minted diploma or embark on a crusade to climb higher on your career path.

The good news is that there are others who are standing by to lend a helping hand.
The not-so-good news (for some) is that those folks are not going to do your job for you.

You’re going to have to start the process. You’re going to have to do your homework on opportunities available to you, requirements to qualify for those opportunities, and steps to take in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

Your supporters will be on the sidelines cheering you on…offering advice…perhaps opening a door or two for you.

But they’re not going to proofread your hastily slapped together “resume” that’s chock-a-block filled with grammatical errors and kindergarten-level descriptions of your “experience.”

No. You are going to have to do the gruntwork. You are going to have to do the research on potential opportunities.

Then you can turn to your support network to ask for advice or for a final “did I miss anything?” proofread.

It’s not easy starting out or moving up in professional life. But it can be done, and you can succeed. But you have to take this bit of advice to heart.

Your success is your responsibility.

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