Sunday, February 24, 2013

Your Career and You...We've Moved to Wordpress!

Thanks so much for stopping by! This weekend (February 24), I packed my virtual bags and moved my "Thoughts" over to Wordpress.

Please visit my new site and let me know what you

"See" you soon!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Your Career and You: “The Positiveness of Optimism”

I have good weeks in my multiple roles of public relations
professional, public relations professor, and public relations

mentor. And I have not-so-good weeks.

This one…so far…has been nothing short of amazing.

Here in balmy New England, we’re finally emerging from the aftermath of a blizzard that gave me two unplanned days off… “found time” in which I managed to write and submit a book review, schedule two speaking engagements, and get a boatload of badly-needed sleep.

So, after not having my “normal” set of four classes on Monday, I meandered down on Tuesday to Curry College, where I ride herd over the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, for my one evening class…“Crisis Communication Management.”

Didn’t really have a lot scheduled…planned to catch up on paperwork and grab some time with a couple of colleagues who I don’t often have a chance to see.

I opened my office door, unloaded my stuff, sat down, and it started…a steady procession of students, all eager to talk about their forays into the world of public relations.

  • One has scored an informational interview with a very cool entertainment/music promotion company. She loves music. Her Dad is a musician. It’s in her DNA.
  • Another is weighing the benefits of a couple of internships that will allow him to make use of his passion for social media communication.
  • The third wanted to update me on her current internship and all she has learned. I was blown away by her obvious excitement…and by what she has done.

I found myself feeling like a kid in a candy store as I talked with each. I was having serious flashbacks to my own experiences as a Public Affairs Intern for the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command down in Virginia…the excitement of the unknown.

What I realized as I talked with these future PR professionals was that a willingness to dive into the deep end of the pool…not really knowing what’s going to happen but open to the idea that it might be fun…is so very important.

  • How many different materials did Thomas Edison try before hitting on the one that produced the electric light bulb?
  • Where did Christopher Columbus wind up when he set out looking for a “shortcut” to India?

The thing I’ve come to recognize after a “few” years in the working world is that nothing new happens unless you’re open to the idea of trying unknown or different things for the sake of just trying them.

As I say time and again, sometimes things blow up or don’t work. So be it. Worst case scenario…you don’t do that again.

As a kid, I stuck a metal nail file in a wall socket to see what would happen. Found out fast. Blew out the house’s electrical system and apparently turned a marvelous shade of blue myself. Lesson learned!

But, as I have come to recognize, you learn from these experiences. And, if you’re truly adventurous…or curious…you’ll try things again, just in a different way.

And you learn more…you gain more experience and knowledge.

But it all comes from your belief that it can be done…you just have to figure out how.

Internships are a way to experiment with your professional future. At this point as a student, you don’t really know what it is that’s going to make you jump out of bed in the morning eager to get to work and make a difference in some way.

So you try new things…internships, for example…to see how they “feel.” You gain new experience. And you learn a LOT about yourself in the process that you can now apply to your slowly-developing “life plan.”

And it’s all thanks to the “positiveness of optimism.”

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." - James Branch Cabell, "The Silver Stallion" [1926], ch. 26

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Your Career and You: “Life's Journey-Finding Your Way”

I had a somewhat frustrating conversation recently with a friend…professional colleague…about one of my would-be PR students.

  • The good news is, the student had contacted him about an internship and had gotten an interview.
  • The bad news is, that same student gave absolutely no indication whatsoever that he really was interested in the internship…or anything for that matter.

According to my friend, the fellow basically sat there grunting one- and two-word responses to questions. And, when asked about his plans for that terrifying “life after graduation,” he appeared to be clueless.

Didn’t seem to have given any consideration to his plans, ambitions, hopes, or dreams.

Now this young fellow is a graduating senior. He has indicated a budding interest in public relations. He has already completed one PR-focused internship.

So what happened? Where did we miss a connection?

Part of the answer is the good ol’ “well, you’re young and don’t know what you want to do.”

Part of the answer is “somehow we (professors/advisors/counselors) haven’t ‘cracked the code’ yet.” We haven’t figured out how to really communicate with you when it comes to “life.”

I am known to “preach” about the future to my Communication students at Curry College, where I head the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as to my graduate Organizational and Professional Communication students at Regis College. They all get the sermon.

But somehow the connection isn't being made, and it’s starting to bug me big time.

Yeah, I figured out my own life trajectory on my own…didn’t have anyone to sit me down and have the “what do you want to do?” discussion.

Not saying my parents weren’t supportive and encouraging. They were. But there was no “what do you want to be when you grow up?” conversation.

So what to do about these situations where, in spite of my best efforts to guide and advise you, we’re not making the connection?

Maybe I’m banging my head against the wrong wall. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to point each and every aspiring future professional toward his or her destiny.

But I want to help you get started. I want to share my own experience and knowledge with you in the hopes that you will find inspiration.

It’s a two-way street, though. You have to do some serious introspection and some soul-searching about “the future.”

It’s not going to just come tumbling merrily over the fence and land at your feet.

You’re going to have to hunt for it…do some “inner-self” digging to get an idea what you’re really interested in…or think you’re interested in.

Then we can have the serious conversations, and I can point you in the direction of some places that might be a good starting point.

It’s trial-and-error. It’s life. And, in the end, with hard work on your side and some thoughtful advice and counsel on mine, you’ll find your place.

It may not be the last stop on your journey, but it will be a start.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” - (Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu, 64)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Your Career and You: "I Know You Don’t Know…So Ask Me!"

One of the fun things about teaching is the opportunity to help young (and sometimes not-so-young) current and future professionals figure out what’s next in their lives.

Some of them kind of have an idea what they think they want to do. Others honestly have no idea under the sun what the next step(s) should be, and they look to people like me for advice.

I’m always quick to reassure them that, at their age, I had no clue either. But I also didn’t feel like I had anyone I could turn to. They do.

Not complaining…fact of life…and the times. Colleges have learned a lot since I accidentally graduated with my English degree nearly 50 years ago. If nothing else, we’re no longer using quill pens to meticulously craft our papers!

I recall being terrified of most of my professors and in total awe of the others. They were wicked smart, and I figured I was the least important aspect of their respective jobs.

Oh yeah…haven’t mentioned this in a long time…I’m a card-carrying charter member of the “Introverts of the World Club.” Taking that ginormous step forward to actually ask someone who I only knew from an hour in the classroom for advice was a huge step for me…still is, to be honest.

I try to impress on my students, both my undergrad Communication students at Curry College, where I teach full-time, and my graduate students at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the Organizational and Professional Communication area, that I’m here for them…always…any time.

All they have to do is what I did NOT do…reach out and ask for advice or help.

What I figured out…after it was basically too late…was that my professors did have a clue, and they could have helped me sort things out.

Maybe. Maybe not.

You see…(tune out for this part if you’ve heard it before)…after having started off as a Civil Engineering major, I transitioned to English…mainly because I couldn’t draw a straight line with a straight edge…a prodrome as I discussed with my Crisis Communication Management class at Curry the other night…a sign that things may not be quite right.

I had a budding interest in 18th-century British Lit, so I focused on that for my degree.

Okey-dokey. Now what?!?

Reader’s Digest version…later got degrees in Business Management figuring I would “do” some sort of business. Took a Public Relations course as an elective, and the rest is ongoing “history.”

I’ll talk another time about how I’ve used aspects of all those areas of study in my actual life as a public relations professional. For now, just know that they weren’t a “waste of time” as some folks are wont to say. They were/are “value-added.”

So what’s the moral of this story?

Very simply…don’t write off your professors as “heads-in-the-clouds” know-nothings.

Talk to them. Find out more about them as individuals with lives and not just as “that person who I had for XXXX.”

Who knows? You might stumble on someone who is doing or has done exactly what gets you excited and would like to try.

I know you don’t know…so ask me!

"But where's the man who counsel can bestow,
Still pleas'd to teach, and yet not proud to know?"
Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism," pt. I, 71 [1711]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Your Career and You: Thinking About and Trying New Things Is Fun

I’m writing this on the subway as I head down to Curry College for another day of doing what I classify as “fun.”

My “job” is overseeing the undergraduate Public Relations concentration in our Communication major, teaching most of the PR courses, and advising/counseling students. But it's more than that.

To me, it's having fun while helping others figure out their goals and life’s purpose.

Some folks who haven’t wandered through my world don’t understand what I mean by “fun,” especially when they learn that I’m a public relations professional turned college professor teaching the next generations of what I envision as our future professionals. What baffles them, apparently, is that I'm always smiling as I bounce along the sidewalks all over campus.

Why do I act this way? Because I absolutely love what I'm doing. Period.

As I say time and again, both to these skeptics and to my students, “If you’re not having fun doing what you do for a living, do something else.”

I realize this isn’t the “accepted” way of approaching adult life. But it has been my modus operandi for more than a quarter of a century, and I have no intention of changing…at least not changing the fun part! Maybe where I’m having fun, but not what I’m doing to have fun.

Trying new things…in new places sometimes…should be part and parcel of your career development. Stepping out of your comfort zone and testing your abilities gives you the self confidence that you can succeed in just about anything you try.

I’ve moved from federal government to technology to member services to healthcare in my professional PR career, from the US to the Philippines and back, and to Hawaii from Massachusetts and back to Massachusetts…all in the name of “trying something new.”

I’m not saying that everything will work perfectly every time. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. I know. Been there; done that…a couple of times.

But I also learned something about myself each time that added to my repertoire of career skills and abilities.

The excitement (disguised as panic??) of starting a new job...or starting a new job in a new location…or starting all over in a new location with the goal of finding a new job…is exhilarating. But it requires a firm belief in your own ability to succeed.

I’ve had conversations with two different friends in the past couple of days, one of whom has hit a point in her professional career where she feels like it’s time for a change…she just isn’t sure what that change will be. But the gleam of excitement in her eyes as we talked about the future said it all..."new things ahead!"

The other friend is on a mega-roll of good luck in her job. She has taken a lackluster PR program and moved it into nationally-recognized prominence. And we spent an hour on the phone brainstorming ideas for the next phase. The excitement in her voice painted a clear picture of a young professional eager to make her mark on the world…and she will.

In both these cases, my friends used the words…without my prodding…“having fun.” They are at that point in their lives/careers where it’s not just about the “job.”

It’s about doing something new that will make a difference in their lives and the lives of others...and having fun doing it.

"We must dare to think 'unthinkable' thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about 'unthinkable things' because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless." - James William Fulbright, "Speech in the Senate" [March 27, 1964]

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Your Career and You: “I Broke a Teacup…or Perceptions and PR"

As the saying goes, “Perception is reality.” 

What you believe you have experienced is, to you, fact or truth.

Well…I dropped a teacup today while setting the table for lunch.

In the realm of teacups (in this case, a Chinese teacup…basic, inexpensive), this one was way down on the list. It has been with us for a bazillion years, travelled to the Philippines with us and all over the U.S. as we moved around in my career. But (at least in my fuzzy brain) it was just a teacup.

Not according to the other side of the household, who immediately set out on an hour-long dissertation on the meaning behind the dropping of the teacup.

As she perceived the incident…this was yet one more sign of encroaching “old age.” Motor skills are going to hell in a handbasket.

Doesn’t matter that I’ve been dropping stuff since the beginning of time…a 50-pound roll of paper on my right foot (broke a toe in that exercise) and a computer hard drive (old-style, heavy hard drive) on my left foot (ditto on the result)…just for starters.

Nope…it’s “old age.”

And that started me thinking about perceptions…how others process events or actions that we, ourselves, also experience, but in a different way.

This, as I tell my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, is what makes the public relations profession so interesting, challenging…and frustrating.

Things happen. Products break. Blood donors get hematomas. An employee has a really bad day and snaps at a customer.

If you’ve been around for a few (or more) years, you know that these events are inevitable. As a salesman once astutely told my wife as she was zeroing in on some minuscule defects in a relatively inexpensive lamp, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

Your challenge as the public relations leader is to ensure that mechanisms are in place to respond quickly and efficiently…and to ensure that everyone involved, both internally and externally, understands what has been done.

Customers don’t leave you because your product was faulty…we all know products break on occasion.

They leave because their perception is…if you’ve done nothing to address the situation…that you don’t care. Your company doesn’t care, so why should they care? They can just go somewhere else.

Your job as the public relations leader is to help everyone in your organization understand that it doesn’t matter that products will break once in a while.

What matters is that the customer doesn’t see it that way. He perceives it as a sign of encroaching product inferiority…“old age.”

You have to take action to change that perception and to help the customer understand the reality…that you and you company are proud of your products or services and that you stand proudly behind each and every one.

That’s your reality.

 (Oh...and to close the story...she finally agreed that I'm basically clumsy!)

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion…”
Robert Burns, “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church” [1786]

Friday, December 28, 2012

Your Career and You: “On the Eve of the New Year…Reflections and a Fresh Outlook”

I was camped out in a local mall recently while my wife was at her acupuncturist’s getting treatment for a variety of aches and pains.

Although I had survived the holiday season with minor damage, I was in a spectacularly foul frame of mind...all prepared to grouse my way through the waiting period.

Then I stopped off in one of the department stores where (unknown to me) they were having a “door-buster sale” with amazing markdowns on stuff. Wound up getting an awesome deal on a shirt. Whee!

But it’s what happened while I was in the process of paying for the shirt that changed my mood.

The fellow ahead of me was chatting with the salesclerk…a genuine gentleman himself…and mentioned that he had just returned from Afghanistan…he’s a State Department veteran and has been embedded with the troops there for a while. Now he’s home and looking forward optimistically to the safe return of our other personnel.

The three of us talked for a few minutes as he was wrapping up his purchase; then he left and I, too, made my purchase.

Turns out the salesclerk had studied Communication in college (Radio major) and then had worked in the business for a number of years. His daughter is now also studying Communication…love it that some “traditions” run in families!

I, of course, got in my usual plugs for the Communication major at Curry College where I oversee the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses. And, since my unknown friend (I totally forgot to ask his name…uncharacteristically absent-minded of me) was a former radio guy, I also plugged Curry’s student-run radio station…WMLN-FM.

Hey! I’m a PR guy…what’d you expect?!?

Cutting to the inevitable “chase” here…my outlook on life in general changed dramatically, and I walked out…and started this post…in a splendid frame of mind.

What happened, you ask?

A simple interaction with other people whose life experiences I found fascinating and who reminded me that we all go through a series of changes/bumps in the road/challenges.

Some of us emerge from our challenges re-invigorated and ready to take on even more challenges. Others, sadly, don’t wind up this way…and there’s not a whole lot I, personally, can do for them other than listen, sympathize if possible, and empathize if appropriate.

The “secret,” if there be a secret, is find...
> satisfaction in what you’ve accomplished,
> encouragement in what you can do,
> comfort in knowing you’ve done your best, and
> confidence that you are ready and able to take on what lies ahead.

The New Year is on our doorstep, my friends. Let’s make it a great one!

The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!

Just thinkin' about

Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!

When I'm stuck a day

That's gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And Grin,
And Say,

The sun'll come out

So ya gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You're always
A day

“Tomorrow” from the Broadway hit, “Annie”