Saturday, June 25, 2011

Your Career and You: "Take Some 'You' Time"

I had coffee this morning with a friend whose project management abilities scare me. She's so focused and organized that I often come away from our meetings feeling like a clueless beginner.

She recently made some adjustments in her work arrangements and is now operating out of her home office two-to-three days a week.

When we talked about her plans several months ago, everything looked great. She would go in to the "real" office a couple of days a week to collaborate with her teammates and participate in scheduled meetings, but the bulk of her time would be spent working from home. Minimal commute; maximum productivity.


Something has happened since those blissful "planning for the future" days, and she's feeling overwhelmed. Not by the work per se; by the fact that her workdays...and the days she scheduled for personal activities... are blurring together with no downtime anywhere.

If it's not "work-work," it's "household-related-work." One piling on top of the other, day after endless day.

Now I'm probably not the best person to be weighing in on matters like this...I was online at least four hours a day while I was on vacation recently, checking email, updating my Facebook status, tweeting about God knows what, and writing a blog post (which prompted a comment from a former student/current friend).

But I felt like I needed to at least offer an alternative for her since it looked like she was in the fast lane heading for a meltdown. Nothing mind-boggling; just simple "been there, done that" reality.

"You need some 'me time,'" said the wise counsel. "Take a day and go 'play.' Do fun things. Walk in the sunshine (if we ever have any), eat ice cream, and relax."

"Congratulations, Kirk," you mutter. "That's a no-brainer for most of us, but it's not going to work for your friend. She's not wired that way."

"Probably so," I respond as I savor my tiramisu from Mike's Pastry in Boston's North End. "But it had to be said. She's so focused on her work and her home projects that she's losing her enthusiasm for both."

I realized a long time ago that, as important as my work is and as much as I absolutely love what I do for a living, I have to take some "me" time to clear my head and reenergize.

Sometimes it's as simple as a walk in the park. Other times it's extended vacations during which the most strenuous thing I do is choose which pastry I want with my morning cappuccino.

But it's "me" time. And, when I return from whatever I have chosen as the remedy for impending burnout, I am recharged and eager to get back into action.

In my days as a public relations professional, my clients or employers benefited from the change; today, as a public relations professor, it's my students at Curry College or Regis College.

To counter the unsaid but implied "It's not that simple for those of us who are either unemployed or under-employed," I respond thusly (love that word!): "Yes it is. In fact, it's even more important that you do this. If you don't, you'll burn out even more quickly and lose the will to forge ahead with your job search."

This sage advice is from one who once spent two years unemployed, living on paltry savings when the benefits ran out. Unemployment is no laughing matter, and it's with you 24/7.

You can't leave it on your desk back in the office...there is no office.

So you have to learn how to kick back and enjoy the moment...or the day. Trust me. You'll feel a heck of a lot better afterwards, and you'll dive back into whatever challenge you're facing with renewed energy and determination.

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it." - Herodotus, "Histories," bk. II, ch. 173

(Note: My friend emailed me later in the day. After we parted company, she went home, slipped into some comfortable clothes, and spent the day wandering blissfully around town window-shopping. The upbeat tone of her note said it all...she took some badly-needed "me time.")

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Your Career and You: "Where's My Gold Star?"

I went down to Curry College for our annual staff/faculty barbecue and awards ceremony. Always a ton of's great to see hard-working, dedicated people getting well-deserved recognition for their contributions to our success.

While gnawing on a very well-done hamburger, I had a chance to chat with a new employee who just a few short years ago was (and still is!) one of my "rising stars." Filled with ideas; eager to make her mark. And she will. Of that, I am confident.

She made an interesting comment, though (which I will paraphrase), about some of her classmates...young professionals now...that really got me thinking about the challenges we, as educators or mentors or parents or bosses, face in the workplace today.

"A lot of my friends...people I graduated with...are disappointed with where they are [in terms of jobs/job titles, etc.]. They thought they would be directors of programs and doing higher-level work than they actually are."

You might ask, rightfully so, "How long have they been graduated?"

To which I respond, "Three years."

Three years..."directors of programs"...

Wow. Expectations...

Now, before you start throwing rocks at me, bear in mind that I'm the guy who worked for the US Army Recruiting Command back when we told young people to "Be all you can be."

I believe with all my heart in the ability of many of my students at Curry, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as at Regis College, where I teach graduate Communication courses, to become genuine superstars.

Of course they can. They've made it this far, haven't they? They're doing well in classes. They're mega-involved in on- and off-campus activities. They're completing two, three, four internships.

But there's more to it than this, and, somewhere along the way, someone, somewhere failed to mention it along with the gut-wrenching difficulties of job hunting anyway.

It's called "earning your stripes" to use some military jargon. Prove to me you know what you're doing. Show me you've got staying power. Make a difference.

If you do all will move up in the ranks. You will be given more responsibility.

But you don't get a gold star just for showing up.

You have to work for it. You have to earn it.

It's that simple...and that difficult. It's called "life."

"Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula's horse was made Consul." ~ John Randolph, Speech [February 1, 1828]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Your Career and You: "Be Excited about What You're Doing"

I just returned from participation in back-to-back Public Relations Society of America events: the 2011 Silver Anvil Awards ceremony on Thursday evening followed by the Association's 2011 Leadership Rally.

The Silver Anvil Awards recognize the "best of the best" in public relations practices. This was my first opportunity to attend, and I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of everyone (close to 500 attendees) there... winners, contenders, spectators. I came away with the realization that there are a LOT of folks out there who really care about what they're doing.

The Leadership Rally...a separate activity held Friday and Saturday (and, ironically, again my first although I've held chapter and district leadership positions with PRSA both in
Boston and in Hawaii since the mid-80s) designed to introduce incoming officers from PRSA's 10 Districts and more than 100 Chapters around the country to the "art of successful leadership."

A series of breakout sessions on everything from "Creating Programs that Engage and Enlighten" to "Fiscal Leadership" offered these incoming leaders "how-to" guidance that will help them as they take on their volunteer roles.

The "take-away" for me from the Rally was similar to my impression of the Silver Anvils...the high level of excitement and commitment that every one of these soon-to-be leaders showed.

Why am I talking about this?

Simple...I feel like a "newbie" after these experiences although I've been a member of PRSA since 1981 and have been actively involved as a volunteer since that time.

I'm excited about having the opportunity to serve on PRSA's Board of Directors. I'm eager to work with the Society's national, district, and local chapter leaders to move our organization, which is the largest of its kind representing the public relations professional, forward.

I'm also and equally excited to be preparing for a new year as Associate Professor of
Communication at Curry College, where I oversee the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of our PR courses, and as a Lecturer in Communications in the Graduate Communication Department at Regis College.

Why am I talking about this??

Because I'm creeping up on that mythical time of life known as "retirement age." I could easily fold my tent, saddle my camel, and ride off over the dunes into oblivion.

Been there...done that. Or so I thought until this past weekend. a lot of things I still NEED to do and still CAN do.

Public relations is changing dramatically as a profession, both on the tactical side in the ways in which we provide services to our employers and clients and on the strategic side as we provide advice and counsel to guide these individuals or organizations through the minefields of the business world.

I want to play a part in the changes that we as a professional organization implement to assist our 20,000-plus members in doing their jobs.

And I want to play a part in the changes that we as academicians must implement to insure that our students are prepared to enter the workforce and succeed.

You should feel this way, too, about activities you're involved in either professionally or as a volunteer. Take a look at what you're doing and identify the ways in which you, as an individual, are making or can make a difference.

Take pride in what you're doing, and don't be shy about letting others see your pride. Be excited about what you're doing!

"The more you do, the more you can do. The busier you are, the busier you can be." ~ Dharma Thoughts of Master Hsing Yun, "On Life: The Everlasting Light"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Your Career and You: "Do Your Research...THEN Network"

I know it seems like I spend a lot of time talking about "researching" and "networking" in the course of my ramblings, but I keep getting reminders as I chat with students...AND professionals...about their job search.

This morning was no exception. The call was from a professional acquaintance who has focused his interest...but, or so it seems, not his attention...on an academic job search.

I say it like this because this fellow is not new to the job search world...he works in human resources. But our conversation this morning left me with the uneasy feeling that he's as clueless about how to go about looking for a job as are many novice job hunters.

First off...and today was the continuation of a conversation we had a couple of months ago...he knew absolutely nothing about Curry College (in which he professes to be interested) including not even knowing how to find us!

Now this latter part...the finding...isn't rocket science. It's a simple matter of going on to our website and looking under "About Curry" at "Our Campus." Maps and everything, including some great pictures of a beautiful campus.

But the thing that really got me was he had no idea what he really wanted to do. In the course of a very rambling chat, he bounced from "volunteer work" to "adjunct teaching," from "unpaid" to "paid." Nothing I could pin a definitive "here's what your next step should be" response to.

And that's the point of this monologue: We (aka "professionals") would love to help you in your job give you feedback on your plans. Can't do this if you don't give us something to work with!

So do your research into organizations, job opportunities, areas of interest (or not). Then come to me for advice and guidance. Because then I will be able to go foraging in my address book and extract a name or two of colleagues who will be able to talk to you about jobs and places you are interested in.

It's simple. Do your research first to get a sense of the things that catch your attention and get you excited. Then do your networking with the ability to describe to your contact what you really are looking for and why.

Since I would rather make of him [the child] an able man than a learned man, I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide [tutor] with a well-made rather than a well-filled head."
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. Essays, bk. I [1580], To the Reader, ch. 26