Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Your Career and You: "Count Your Blessings"

Over the past few weeks, I've witnessed or been involved in some life-altering events. Nothing, thank goodness, majorly traumatic. But things that really got me thinking about how lucky I've been throughout my life.

Wandered blithely through more than half a century doing stuff that I truly and deeply loved doing.

Met fascinating people along the way...Edward L. Bernays, Chester (Chet) Burger, President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan (none of whom, by the way, would have been able to or can tell you who I am!)...and had a chance to draw "teachable" moments from each. Great experiences!

Today, I teach undergrad public relations courses in the Communication Department at Curry College as a full-time faculty member, and graduate courses in the Organizational and Professional Communication area at Regis College as an adjunct faculty member. In both cases, I'm doing my dead-level best to give back some of what I've learned from my life's experiences... the good as well as the not-so-good (don't you love that "pr-speak" term for "BAD"?!?).

It's easier, sometimes, though, to focus on the things that have gone wrong or completely derailed in life than the really cool times.

> Got fired one time! (There's a milk-curdler!!)
> Almost got blown up one time...fortunately the bomb didn't go off. (Extra beer that night!)
> Been in a half-dozen major auto accidents. Except for an occasional ache from a once-broken rib, still walking...and driving!

The point is (somewhere!) sucks sometimes. But you can't let the negatives take over.

There is good in everyone's life. Even Joe Bfstplk from my childhood "L'il Abner" comics days had an occasional "not-horrible" experience.

But you have to look for the good sometimes. It's there, just coyly hiding under a pile of dirty socks or someplace equally "I don't wanna know"-ish.

> Maybe it's a casual exchange with a checkout clerk at the supermarket that makes you smile.
> Maybe it's watching your significant other's eyes glow with sheer joy because of a surprise gift.
> Or maybe it's just waking up and smelling the wonderfully clean, fresh morning air.

Whatever it might be, allow yourself to smile. Take a minute (or more) to simply let the good feeling wash over you.

> Yeah, there's still work to be done, and/or the client/boss is cranky.
> No, the phone hasn't rung today or the email hasn't arrived scheduling that job interview.'re reading this, aren't you? So you're still alive and functioning.

That's a very good start. So count your blessings!

"For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed." ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, "Friendship"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Career and You: "Help!"

I'm staying on my "golden oldies" theme from last week thanks to an exchange of emails I had with a few former students over the past few days.

This week it's the Beatles...yep, the "Fab Four"...I was a fledgling engineering student when they exploded onto the U.S. music scene, and I dutifully went nuts along with the rest of my teenaged friends.

The Beatles' chart-busting "Help" debuted in 1965. I was unhappy with my major and was considering changing to something else...which now leads me back to my students/friends.

No one was asking for any life-altering advice, although they all know that I'm always available if needed.

One simply asked if I would pass along some information about an event that her firm has arranged for a client. The second was updating me on some recent changes in her personal life. And the third just needed a sounding board as she proceeds with a professional career-change opportunity.

The one who wanted my assistance in promoting her event got my promise to spread the news via my Facebook and LinkedIn connections. The one who updated me on her life changes got my assurance of a follow-up, in-person chat. And I spent about a half-hour with the third on the phone exploring the various positives and negatives of the opportunity she is exploring.

The take-away, in all three instances, is that the "system" worked. And that's the idea with friends and "help."

As the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Sometimes you're facing a challenge, or a decision, or a life-altering event, and you know you have to do something, and you kind of know what to do.

I'm always advising/admonishing/counseling my undergrad communication students/advisees at Curry College as well as my graduate communications students at Regis College to not be hesitant about talking to friends/teachers/ colleagues when they're faced with a decision. Don't go it alone!

You just need to take that first step of voicing your need or your decision...of taking that first step. You get the momentum started...the thought processes rolling. Then you're off.

So do like the Beatles. Ask for "Help"!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Your Career and You: "Three Little Birds"

Ok, I'm in my Bob Marley mood today. Just finished ironing a pile of clothes, which always leaves me with the satisfaction of having actually accomplished something! Beautiful day; gorgeous weather. What more could you want?

Well, based on a couple of online conversations I've had recently with newly-hatched college grads...a job seems to be high on the "want" list.

Can't say that I blame them. Four years of tears, tests, teachers, and textbooks. And a substantial chunk of change invested.

And what for? A non-response to a letter of application for a job. A "thanks; no thanks" letter following an interview. As an old (really old) song said, "Just sittin' and waitin' gets so aggravatin', so ring, telephone ring."

One thing I try to communicate when I run into a situation like this is the need for patience. The fact that you have graduated and want a job yesterday is a bare blip on my radar screen as a hiring manager. The heat is on for me to find a more senior communicator to fill a higher-level and potentially more productive position; entry-level gets done whenever.

My undergraduate advisees at Curry College as well as my graduate students at Regis College hear variations of this message constantly when we're talking about "life after graduation." I try to help them understand that expectations (theirs) have to be tempered to meet realities (the hiring companies').

The main thing to remember, in my opinion, is that you will find a job. It may not be exactly what you dreamed about every night at school after cramming for tomorrow's exam, but it will be a job that launches you into the professional working world.

I've said at least a zillion times that my first full-time job after graduating from college was as a short-order cook in my Father's soda shop in my hometown of Dublin, Georgia. I wasn't called on to make use of the knowledge I had gained studying 18th century British lit at the University of Georgia. But I made one heck of a hamburger and a world-class chocolate milk shake!

And I discovered my nascent public relations abilities...built an awesome following of high school students who flocked to the soda shop after school and on Saturdays to munch on my burgers and slurp my shakes... business flourished, my Dad was happy...and I got a raise.

Later on, I took a job as a record salesman (you do remember records, don't you?!?) and learned the value of primary and secondary research (talked to customers and friends about what their favorite current songs were and diligently combed Billboard for clues to future hits) in helping me make sure I had what customers wanted today...not tomorrow.

I ultimately, after a few career twists and turns, wound up working in public relations, but it was a circuitous path that took me through eight years of the Air Force working as an English Language Instructor, then an Audiovisual Technician, and finally a Command Briefing Specialist.

The convoluted point I'm driving toward here is that everything I did along the way was beneficial experience that prepared me for immersion, thanks to the US Army's public affairs internship program, into PR and my lifetime career.

You're doing the same with your current job, whether it be full-time or part-time, and regardless of what you're actually doing. You just have to take a step back and look at what you're learning.

I did a very short...two days...stint as a package sorter for UPS down in Virginia right after I got out of the Air Force. Learned very supervisor was not impressed...that mind-numbing, backbreaking work is not my forte'. Note to self: No more physical labor.

So...why "Three Little Birds"?

Because the song encourages you to look on the bright side of not give find joy in the small pleasures of life.

Not a bad way to go, is it?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Your Career and You: "Believe in What You Do"

I spent a remarkable July 3 on Boston's City Hall Plaza volunteering my time to work at Boston Harborfest's annual Chowderfest.

These two amazing events (the weeklong Boston Harborfest and the one-day Chowderfest) are the result, first, of one person's vision back in the very early 80s and, second, the belief of a small army of volunteers in that vision which is to present a "Fourth of July Festival that showcases the colonial and maritime heritage of the cradle of the American Revolution: the historic City of Boston."

We celebrated our 30th anniverary this year, a clear sign that both the vision and the beliefs were...and are...right on target.

And that, to me, is the key ingredient in achieving have to believe in what you your personal as well as your professional life.

This is something I try to pass on to my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College as well as my graduate Communications  students at Regis College.

I've had a couple of short-lived jobs in my somewhat disorganized past that, upon reflection, were the exact antithesis of what I just said. I took them because, at the moment, they seemed "interesting." But when I got inside and learned "how the sausage is made," I realized that I did not fully embrace their way of doing business...especially from my position as their public relations person.

But this was a "me" thing rather than a "them" thing. Both organizations are chugging right along, thank you very much, albeit so incredibly under the radar that I wonder if anyone other than me knows they exist!

The lesson here, to use one of my favorite phrases from "South Park," is that you have to take a look deep inside yourself when you're considering an employment opportunity.

You have to look clearly and closely at the sausage-making and decide if this is something you can support with all your energy, enthusiasm, and professional abilities.

Beliefs are like ears. Everyone has them. It's how well you use them that counts.

You have to understand how yours work for you and then pay attention to what signals they're sending to you. As you get better at reading those signs, you will find that you're pinpointing and seeking opportunities that truly are in keeping with your hopes, desires, and aspirations. You will be doing something you want to do, and you will believe in what you do.

"All true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end: and which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience." - Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels [1726], Voyage to Lilliput, ch. 2