Friday, January 27, 2012

Your Career and You: "New Year...New Beginnings"

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m the eternal optimist.

For me, there’s always something new and exciting around the corner. All I have to do is move in the right direction and I’ll find it.

That attitude has carried me through close to a half-century of life as a Public Relations practitioner that has encompassed more than a dozen jobs.

I realize that I’m not wired like most people, but I refuse to accept any other way of living. Keeps me “young” mentally and spiritually.

This is an attitude that I try to convey to my students these days, both at Curry College, where I oversee the undergraduate PublicRelations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and at Regis College, where I teach graduate courses in the Organizational and ProfessionalCommunications area.

Not everyone “buys” my optimism. There are those who think I’m unrealistic, unaware of the cold hard facts of today’s working world.

That neither bothers nor surprises me. I’ve wandered through life doing what interested me (usually) and having a ton of fun in the process. But I’ve also been closely associated with folks who neither felt like I did nor had the slightest interest in what our mission was.

Looking back on it, I’m able to see the outcome of their attitude…they’ve either stagnated in their jobs or they’re no longer doing what they disliked…they’ve moved on to something equally unpleasant in their mind but at least “not the same as before.”

Sorry. That doesn’t work for me. While I’m not totally into the “if life deals gives you lemons…” concept, I do believe it’s within my power to change my circumstances. (Got fired from a job I hated once…probably a little radical for a solution, but quite effective!...wound up doing something that absolutely resonates with me…teaching.)

The point to this is that you truly do…or should…have control of your destiny. But it takes some introspection…you have to have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself about what it is you really would like to be doing. Then you have to chart out a path to that goal.

But you don’t do this alone. You do, of course, have to have that “conversation.” But you also can and should be talking to friends, significant others, teachers, mentors…anyone who can listen to you and offer an opinion.

Good decisions are usually made based on the input of others important to you. They often will be objective…not always…they’re your friends. But they will be a good sounding board against which to test your thoughts.

As I write this, I am (sort of) observing the Chinese New Year…the “Year of the Dragon.” According to my Chinese wife, it’s not going to be a stellar year…lots of cautions to be mindful of. But, you know, that, too, is “life.” A bagful of lemons out of which to create some delicious and refreshing lemonade!

Optimism lives large in my world, and this is an opportunity for it to strut its stuff. Here’s to a great year filled with new beginnings!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Your Career and You: "Falling in Love"


It all started with a chance encounter...we were introduced by a trusted advisor.

We both thought it would be a short-lived experience...we could only meet once a week in the evening. How could it possibly work out?

But we were wrong...I was hooked from the first...loved the talk of "relationships" and "mutual understanding." This was a commitment I was ready for.

And I was right! We've now been a "team" for more than 40 years...

And now...

I just received a "Google Alerts" notice that the second of two guest blog posts I wrote for two friends, Shonali Burke and Larry Thomas, had been published.

Got a rush kind of like when I used to, as a kid on Christmas morning, sneak into the living room to see what Santa had left under the tree!

Yeah...there's an ego-trip-py feeling to it. But more important, in my mind, it's a reminder of why I wandered like a nomad into...and earned my citizenship in...public relations.

I absolutely love being able to use words and actions to deliver messages, spark interest, and generate reaction.

Not everyone agrees with what I say. I've been called some pretty neat things..."dilletante" is my all-time favorite!

But I know, from the comments I get on my blog and other places, that I've caused someone to think...and to react.

If I've accomplished what I intended, people have acted.

They joined the Army when I worked as a Public Affairs Specialist for the US Army Boston District Recruiting Command (now New England Army Recruiting Battalion).

They gave lifesaving blood when I worked as Communications Services Director for the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

And they get interested in and study public relations in my current role as Associate Professor of Communication at Curry College, where I teach undergrad PR courses and constantly tweak the PR concentration to ensure that our students are fully prepared for "life after graduation."

I didn't start out this way, though.

The story...

Thought I wanted to be a civil engineer building highways and bridges. Discovered you actually had to be able to draw straight lines! Bummer.

Wound up as an English major with a focus on 18th-century British lit.

A few twists and turns, two more degrees (in business management), eight years active duty in the Air Force...and a public affairs  internship with the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. The rest, so they say, is history.

"Love" struck with an elective I took for my undergraduate business degree..."Introduction to Public Relations."

The course put a name on stuff I had been doing when I was in the Air Force...working with community groups, publicizing activities my unit was involved in, writing promotional pieces for the base newspaper.

Until I took the course, I honestly had no idea what I was doing...I just knew I loved doing it!

Jumping ahead to the present, I've had a very cool, if somewhat zigzagging, career. Made a difference to some important organizations.

Loved every minute of it...and still do!

And that's the point of this chat today...

When you discover what it is that you really enjoy doing, it turns into a love affair that lasts forever. You can't wait to get to it when you wake up in the morning...and you're reluctant to leave it at the end of the day.

"To business that we love we rise betime,
And go to 't with delight."
William Shakespeare, "Antony and Cleopatra," IV, iv, 20

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Your Career and You: "The Art of Kissing Frogs"

For some misguided reason, I thought the winter break from Curry College, where I ride herd over the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and Regis College, where I teach graduate Organizational and Professional Communications courses, would be one of solitude and meditation.

Nope…things were (characteristically for me) mildly insane. Tons of reading and writing, which, in addition to ironing clothes, tend to be my “therapy.”

Also, though, lots of talks with students, current and former, undergrad and grad, as well as other friends and professional colleagues, mid-level and senior-level.

Most of these chats revolved around job or job search dissatisfaction. Either the search wasn’t going as anticipated, or the job itself has turned out to be not so great.

This isn’t a new topic for me, but it is a new year, so let’s dive in.

My sage advice…not necessarily said exactly this way, but implicit in my conversations…was that “you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince (or princess for the male gender).”

Career transitions…college to the fulltime, professional workforce, or job to job…are a baffling mix of timing, luck, research, and perseverance. Doesn’t matter where you are in the food chain; it applies at all levels.

The learning point here is that, no matter how carefully you plan your search, once in a while the train’s going to jump off the tracks. And there’s usually nothing you could have done about it.

What you can do is reassure yourself that it’s not a genetic flaw. Bad things happen to good people. Sadly, this was your time in the barrel.

So what do you do about it?

First of all, in my (sort of) humble opinion, you examine the frog’s warts. What makes them “warts” and not 18th-century “beauty patches”? In other words, is what you perceive as not pleasant actually par for the course and just not something you’re comfortable with?

Case in point. One of my friends, with whom I’ve been having a long-running dialogue, works for a PR firm…a very good PR firm, I might add…and is going through, to put it mildly, “mental and personal hell.”

The job has its good moments, but these are overrun by some totally suck-y moments. (“For every ‘action,’ there’s an equal and opposite ‘RE-action’”?)

Whatever the case, she’s miserable and wants a change. But she’s concerned that the “warts” she thinks she has identified as associated with a potential new opportunity might be too gross.

Hence the quandary. “Kiss or no?”

Another friend is just embarking on her maiden voyage into professional life. She’s open to either internship learning opportunities or entry-level jump-in-and-do-it positions. She’s not completely sure what “warts” are, but she intuitively understands they’re there…and she really isn’t too keen about the frog-kissing part!

There are no magic answers to these dilemmas. What you can do is what I have advised time and again…do your research…network…talk to your friends, teachers, whoever you can use as a sounding board.

Then you make a decision…pucker up…and kiss the frog.

If it’s meant to be, it will turn into your prince(-ess). I totally speak from experience here both from my previous life as a public relations professional and from my current life as public relations prof.

In both universes, I took a chance with opportunities that, on first glance, were absolutely not what I had envisioned myself doing. And in both instances, I found myself doing something that absolutely resonated in my soul.

Now, just to be completely clear, I also have vivid memories of a couple of swamp-reeking toads in my past, so it’s not a perfect world.

But I learned from those experiences, and I used that knowledge in other, future transitions.

And that’s the final, final learning point…learn from your encounters of the frog kind. Learn to distinguish warts from the mere bumps. And, when in doubt, listen to Three Dog Night!

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
William Shakespeare, “As You Like It,” II, I, 12