Sunday, May 27, 2012

Your Career and You: "Try New Things" *

I was sitting in my “regular” coffee shop in suburban Taipei this morning all comfy with my Americano (aka: “black”) cuppa, freshly-baked raisin bread, and English-language newspaper ("Taipei Times") all ready to chill and ease into the day.

Suddenly I realized that someone was standing beside my table.

I looked up to see a young fellow looking eagerly at me and apparently screwing up the courage to speak.

He then introduced himself and asked if he could sit.

Now the misanthrope in me doesn’t like to be disturbed pre-caffeination.

But the Southerner in me can’t say “no” to a stranger’s outreach.


So I invited him to sit, and we chatted for about 30 minutes about the United States, politics, Taiwan’s growth in general, etc.

Finally I realized he wasn’t going to budge, so I decided to end this unplanned but not totally unpleasant disruption of my routine. I wished him well and left.

As I was walking back home, I started thinking about what had just happened and why.

First…my perspective.

As my undergrad Communication students at Curry College , especially my Public Relations Concentration disciples, figure out pretty quickly, I like to try new things.

I’m not an “early adopter,” but I’m usually pretty quick to jump on the bus.

But…as they also learn…I can be a pretty stubborn creature of habit and don’t like it when some things change…as when my morning hangout here in Taipei, The Bread Societe’, remodeled while I was “away.”

Slightly different clientele…still somewhat upscale, but different in an indefinable way.

Which means I will be cruising the neighborhood to see if there’s another comparable hangout where I can jump-start my mornings.

Anywho, back to this morning and his perspective

I have to give “Steady” (the young fellow’s chosen English name) credit. He was willing to, on spying a foreign face, step up and start a conversation… in a language that, for him, was unfamiliar.

He had no idea what he was getting himself into, but he was willing to take the chance…to try something new.

Kind of threw him off when he learned that I am a college professor…my colleagues here (Taiwan) get a very high level of respect (hint, hint)…but he plugged ahead.

And we both had a rather pleasant time of it.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.

“Routines” can be a good thing…until they turn into “ruts.”

It’s nice…like wearing an old pair of shoes…to keep doing the same things day in and day out.

But you don’t learn in a rut…and you certainly don’t progress in a rut.

So be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Network...Start up conversations with total strangers on the off chance that you might meet someone interesting or learn something new.

Learn...Take courses on topics that you know nothing about but think, from the description, could be interesting or add to your skill set.

Explore...Look at job possibilities or internships outside the “normal” selection that your academic advisors and career services counselors offer. (Note: I am not suggesting that either of these latter options is wrong!)

Try something new!!

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”- Yogi Berra

* Note: Post slightly edited 06-02-2013 to appease local (Taiwan) readers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Your Career and You: "Optimism Rocks!"

We had our 2012 Commencement Ceremony at Curry College this past weekend, and, as usual, I came away exhausted but filled with optimism.

What a day!

Some statistics:
Ø  850 undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred
Ø  International representation: seven countries
Ø  U.S.: 19 states plus Puerto Rico

Not bad for a small private college parked in Milton, Mass., cozily on the southern tip of one of the coolest cities in the U.S…Boston.

Given the number of graduates…plus the student speakers…plus the Commencement speaker…and all the other stuff that goes into a college graduation…the three-hour ceremony wasn’t bad.

Things went relatively smoothly, and our president, Kenneth K. Quigley, Jr. (for whom, by the way, I would cheerfully dogpaddle through molten lava and broken glass on a mission), was awesome.

Ken believes in Curry College, and I honestly believe that his commitment to our college and his optimism is felt by each and every student who passes through our halls.

He has been with us (way before my time) through the good years as well as the not-so-good. And he has remained steadfastly committed to seeing us maintain our status as a first-class liberal arts institution.

Back to the day.

Immediately following the conferring of degrees, we faculty members lined up outside the tent to applaud the new graduates as they proceeded out to join their friends and family members.

And this is where the fun really began. I must have personally spoken to/ shaken hands with/hugged more than 50 former students from one or more of my public relations classes as they filed past…each of them with a gleam of pride in their eyes and a freshly-conferred diploma in their hands.

Then, once everyone was out, the real mingling began…students with their parents/spouses/friends excitedly reliving the morning and seeking out former professors to introduce and get photos taken.

As I’ve commented numerous times in past, I love seeing the look of pride in the eyes of parents/spouses/friends as the impact of the morning sinks in.

And I love, when one of them thanks me for what I’ve done over the past four years for his or her son or daughter, to respond…from the heart… “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to meet and to study and learn with your [son/daughter]!”

It’s nice to know that my efforts are appreciated. But it’s even nicer to believe, as I do, in the ability of that son or daughter to succeed.

It’s a win-win-win...
Ø The son or daughter believes that there is a fresh new world ahead.
Ø The parent/spouse/friend believes that great things lie ahead and the “bumps” that have occurred over the past four years were worth it.
Ø I believe in the inherent ability of anyone who wishes to do so to succeed.

No matter whose perspective you represent…optimism rocks!!

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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Your Career and You: "Don't Settle...Make Your Parents Proud"

Each year I have the pleasure of participating in Curry College’s “Awards Ceremony.” The student superstars in each academic department receive well-deserved public recognition for their scholastic and extra-curricular activities, and we faculty members get to sing their praises.

I was able to highlight the accomplishments of one of my own Public Relations Concentration “troops,” a young lady named Erika Kuzmicz who, to me, personifies the best of the best in up-and-coming public relations professionals.

Erika came cautiously into my “world,” tentatively taking introductory PR courses and then moving confidently into the “deep end” with advanced courses and internships…three internships, to be exact.

But this is/was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg…
· Communication major with PR concentration; double minor in English and Management
· Member, Lambda Chi Chapter of the National Communication Association’s Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society
· Immediate Past President of the Curry College Public Relations Student Association

She wrapped up her scholastic requirements in December 2011, a semester early, and segued immediately at the beginning of this year into a full-time position as Account Coordinator at The Castle Group, a great PR firm based here in Boston.

I had a chance to chat with her parents both before and after the Awards Ceremony, and that experience made everything worthwhile.

The absolute glow of pride on both their faces told me that this was what had been their dream for their daughter…to see her on her way to a lifetime of success…due in very large part to her own hard work and determination.

This, to me, is a major part of the puzzle called “growing up.” There are two parties, in my opinion, that have to be satisfied in the process…yourself, first and foremost, and your parents.

You will be your toughest critic because you, better than anyone else, know yourself…your strengths, your weaknesses…likes, dislikes, favorite flavor of ice cream.

But your parents see in you their dreams and aspirations. They believe you are capable of just about anything. And their joy in your accomplishments is without limits.

So don’t settle…stretch yourself…take on the challenge that scares you just a bit…that tests your abilities…your knowledge…your patience. And in the process, do great things!

Make yourself…and your parents…proud!

“For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and silences of night.” – Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet” [1923]

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Your Career and You: "It's Okay to Change Things"

I was coming home on the bus recently (MBTA…Boston’s answer to substandard transportation service), when the driver did something that almost all drivers on this route have done from the day I started riding.

She stopped at a railroad crossing.

We do this twice on the trip home…this particular location and another closer to where I live.

But there’s a difference.

The one close to home is an active rail line with trains passing through regularly.

The first one has been inactive for going on15-plus years. Trees are growing between the rails.

But the drivers stop anyway.


Because there still are “railroad crossing” signs there. And no one…MBTA, MBCR (railroad operator), or state…apparently has given any thought to the possibility that the signs…and the required stop-and-start of countless buses daily…should be changed.

In addition to unnecessarily halting traffic on a busy road, the slowing down and speeding up of each bus wastes costly gas, adding to the MBTA’s operating expenses.

I realized, observing this force-of-habit action, how easy it is to accept things as “the way they’ve always been.”

We have a tendency to accept/put up with sometimes annoying things simply because, whatever the action is…no matter how ridiculous or unnecessary it might seem, it has “always been done that way.”

My mantra is, and my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College hear this all the time, “It’s okay to change things.”

I’m not advocating flag-burning activism. I kind of like a little predictability in my usually chaotic life.


If something strikes you as unusual, or a little voice in your head asks “why are we doing this?”, look to see if it can be changed.

At the very least, speak up and draw attention to the situation.

Complacency breeds stagnation…like an unused piece of equipment sitting out in the yard will start rusting and become unusable.

I once, as an intern working in the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Editorial Branch, questioned the way we were calculating reading levels for proposed training manuals. The existing system was laborious and incredibly time-consuming.

But it had “always been done that way.”

Well, I started tinkering…playing with various ways to derive the numbers we were looking for.

And I noticed a pattern that allowed me to create a formula for calculating them.

And I reduced the time required for this process by roughly two-to-three minutes.

Not a huge change in and of itself. But, taken over the course of a year of editing literally hundreds of manuscripts, the time savings was in the hours.

And the accuracy rate of the calculations rose as well because the process had been simplified…a win-win.

And I got an unexpected but greatly appreciated letter of commendation for my work…as an intern learning the ropes…not as one of the full-time employees who had “always done it that way”!

So, as my friends on “South Park” like to say at the end of nearly every episode, “What we have learned here…” is just because it has “always been done that way” doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way.

Maybe your idea doesn’t actually pan out…doesn’t improve the process in some way. But that is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t at least try it!

Go ahead. Be curious. Look under the hood to see how it works. And suggest changes if you think a change will make a positive difference.

A side, but important, benefit in this is that (as I mentioned in my Army example above) your supervisor or someone higher up in the food chain will notice your proactive effort to improve operations and recognize you for it.

It really is okay to change things!

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." - Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Serenity Prayer" [1934]