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]