By Kirk Hazlett
I’ve discovered over the roller-coaster event called “life” that the only thing I can really depend on is that something is going to change. Don’t know when. Don’t know what. All I know is it will.
When I switched from federal government employment to private sector in my first and second jobs, the person who hired me “left the company” within a few months of my starting. The company reorganized, and I wound up doing a slightly different job than I was hired for.
Happily, that trend didn’t continue, and I settled more-or-less comfortably into my “public relations professional” role.
But those incidents have served to remind me that the only thing “predictable” about life is that it is incredibly UNpredictable!
As I have been telling my Communication students at Curry College for the past decade, success doesn’t come to you. You have to seek out those opportunities that are going to lead you to success.
For me, it has been a process of identifying and pursuing jobs that require me to learn new things…new industries, new terminology, new ways of thinking. And each of those new things prepared me for each consecutive professional adventure.
My switch from public to private sector was a carefully planned action. I was doing very well as an active-duty Air Force audiovisual technician/command briefing specialist (I started out as an English-as-a-Second-Language instructor in Vietnam). Lots of commendations…serious face-time with commanding officers…recognized as being doggone good at what I was doing.
But I wanted more of a challenge. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to do more. So I left my eight-year Air Force career and went to work for the Army as a public affairs intern (civil service, not military), learning new things that promised to open the door to exciting and professionally challenging opportunities. And they did.
Seven years later: “been there; done that.” So I resigned from the Army and applied for (and got) a job with Honeywell Corporation in Massachusetts. Thus began the “hello/goodbye” scenarios that I mentioned earlier.
Each succeeding job took me to a completely different industry sector…member services, communication agency, blood banking, executive recruiting, a cemetery(!), and then higher education where I’ve spent 13 absolutely fabulous years introducing hundreds of young men and women to the career field of public relations that was my life for most of the preceding 30-plus years.
This brings us back to you and your own career quandary. As Scarlett said plaintively to Rhett in “Gone with the Wind,” “Where will I go? What will I do?”
Well, for starters, it’s time for some navel-gazing…some self-analysis of your wants and don’ts. I’ve come in contact over the years with sooo many people who have absolutely no clue what they really would like to be doing and where.
They’re “satisfied” with what they’re currently doing, although there’s no real promise for a substantial change in the position. And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “Well, it pays the bills,” I could buy a resort island in the Caribbean.
Some “must-dos” are pretty obvious. Network. Network. Network.
I’m getting ready myself for official retirement combined with relocation to a state I’ve never lived in. More than three years ago, when I did the math and realized that this inevitable stage in my life was going to arrive whether I was prepared or not, I started (baby steps, mind you) casually mentioning to colleagues at conferences and elsewhere what I was planning to do.
In no case was I asking an individual for a job or a reference. I just wanted to get on his or her radar screen. Flash forward to today. My move is imminent (retirement’s a done deal), and I’m stepping up the “I’ll be in your area soon” memory joggers. End result? A number of “We’re waiting for you to get here, Kirk.”
Still not asking for a job or anything…I just want them to be aware that I’m on my way and am open to part-time teaching gigs at any college or university in the area. As soon as I’m settled in and have figured out which roads go where, I am going to be very visible at professional society meetings and other activities where I will have the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with key figures in the public relations education world.
So…change…it’s inevitable. And, speaking from experience, it’s a LOT better to be in control of the change than it is to have it happen while you stand on the sidelines with your jaw hanging open.
It’s the “5 Ws” that we talk about all the time in PR:
- WHO are you?
- WHAT do you have to offer and want to do?
- WHEN do you want to do this?
- WHERE do you want to do it (location/industry/etc.)
- WHY do you want to do this…because they’re going to ASK!
Do your homework. Start making your connections. Identify your “wants and don’ts.”
The goal here, as so beautifully said at the end of the poem “Mr. Flood’s Party,” is to pursue the career of your dreams and be able to look back at the end with “not a single regret.”
Life…It’s about changes. Make it happen…don’t just LET it happen!
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, recently retired as Associate Professor of Communication at Curry College. Before moving into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years. He is Co-Chair of the PRSA College of Fellows Mentoring Committee and has served as a member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors, as well as in other leadership positions. Kirk was inducted into the College of Fellows in 2009.
My husband and I are beginning to shift gears toward retirement in the next few years. Your tips regarding letting colleagues know about potential plans/new location are helpful. Best to you as you make the transition. Let us know how it goes! – Michelle Van Loon