Along my marketing career path, I evolved from writing articles on a manual typewriter to helping B2B clients offer seamless multi-channel experiences. I started as a copywriter for a sales magazine, wrote and promoted a book, and eventually started a public relations agency. The firm has had several iterations, starting with a specialization in thought leadership programs for B2B companies. These experiences culminated in a focus on enterprise content strategy.
Starting out, I could not have predicted this path. The journey involved taking risks, seeing around corners, and course-correcting along the way. Most of all, it required being open to possibilities and not getting stuck in a continuous loop.
As we enter graduation season, you’ll hear many of the same themes from celebrity speakers and valedictorians alike:
- Be a lifelong learner
- Make your passion your career
- You can be anything you want
Tip 1: Be a lifelong learner.
Looking back, I essentially knew very little when starting out. I had a liberal arts degree and a talent for writing. When I graduated, a recession raged with few prospects for a great job. I took a government position where I met a guy who knew a guy who was writing a book. Long story short: he was stuck and needed fresh eyes. I knew nothing about the topic but jumped in. I researched and connected with people who knew more than I did. I took time off and finished the book and then became part of the promotion team. This experience led to the birth of our PR firm.
My partner and I knew almost nothing about starting and running a business. We networked, went to conferences, soaked up knowledge and developed a POV about how we would serve our clients. We invented our own version of customer experience in a pre-digital age. A philosophy and approach that still serves us well today: anticipate needs, jump into the deep end of the pool, over-service and simplify complexity.
We thrived even in the face of the unknown because we had the ability to learn, leverage lessons, and find connections in the unconnected.
Learning requires so much more than Google searches. It’s creative reuse of knowledge that was gained for one purpose but is suddenly applicable to an entirely new or different situation. This is the essence of lifelong learning. You not only learn new things, but also apply them to creative and strategic purpose.
Tip 2: Make your passion your career.
While it’s not always possible to be paid for what you love, second best is to find something to love in what you’re doing. Often, this unexpectantly can lead to better things. I have always loved writing but that first gig creating ad copy for a sales magazine did not inspire passion. It paid well but was mind numbing. To amuse myself, I turned my assignments into challenges: How many ways could I say the same thing? How clever could I make the headlines? How could I persuade in as few characters as possible? (A precursor to tweets!)
This dead-end job prepared me for future opportunities. Often, finding career bliss requires traversing uneven stepping stones or powering through things that are only tangential to your dream. In some cases, you may not even know what that is. Early on, you need to experience a lot of different things to find the one that clicks. Work at things that can provide leverage for what’s next. The trick is manufacture passion as you find a path to the most authentic career for you.
Tip 3: You can be anything you want.
Raise your hand if your mom or dad ever said this to you: you can do anything you set your mind to. Mine did. While the essence of this is true, wishing only gets you so far. Preparation, taking sharp left turns, networking and exploration all hone the dream and uncover possibilities. Be prepared to alter your view of what you want to be, find people who will support and teach you, be direct and honest about your strengths and how best to apply them. Develop a thick skin and turn criticism into motivation.
All three of these themes share common ideas:
- Be open to exploration and discovery
- Find interesting lessons in both the mundane and the mind-blowing
- Change course many times even if you stick with the same career path or organization
Reach out if you want to pick my brain along the way.