By Sarah Dougherty
When was the last time you did something for the first time? I’m both quoting a country song by Darius Rucker and genuinely asking.
With the back-to-school feeling in the air and fall upon us, it’s difficult not to think about the “night before class” jitters and wonder about what lessons and experiences are to come. In adulthood, this time of year mostly signals the end of Summer Fridays and rampid out-of-office messages. While I enjoy being a creature of habit, I’ve learned that trying new things and breaking out of my comfort zone have been beneficial, both for me personally and professionally.
I occasionally blog, and one of my favorite blog-related projects was a “101 in 1001” list; a list that highlights 101 things I’d like to do in 1001 days – just about three years. Here’s a peek into what it’s inspired me to do – maybe it’ll spark a few ideas or goals for you. One of my favorite quotes from Betsy Plank is, “public relations people must be eternal students.” While some items in my 101 in 1001 list are more personal or lifestyle-focused, some of the items have provided applicable life lessons.
Here are a few that have stuck out:
Run a 5K
I know in this world where it seems like everyone has a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on his or her laptop/car/cubicle that a measly 3.1 miles is a walk in the park, but when you’re someone who’s relatively new to the ‘active lifestyle’ scene, it is daunting. However, it taught me to commit to something that didn’t come naturally or easily to me and to push through when things get tough. I had to plan, strategize and think about different situations and possibilities – much like PR pros strategically align with business initiatives and have to push through more challenging pitches or projects. Maybe it’s a stretch, but the confidence of seeing my ‘day 1’ self compared to my ‘race day’ self provided a new confidence that has applied across different areas of my life. The time spent running has also provided an opportune time to reflect on the day and think through any lingering areas from meetings or projects held that I can address when I get back to the office.
Take a class
While I’ve enjoyed not having homework, I felt myself getting rusty and feeling envious of the students whose semesters were about to unfold. I realized I had a Spanish degree I wasn’t putting to use, and that my technical skills (all of those conjugations…) were starting to be buried by useless knowledge about the latest season of The Bachelorette (which I will argue with you has a lot of great PR-related takeaways). I decided to enroll in a 10-week course through the Berges Institute, which has in-person locations in New York and Chicago, as well as online course options. (I’ve found their free e-newsletter to be interesting/helpful, too.) Having to think and write in another language again has made me more actively aware of word choice and sentence structure in English, which has been a big help at the office. It is also a unique way to meet other folks trying to learn and polish their skills – half the people in my class work in PR or communications in some capacity. #Networking
Hold a leadership position in a professional organization
While I’ve continued to be involved with PRSA nationally and as a PRSSA liaison with the New York Chapter, a position that I wasn’t expecting to be as interesting or helpful is serving as the communications director for my sorority’s New York City alumnae chapter. It’s a win-win of getting to write for fun, as I develop the monthly e-newsletter and supporting promotional materials for service opportunities, book club and other happenings within the group. It’s been a great way to get involved outside of the “PR bubble.” The leadership team is comprised of women of varying ages, professions and backgrounds, providing new friends and go-tos for navigating the city and some of those pesky “adulting” things, while doing philanthropy work and other activities together.
Follow up with mentors from college
Mentorship has always been important to me, and I was really lucky to have found some key cheerleaders early on. This item on the list was valuable as I recently experienced a job change and wanted to get settled in on the right foot. Something I think young pros forget (myself included) is that mentors aren’t just for students – they can be for life. As our careers evolve, we will have new challenges and goals that we’ll want to discuss and gut-check with people who have more experience than we do. Mentors are also really helpful in staying involved with PRSA, your alumni network and organizations like The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. I’ve enjoyed building onto existing mentoring relationships post-grad, as the pressure to widely network and seek open opportunities is gone and you can really dive into areas that challenge you, interest you and may guide you along the next phase of your career. I’m also a huge advocate of peer mentorship – in fact, a peer mentor/mentee (yep, we take turns on who needs some outside perspective/tough love) of mine helped proof this article. The world of communications is small, and the ability to seek criticism and outside perspectives will continue to be valuable.
Whether it’s trying something new or refreshing a previous interest or skill, try to “take back” back-to-school season and challenge yourself – you may be surprised by how much it will impact you both inside and outside of the office.