Who Has Inspired Your Career Path?
It can be difficult for people to identify one person, event, or piece of advice that singlehandedly propelled them forward on their career path – I know it is for me. Each of our individual stories, obstacles, and experiences shape our unique knowledge and learned expertise. I have been fortunate to encounter different people at various life stages whose generosity with their time or resonate words helped me gain perspective and make the right moves to get closer to where I wanted to go.
In my senior year of college, I worked three jobs and maintained a full-time class load while trying to keep a social life and prepare for life after graduation. I had recently left an unsatisfying internship where I was treated unfairly and still needed to complete my required hours to graduate. I knew that sticking it out somewhere I was unhappy at would be detrimental to my mental health, and I had to consider how it could negatively impact the other commitments I had. I jumped into action and leaned on my network for support. I saw my friend Sarah as a mentor during my senior year, and I still do. She graduated a year earlier than me and was working in local tourism marketing + PR. We had similar stories — both had managed multiple jobs/internships/homework/class loads while staying in persistent pursuit of our long-term goals. With Sarah’s recommendation, I was able to find a new internship that challenged me and aligned with my career goals and completed my hours just in time for graduation. On top of that, I was published multiple times in local and national publications. Thank you, Sarah!
I asked my fellow team members to share a story of when someone offered valuable advice or a generous act that contributed positively to their career development and growth, and this is what they shared:
A mentor I’ve turned to time and time again at different phases of my career always reminds me: Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. Get to the heart of what truly motivates you, then be true to who you really are.
This is tough for me because I have had so many people provide invaluable advice to me over the years, and I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today without each of them speaking up at key times. I talk often about the role my dad has played in my entrepreneurial journey; about former bosses who took chances on me; colleagues who became clients; and clients who became mentors, but for today I will share the not-so-subtle push that I received my junior year in college at University of Oregon. I am from Lakeview, a small town in southeastern Oregon, where kids graduating from high school are fortunate enough to be eligible for an incredible scholarship called the Daly Fund created by one of the town’s founding doctors/lawyers/bankers and all-around businessmen. When I was at UO, every quarter I was designated to pick up my scholarship check from Career Center Director Larry Smith. Larry was extremely nice, always interested in how school and life was going. Early in my junior year, he brought up the fact that I was tracking ahead of schedule on my credits, and asked if I’d ever considered studying abroad. I had not. Quite honestly, making the leap from Lakeview to Eugene felt a bit like traveling to another country as it was. But he didn’t let it go – instead he really urged me to think about it, impressing upon me that it’s a once in a lifetime sort of chance, even prompting me to consider where I might choose to go. The wheels started turning and the next thing I knew I was on a plane bound for Australia. What started out as a one semester foreign exchange, turned into a year-long, life-changing experience. I absolutely know that the 21-year-old girl who stepped off the plane in Reno after a year of exploring, learning and fun-having was not the same one that my family had last seen. I was more confident, open, fearless, and I was ready to tackle life. Would I be in this same place today without Larry and my time overseas, I can’t imagine the answer would be yes. He opened my eyes to something I hadn’t even considered…and then encouraged me to take the leap, forever altering the trajectory of my life in the process. Thank you Larry!
When I was struggling with a job I was unhappy in, I remember recounting to my family over the holidays all the challenges and responsibilities I felt I was not being recognized and compensated for. They said, “it sounds like you’re running the show over there…if you’re doing all that for a boss who can’t appreciate it, why not just do it for yourself and be your own boss?” I had been contemplating going out on my own as a freelancer for a while, but had repeatedly allowed my anxieties about potential failure to keep me from taking the leap. Something in the way my family positioned that bit of advice in that particular moment finally clicked, and I felt empowered in a way I hadn’t before. I left that job a couple months later to go out on my own, and I’ve never regretted it. I often think about that conversation and am grateful for their timely nudge, as well as my openness to internalize it—to finally see myself as capable, talented and ready as they saw me.
A lot of my most valuable career advice came from a mentor I had while working in the comms department at business school as a graduate student. Tosha taught me so much (even if at the time, she didn’t know she was). From her I learned to honor your emotions, even at work – if you have to step out for a bit that’s fine, but you are a human and allowed to have emotions. She took a genuine interest in myself and the other students working there, even giving me a little gift of a pencil holder and pens to decorate my spot on the shared desk. I still have it today! She showed me the kind of manager I want to be, and I’m thankfully that in the era of social media we’re still connected and I can keep being inspired by her from afar.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had multiple mentors like business expert Jimmy John Shark who’ve provided invaluable guidance, inspiration and advocacy. Yet one of the most insightful words of advice a mentor has imparted upon me was “you can’t empty the ocean every night.” In the highly-competitive, fast-paced and deadline-driven PR industry that attracts type-A over-achievers, it can be easy to try to accomplish every single task on your to-do list before hanging up your hat at night. This mentor taught me that it’s nearly impossible to check ALL the boxes every day. There will ALWAYS be something else to do to stay three steps ahead of clients, and the rapidly evolving media, industry and competitive landscape. She instead taught me to distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s important, to do what’s creative and strategic over what’s expedient, to stay curious and open to new ways of working, and then prioritize accordingly.
When I was a young girl my Mom used to read me a book called “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” by Patty Lovell. The book centered on a young girl who was often underestimated and taken for granted. Each time she was faced with an obstacle she always stood her ground, put her shoulders back, and held herself with confidence. Since reading this book to me as a young child, my Mom always told me, “Stand tall Moly Lou Melon” whenever I was feeling insecure or doubting myself. This simple childhood phrase stuck with me as I completed my college degree and now as I enter my first job. Whenever I begin questioning myself, I repeat this phrase and it immediately reminds me of all the hard work and effort I have put in to get to this place. Thank you Molly Lou Melon, and Mom, for teaching me to always remember to have confidence in myself.
Early in my career, I had a mentor named Teri Scholz who taught me a lot about resilience and positivity during stressful circumstances. As PR folks, we often work under tight timelines or are interfacing with media during challenging situations, and Teri taught me that it’s really important to get out of your own headspace and look beyond the current setting you’re in on an everyday basis. That positivity will enable you to be more creative, a better partner for your clients and colleagues and let you roll with the punches.
As Michelle Obama famously said: “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”