Take Five

Recently, I had the privilege to talk with some juniors and seniors at Georgia State University (GSU) who are interested in public relations/marketing as a career. It was a fun, meaningful evening. I was very impressed with the maturity of the students and their sincere commitment to making a difference in their lives. 

My talk focused on five questions that are important to address when shaping your career and overall life. These are questions you want to answer “yes” to whenever asked. I call these compass questions.   They give you a rich sense of navigational direction, a pathway to follow in a clear-eyed fashion.  

Here are the five I posed to our GSU friends:

1. Can I learn and grow at my job?

There are two aspects to this question: the learn area and the grow area. Let’s cover the learn part first. At your job, you want to learn what inspires you, learn why you do what you do, learn what excellence exudes, learn what leadership looks like, learn the value of values, learn the industry and its multiple facets and learn what you excel at doing.

On the growth spectrum, you want to grow personally and professionally. The personal piece is the character element, and the professional piece is the competency element. When you combine the personal and professional growth parts, you have the best kind of career growth. Real. Substantial. Ongoing. Aspirational. Inspirational. 

2. Do I have a mentor?

This question is absolutely essential. We all need mentors. I have several who provide me tremendous encouragement and direction. The best mentors listen more than they speak, they are available, they are candid, they manage your expectations, they admit they don’t have all the answers and they have this rare knack of reaching out at the right time to lift your spirits. In short, they believe in you and your potential.

In hindsight, I don’t think you can grow in business or in life without a dependable mentor. Pick the right ones. Be selective and really think about what you need during each stage of your career. Life is a series of seasons. You need people to walk purposefully alongside you during these times.     

3. Is character success more important than circumstance success?

As business people, we are all tested in due time. I have had to make many tough decisions where character and circumstance seemingly collide. The key is to be aware that you are in one of these pivotal moments and always make the character call. It is everything. We have tried to build our firm with an unswerving character commitment. It is and always will be the better way. It is our anchor.

4. Does the culture fit with my values?

Culture matters in so many tangible and intangible ways. The right culture should shine like a torch (bright, natural and appealing), actualize the potential of everyone, attract and retain top talent and be a culture that permeates, creating a real sense of belonging that naturally creates a sense of esprit de corps with your fellow teammates. You want to work at a place that lets its culture speak in action more than in words. This approach really speaks volumes. It can be refreshingly different.     

5. Have I been courageous in my life?

While speaking to the GSU students, I challenged them to have a compelling answer to this question 30 years from now — possessing a powerful story to tell. It could cover the gamut, but the bottom line is a life well lived is about making some courageous decisions you can look back on and have zero regrets about. It has been said that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage and that without courage wisdom bears no fruit. Just ask Ernest Shackleton. He knew something about the resilient life.

When voyager Ernest Shackleton finally got his fellow sailors home from their attempt to cross the South Pole by land in 1916, they had spent 497 days literally stuck in ice out at sea and doing what they had to do to survive. It was not easy sledding. But not a single man perished. Shackleton wrote later about the journey he and his 27 men endured: “My memories were rich.   We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in all His splendors and heard the text Nature renders.”

Pierce the veneer of outside things. Suffered yet triumphed. What statements and what a story.  Well, good luck in your overall journey. These five compass questions, I hope, will help guide you along the way. What did I miss?