Taking Off the Training Wheels

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By Nick Laplaca, Assistant Account Excecutive, R&J Public Relations

It was not so long ago that I was starting out in PR as a wide-eyed, cautiously ambitious intern. I possessed a very non-particular set of skills — skills I had acquired over a long tenure of working many different jobs in many different industries, but skills that nonetheless made me an asset for a career in public relations. I had developed a solid work ethic. I was a capable communicator, both written and spoken. I was comfortable taking chances and calculated risks in order to produce results. I considered myself equal parts individualist and collectivist. I was also, however, wholly aware of my own shortcomings, especially when I was around some of my more experienced coworkers.

I knew what I was capable of. I knew that, if given the right opportunity, I would become an integral part of a team. I knew that my inexperience would either serve as a driving force, propelling me to move toward mastery of my craft, or a detriment if I failed to live up to my own expectations. When I was finally asked to become a part of that team, I was as excited as I was terrified.

In the proverbial blink of an eye, my lifelong journey to prepare myself for the day when I would be called upon to play in the big leagues was over. I had graduated from the farm team and was being asked to step up to the mound. At that point in my life, it was the largest professional leap I had been asked to take; one small step for man, one giant leap into the unknown.

That seems like a lifetime ago however and having been graced with a great many mentors whom I could learn from and who valued a fresh perspective and instilled in me a sink or swim mentality, I have grown immensely in my own role. Yet as every child who has learned to ride a bike knows, the scariest part is when the training wheels come off. Likewise, as every parent knows, sometimes you must take them off, even if the child is unsure of themselves. There may be a few bumps and bruises along the way, but as painful as it might be to watch, the confidence that child will feel when they are finally, totally in control is transcendent. It is with this mindset, with this mission, that I began to pave my own way in this career, with the guidance of my mentors and the acceptance that it will not always be easy and it might even occasionally be painful. For those of you who are beginning a similar journey or for those of you who are preparing to take off the training wheels, I offer you some hard-earned advice.

Sometimes apprehension is the best motivator. It might seem counterintuitive but sometimes being nervous or unsure of your current capabilities or responsibilities can prove to be more useful than an overreaching sense of confidence and, in my opinion, is a far more powerful motivator. There is always going to be some apprehension when you are beginning a new project or working with a new client, but that should drive you to work harder in order to understand their industries and priorities and to pour yourself into your work. Do not let this apprehension stop you in your tracks; rather use this heightened sense in order to fulfill your own desire to succeed. Sink or swim.

Your mentors are still figuring things out. When I began my career I thought that if only I knew as much as my mentors I would be just fine. I was wrong. Everyone you meet is still figuring things out for themselves and if they tell you otherwise, you need a new mentor. As Socrates would say in his everlasting quest for knowledge, “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” There should never be a time when you feel that you have learned enough and there should never be a ceiling placed on your potential. You will need to continue to learn every step of the way, and that knowledge should continue to serve you and your clients well.

There is nothing quite as useless as a blank canvas. My eighth grade art teacher would probably cry if she heard me give this advice but there is nothing beautiful about the endless possibilities of a blank canvas. Claude Monet would not have created the masterpieces we enjoy today if he did not start somewhere. In order to create art you must press that brush against that canvas. In order to create a masterpiece you must fill many canvases. They won’t all win you accolade but the more experience you have and the more colors and variations your palette holds, the more beautiful your artwork will become. There will be times when clients present you with a problem or a project that you’ve not yet seen. Do not allow yourself to be paralyzed by the possibilities. Sometimes just filling the page will help you to find that solution.

Never become contented – which is not to be confused with never become content. You should not allow yourself to feel as though you have done enough good work for your client or for your bosses that you can simply skate for a while. Something that I picked up along my travels is the sense that you are only as good as your last job. There is never going to be a time when you have simply done enough for a client or for your own career that now it is time to coast for a while. Hard work is rewarded. Laziness will get you fired.

I fully expect to read this advice again in ten years and shudder to think about how I could have been so naïve. In the end, that would mean that I heeded my own advice. It would mean that I never stopped learning; that I continued to use apprehension as a springboard and that I never let uncertainty paralyze me.

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