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guiding the career in public relations

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Myra Borshoff Cook

Many of my friends knew exactly which career they planned to pursue as soon as they switched the tassel from one side of the mortarboard to the other.  By contrast, I had five jobs in my first six post-college years:  newspaper reporter, high school teacher, junior high teacher, computer programmer and communications assistant.  This seemingly rocky start to my career taught me one of the most valuable lessons I learned early on.

• Attitude rules.  With a positive attitude, you can learn something from every experience.  Even the less-than-satisfying jobs or assignments can expose you to information or resources that may very well help you later on.

Then, six years into my career, I landed at a major bank where I managed employee communications for 8+ years.  I learned to hire, manage and motivate employees, as well as budgeting, planning and execution.  But the most important thing I learned came from an executive I admired.  When asked what had contributed to his own success, he said, “I listened more than I talked for the first five years.”

• We have two eyes, two ears and one mouth.  Listen and observe more than you talk.  Carefully process things before making a decision.  Assure yourself that you know the whole story before drawing a conclusion or speaking out. 

When I started Borshoff 26 years ago, I was a control freak.  In fact, I think that’s a trait that many entrepreneurs share.  It didn’t take long before I realized that the company could never grow if I didn’t make the management of the company a team effort. 

• Sharing control – whether it’s the whole company or just one project – requires trust and collaboration.  Sometimes, it also requires patience if things don’t work out exactly as you hoped.  Don’t let mistakes or missteps paralyze you.  Even when minor setbacks occur, you are still better off when you share responsibility.

Things don’t always go as planned.  Barriers pop up.  Distractions interrupt.  Hurdles clutter the path.  It’s inevitable. Yet, these are also potential learning experiences that can make us stronger and smarter.

• Success is often determined not by how you handle the good times, rather by how you navigate through rocky waters.  In recent years, we have all been challenged — in our jobs and our lives – by the harsh realities of an economic downturn. 

My sister Jane and I decided more than 30 years ago that the world is made up of two kinds of people:  the Oh No’s and the Oh Well’s.  We made a pact to live out our lives as Oh Well’s.  That simple decision has paid off for me over and over.

• Oh Well doesn’t mean complacency or indifference.  It represents an acceptance of the reality with a resolve to work through the situation.

A client has a sign on his desk that reads, “The next best thing to a yes is a quick no.”  Admittedly, this is something I’m still trying to improve on a personal level.  It’s not just a time management lesson.  It’s about respecting and valuing the time of the person making the request.

• Learn how to have the tough conversations that we all need to have…with customers or clients, with co-workers or bosses, with spouses or children, parents or friends.  Being clear and direct in a timely manner is better for everyone.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  It may sound harsh but, to me, it’s a good reminder that status quo is never healthy.  We must continue to examine ourselves and learn from others.  These are the things that breed success.

Myra Borshoff Cook is the founding principal of Borshoff, one of Indiana’s largest strategic communications firms.  What started as a dream with three people in 1984 has grown to a company with more than 45 people and a client list that includes Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis Colts, St. Francis Hospital, J.D. Byrider and Indianapolis Power & Light.)  

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