Lessons Learned During My Decade of Practicing Public Relations
⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten ⌛
I love my career and know without a shadow of a doubt that I am fulfilling my professional destiny. I tell stories for a living and chronicle them for the next generation and beyond. It’s not always warm and fuzzy, but on the bad days, I still know I’m meant to do this. Despite the blood, sweat and tears, I’m still standing — and still adoring what I do.
I have been in a nostalgic frame of mind as the 10th anniversary of my practice of public relations approaches. I graduated in May 2010 with my Bachelor of Arts in public relations, but I began practicing PR a year before that as an undergraduate student.
The first 10 years were a beautiful mess. I can’t lie, though. Most of it was challenging behind the scenes. I dealt with an ethical dilemma at the beginning of my career. A bad relationship threatened to pull apart everything I worked so hard to establish. At times, I was treated as “too young” to have a seat at the decision-making table and had to prove that I wasn’t a “stereotypical millennial” on a regular basis. I’m not one to compromise who I am to blindly do as I am told, so that caused tension. I navigated through my 20s, learning more about myself every day. Some of it was illustrious, but some of it was less than stellar, too. It was a rollercoaster ride, but it made me who I am.
Through it all, I’ve met some wonderful people and have worked on some of the best professional projects of my career (many of which are award-winning, which is surreal). I’ve succeeded, failed and danced in between the lines. This is my open letter to my professional (and at times, personal) self and anyone who is working toward the decade milestone in his or her own career.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned during the first decade of my career:
Be your authentic self — and not always the PR mask you show to everyone.
As a PR practitioner, I’ve always put the job first and my personal feelings second. While this helps during times of crisis, frequently building walls around your emotions crystalizes your true feelings. That carries over into your personal life, even if it’s subconscious. Sure, I’ve closed doors to cry for personal reasons. I’ve compartmentalized my feelings for the greater good of the task at hand and my organization’s mission. When the studio lights aren’t beating down on your face during a live TV interview or you’re not delivering a speech to persuade people to donate to your nonprofit cause, it’s OK to show your emotions. You aren’t AI. You’re a human being who needs to show authenticity.
Stick up for yourself.
I have always known my worth, even when my mind becomes convoluted with what-ifs and should-have-beens. At times, my knowledge of my own worth hasn’t coincided with how others view me. That’s OK. Just be willing to stand up for what you believe is right, whether it’s a much-deserved pay raise/title change or why you aren’t sending a press release for a standard monthly nonprofit meeting that many audiences do not need to know about. Negotiate for yourself in terms of money, benefits and general treatment. I’m the type of person who usually thinks of things to say after they occur. Whether you stick up for yourself in a meeting or afterward, just be sure to support yourself and not let it go. Also, it’s completely normal to want to stand up for others, but don’t do it at your own expense.
Put in the time it takes to become an expert.
Several sources report that 10,000 hours in your chosen field makes you an expert. I’ve put in 25,000+ in 10 years. Myth or not, it does help to keep track of how much time you invest in your profession — both on the job and away from it. Putting the time in is an essential element, but you can’t just be on autopilot. Learn something new every day and put that into practice. Always be willing to learn. Don’t be so stubborn that you miss experiences because you think you’re an expert. You may very well be, but even experts can learn something or two.
Use your heart and brain at the same time.
Community relations comes naturally to me in my professional life because I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love nonprofit work because I can help others and improve communities; however, sentimentality does have its drawbacks, mostly at the expense of my brain. People have taken advantage of me and my skill set and have told me what I should do with my company. I built the foundation of my career by paying my dues, despite other people’s intentions. Some people are amazing to work with, while others have been challenging (PR way to say that). Follow your heart and intuition, but back it up with logic and research. At this point in my career and life, I prioritize my time and talents based only on professional and personal goals, objectives, values, principles and more.
I have been a workaholic since at least age 14. I began my communications career in my first journalism class in high school, and after writing my first lede and learning about Associated Press Style, I was hooked. My first decade of practicing PR has had its ups and downs in terms of workaholicism. My 20s were spent working instead of dealing with feelings and other issues. A lot of amazing work came out of it, but it was at the expense of my mental and physical health. Take it from me — the supreme overachiever — you need to take breaks. Take that hour for lunch, go on vacations, schedule “me” time, spend time with loved ones. Diversify your fulfillment portfolio just like you do with your financial portfolio. You’ll come back more refreshed. For instance, when I went to Paris in September/October 2016, the time away allowed me to make some vital business decisions — ones I had been stewing over for quite some time. (It also helped that my favorite view of The Eiffel Tower was just a brief walk away.)
Know that you have what it takes to succeed.
I’m just going to be blunt here: if you don’t have a work ethic, you won’t survive in this career. You may still remain in a communications position, but your efforts will be null and void. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life to have role models who taught me about work ethic from a very young age. I witnessed my dad work harder than anyone as a general contractor who owned his business and put in the work equity and then some. I have questioned myself throughout this first decade of practicing PR. Do I have what it takes? I mean, I’m a natural perfectionistic control freak introvert and recharge by being alone or with those I am closest to. The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” One of the most crucial attributes you need is confidence.
Sometimes, on your way to your dream, you find a better one.
As a lifelong daydreamer and goal achiever, it always startles me when dreams change. That is perfectly normal, though! There will be times you’ve given all you can to a position and need to move on to another one. You’ll learn something new about yourself and realize you have an additional goal to work toward. You’ll meet people along the way who inspire you to take a plunge, keep doing what you’re doing or completely change directions. The journey is one of the most exciting parts of your career. I always wanted to own a company, but I never imagined it would take shape quite like this. Embrace the journey and know it’s OK to change directions.
Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.