SXSW – My trip of self-discovery – part one

I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with some pretty influential PR people in the first 24 hours I’ve been in Austin for SXSW, and feel like I learned more about myself last night in 3 hours than I have in the 23 years I’ve been on this planet. I’m always interested to know more about what people think about me, or how people perceive me, and last night I got a good dose of someone else’s reality.

I had a very informal interview last night and for the first time, I feel like I didn’t nail it. After every interview I’ve ever been in, I always feel like a rock-star, and last night (this morning) was a real shock to my entire being. As I boarded Continental flight 1437 en route to Austin, I was totally confident in my skills, what I have accomplished and where I want to go. I had the support from the PR department head, other professors, students that admire how driven I am, and I was ready to take on anything that came my way.

Lesson #1: I need to get more comfortable talking about what I want to do, in front of more than one person. Last night was so intense. It’s 2 am at a diner in Austin and I’m being interviewed by one of the most influential people in PR. Across the table from me is a big-wig, owner of a boutique agency, past-president of three major agencies. Next to him is my roommate, who came along for a bite to eat. She’s never heard me talk about myself like this, and how often is your best friend in the interview with you? Sitting next to me is another big-wig, a social media god (though he prefers “deity”). It was a totally different environment in which to be interviewed, so I’ll chalk it up to a good experience, and definitely something to learn from.

I couldn’t stop sweating. I stuttered like someone with a legitimate speech impediment. I avoided eye contact. I was not me. I was some nervous wreck. I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life, so unsure of what was coming out of my mouth. Who was that at the table last night? The girl in my place was someone who was all of the sudden in the presence of people that matter, people that have seen tens of thousands of people like me. I shut down, I forgot everything I wanted to say, I couldn’t remember anything that sounded halfway intelligent.

Lesson #2: I don’t deserve shit, and I’m intellectually behind.

After talking to Mentor #2, I feel like I have a ton to work on. He asked me if I thought I deserve more, and I said I did. “You don’t deserve shit, Sydney”, he said. And he’s right. I need to work. I need to succumb to the passion and just let it rip, and then things will come. I don’t think I meant it like I want everything handed to me on a silver platter, but the message is the same, regardless of what I meant.

When I told him I feel like I’m behind, he said “you are, intellectually.”

Lesson #3: PR is about making people understand why they matter – not social media. Social media is a tactic through which you can disperse the story, but the story is the key, and the story comes from believing in the client, and understanding why they matter.

When he asked me why we’re here (as PR professionals), the correct answer was not everything I’ve been taught in school. The correct answer was not “to represent X and maintain their image” or “a communication function of management” or any other definition that I’ve swallowed and regurgitated for every test in the PR sequence.

The correct answer was, “to make people understand why they matter”. His approach on PR is something I’ve never seen. It’s everything I never knew I wanted to be. Sure, I have ideas of what I want to do (though they aren’t very concrete, after saying them out loud) but talking to Mentor #2 really put things in perspective.

The guy is a genius. Maybe a little crazy, as most creatives are, but brilliant nonetheless. He asked me what kind of releases I was writing for Moffitt. I told him about this doc who has been here for less than a month and has performed two first-ever surgeries at Moffitt. The way I had been writing these releases was more like an announcement, not a story. Mentor #2 asked me why that doctor wanted me to write a release about the surgery. The answer, after like four attempts to answer, was simple.

“You want to write this story about the surgery to make people aware that Moffitt is on the cutting-edge for this procedure. People that need this procedure should want to come to Moffitt and Moffitt alone to get it, which in turn creates profit for Moffitt.”

Lesson #4: Quit blaming everyone else.

I was blaming the institution for not allowing me to write it as anything but an announcement. I was taking the fact that I didn’t know of any other way to convey the information and turning it around on them. I was blaming my teachers for not teaching us how to think this way. The fact of the matter is, he may be the only one who does. And then everyone who meets him, has anything to do with him, is made into a believer.

“Quit blaming them Sydney, and write it how you know it should be written,” he said.

Turns out, I haven’t been giving myself the experience I should. I’ve been going with the flow, not looking for avenues to break out. I didn’t know I could. And I don’t know that I can. But think about it. What if everything I’ve written this semester was re-drafted to give it purpose and to make it matter, not just to announce to whoever is listening that this has happened. What if I re-wrote it to make people want to listen, to make them want more, to make them believe in what we’re doing.

“That’s the kind of stories I’d like to tell, Sydney. That’s compelling stuff. I get clients that hand me a spoon and want me to make the spoon matter. You’re handed content that does matter, that is important. Think of what you can do with that.”

Lesson #5: My resume is a work in progress, as each mentor has different advice.

We worked on my resume, which is like what every mentor wants to do with me right now. I love how different people from different backgrounds have me writing it differently. This guy has been the president of three different agencies, he knows what’s up. He doesn’t do the hiring, and the guy has never written a resume for himself in his life, but he’s seen tens of thousands of resumes, so he knows what the people that do the hiring are looking for.

So what’s next? I draft my resume per his suggestions and get some more feedback. I have lunch with Penelope today, so that will probably get my mind spinning in the opposite direction.

  • http://www.intersectedblog.com/ Jamie

    Super interesting.

    I can’t wait to hear more.

  • http://www.intersectedblog.com Jamie

    Super interesting.

    I can’t wait to hear more.

  • http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/ Ed Brenegar

    Sydney,
    This post shows me why you matter. Your willingness to be transparent and open to change made this a very insightful post. As painful as it is to see yourself in this situation, it is a great gift because now you know that you have not reached your potential.
    I deal with these kinds of situations with people all the time. You are fortunate that you are young and at the beginning of your career. Imagine having the same experience twenty years from now. I use a set of three diagrams to help people work through the range of issues that hit them at times like this. You can download them for free at http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/AllIMPACTDiagrams.pdf. The first one is simply a visual depiction of life lived through stages of growth. The second one a picture of the three dimensions of leadership and their relationship to impact creation. The third a tool for asking four questions that help us think more clearly about what we want to achieve. I also have a short YouTube video of me talking about the Four Questions at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnNVptJnbHQ . They may help you process what you have experience the past few days.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you well.

  • http://edbrenegar.typepad.com Ed Brenegar

    Sydney,
    This post shows me why you matter. Your willingness to be transparent and open to change made this a very insightful post. As painful as it is to see yourself in this situation, it is a great gift because now you know that you have not reached your potential.
    I deal with these kinds of situations with people all the time. You are fortunate that you are young and at the beginning of your career. Imagine having the same experience twenty years from now. I use a set of three diagrams to help people work through the range of issues that hit them at times like this. You can download them for free at http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/AllIMPACTDiagrams.pdf. The first one is simply a visual depiction of life lived through stages of growth. The second one a picture of the three dimensions of leadership and their relationship to impact creation. The third a tool for asking four questions that help us think more clearly about what we want to achieve. I also have a short YouTube video of me talking about the Four Questions at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnNVptJnbHQ . They may help you process what you have experience the past few days.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you well.

  • Adam

    Great take on SXSW!

  • Adam

    Great take on SXSW!

  • http://www.timjahn.com/blog Tim Jahn

    “PR is about making people understand why they matter – not social media.”

    I think this is the most important lesson here. Treat people like people and you’ll do fine. Forget that they’re people and you’re in trouble.

  • http://www.timjahn.com/blog Tim Jahn

    “PR is about making people understand why they matter – not social media.”

    I think this is the most important lesson here. Treat people like people and you’ll do fine. Forget that they’re people and you’re in trouble.

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