Saturday, May 23, 2020

A few tidbits of advice for new graduates

Not sure why, but I can always remember today as the date when I started my "real job" after college (May 23). Over the years, I've come to call this my "adultiversary." It was ten days after I'd graduated with a Journalism degree from USC.

On May 23, 1983, I walked into 123 Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill sporting big hair, a shoulder-padded power suit and aspirations to be a press secretary. My first job was the front office receptionist for a freshman Congressman from Florence.

Each year on my adultiversary, I’m grateful for the fact I was able to land my dream job as my first job (or at least the "foot in the door" job to get me to my dream job). This year, however, this milestone feels a bit bittersweet as I see all the new graduates flooding the market with no jobs to absorb them.
First job in the front office - it lasted barely a year before a promotion
This school year, I taught a USC journalism class that prepared students for advertising careers. Each semester, I found myself not only teaching about creative briefs and campaign strategy, but couldn’t resist also throwing in some of my always-evolving top 20 career lessons.

Over the years, I’ve shared variations on these lessons with new graduates and those looking for their first job. Last year, I reflected how these lessons impacted my outlook as a rookie retiree. This year, I’ve tweaked them a bit to reflect the fact that 2020 graduates have a whole different set of challenges facing them. Regardless, the basics of these 20 lessons have been my touchpoints for many years. I hope they may provide some inspiration for the class of 2020 beyond the challenges they are facing today. 

1. Establish your personal brand. Decide what you want your reputation in the workplace to be, and let your actions define you. Keep promises and make deadlines. Under-promise and over-deliver. Avoid behavior in your personal life that could hurt your professional life (even more true today with all the risks of social media in the mix). Remember that details count, especially when getting the details right sets you apart from others.
2. Cultivate strong writing skills. Solid writers are the people strong leaders want around the leadership table with them. Be the one colleagues seek out to flesh out and articulate ideas clearly on paper with accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even if writing isn't a priority part of your job, be the one in the meeting who can quickly break down concepts on paper.
3. Keep up with people. The students you sat next to in class. The roommates and roommates' friends. Bosses in your low level college jobs. Your lab partners. Professors. The people you met through your campus activities. College deans. The will all have contacts within their professions. Stay in touch with them. You never know where a new job contact, sales relationship or your next stellar employee will come from. Every job change I ever made was the result of someone I knew making a connection for me.
4. Looking busy doesn't equal being productive. The co-worker who crows about his heavy workload and long hours is probably much less productive than the one who is organized and prioritizes his days. This becomes especially true as #WFH looks to be a long-term reality.
5. Plan the work before you work the plan. Having no plan gets you nowhere. Plans will change either by force or circumstance. Be flexible, but have a plan regardless of whether it's a work project, a trip, a job search, a major purchase or an important life decision.
6. Don't pass up a chance to learn. Find out what your boss or leaders in your profession are reading (books, blogs, professional publications, podcasts, websites, etc). Seek out professional development opportunities; pay for them yourself, if necessary. Join professional organizations and get involved.
7. Go to your boss with a solution, not a problem. Your boss is solving problems all day. Make her life easier by presenting a solution when you present a problem. Even if it's not the solution that ultimately solves the problem, presenting an idea for a solution keeps your boss from dreading the sight of you at the door.
8. Write thank-you and follow-up notes (handwritten, not emailed). Collect business cards or contact info from people you meet at events, in meetings, or just out and about. A handwritten "nice to meet you" note will set you apart and help the people you meet remember you. Technology is good, but the personal touch still matters (along with good penmanship).
9. Travel any chance you get. Travel to small towns and big cities across the country and around the world. Don't put off travel. You'll never tell your grandchildren about that great trip you didn't take because you were too busy at work.
10. Be interested and interesting. Ask good questions and ask them often. Young professionals have a great deal to offer a work environment. Speak up when you have something to offer, but remember to balance your enthusiasm with senior-level colleagues' experience.
11. Remember that everyone carries his own sack of rocks. You never know what type of personal issues the co-worker who missed a deadline is dealing with at home or with his family.
12. Get away from your computer and walk outside. Even if your desk is your lap on the couch right now, just walk around the block at some point a couple of times during the day. Your brain needs natural light and a whiff of fresh air, and your body needs to stretch.
13. Stay in the loop, but avoid the gossip. Be a "boundary spanner"— someone who is respected and trusted by people at all levels of the organization. Just don’t be the one who everyone counts on to know “the dirt.”
14. Keep up with the news every day. Read the newspaper, check news websites, podcasts and blogs, listen to NPR while you walk the dog between Zoom calls. Know what's in the news about your organization or industry before your boss or client asks. Be able to discern the difference between facts and fiction in news reports.
15. Seek out a mentor. I'm guessing many busy professionals may say, "I don't have time to be a mentor," but most mentor relationships happen naturally rather than being established formally. Be on the lookout for them. I bet my best mentors probably don't know they even served in that role. Also, Look for "reverse mentoring" opportunities. You can be a resource to your older colleagues. Seasoned professionals can learn a great deal from their younger peers.
16. A good editor will make you shine. Don't look at having your writing edited as you would look at a teacher correcting a paper. Editing is a collaborative process, and there's always room for improvement in your writing.
17. Don't come to work sick. Especially now. No one appreciates the stuffy-nosed martyr. That's why you're afforded sick days.
18. Cultivate contacts outside of work. Your next job will probably come from someone you know through church, nonprofits, alumni groups, friends and professional organizations. Stay in touch with people you meet along the way. You never know who may be the connection to your next job.
19. Take risks. It's OK to mess up occasionally. No one can expect perfection. It’s OK to be a beginner. You can often learn more from mistakes than successes. Yes, really, you can.
20. Have fun. Strive for a work/life balance. The "balance" will probably fluctuate daily, and it most certainly looks different in this COVID19 world, but keep focused on creative outlets, exercise and hobbies that let you have fun.
Maybe these thoughts will help others just starting out. I share them with huge thanks to all the bosses, mentors, friends, family, and colleagues I have had the privilege to work with and learn from over these 35+ years. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

It's National Dog Rescue Day - I Hit the Jackpot with Flossie

It's National Dog Rescue Day. I can't say it any better today than I did in my tribute to Flossie on this day last year.

Read it here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Toast to a beloved neighbor

Our little Medway Road family lost one of our long-time and beloved neighbors this week with the death of our sweet friend, John Ledlie. When we bought our house next to John and Peggy 27 years ago, we never imagined we would also hit the jackpot for neighbors.

For years, John and I exchanged hellos from our adjoining driveways in the mornings when he drove grandkids to school each day. When I would do my late night dog walk around the block, I’d often see John in his kitchen window. He’d knock and wave as Flossie and I left the driveway, and he was usually there waiting to ensure my safe return a few minutes later. He never told me directly he was keeping an eye out for me, but it always gave me great comfort knowing he was there.

John would often show up at our door with fresh produce he had bought, fish he had caught on his many outings along the coast or random frozen pizzas he had “overbought” at the Kroger. Our delightedly inter-generational neighborhood loves a good party, and John and Peggy were always there with their Yellow Tail wine (a nod to John’s native Australia, I always assumed:) and John’s scotch. We usually shared some type of smoked fish John had caught along with his famous wasabi dipping sauce.

John never met a stranger and was beloved by humans and canines alike. He always had a hose run to a water bowl at the foot of his sidewalk so thirsty pups walking by could grab a sip. We would know it was happy hour because John would amble down to the bottom of his driveway with the ice clinking in his drink ready for conversation with any of the adults and kids who happened by. His booming Australian lilt was easily recognizable from anywhere on the block.

In recent years, John’s afternoon happy hour took place more often from his perch on a chair in the yard and most recently from his newly constructed front porch – something he’d dreamed of building for many years. Just a few weeks ago, neighbors held an impromptu parade welcoming John home from a hospital stay. He waved and watched from the porch.

Always, the optimist, when John told me about his original cancer diagnosis, I teared up and hugged him. He said, “Don’t worry love. We’ll be fine.” I always got great inspiration from his perpetually positive outlook and his generosity of spirit.

To his beloved family he was Papa - father, husband and grandfather. To all of us on Medway, he was our friend and beloved neighbor. Our little street just won’t be the same without the “mayor of Medway.”

Rest well. We will miss you!



Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tribute to a life well lived

Our Campbell family lost its patriarch today when David’s dad, James Lee Campbell, left this earth just two days shy of his 97th birthday. He was the family’s rock, compass and strength. Jim leaves a legacy that will live on through the three generations of his surviving family.

Jim was a kind, gentle soul who, with Margaret Anne, his wife of more than 60 years, raised four wonderful humans. A proud, yet humble, veteran of WWII and the Korean War, Jim was a die-hard Notre Dame fan, accomplished engineer, dedicated church leader, committed Rotarian, traveler, chronicler of family history, fisherman, golfer and good friend. He had lots of friends!

He was also the best father-in-law a girl could ask for. Always, he treated me as family. From day one. And that meant the world to me because family was everything to him.

My favorite memories of times spent with Jim are the evenings when just the two of us were at their house in Columbus, He was in his rocker, and I would be tucked up reading on the sofa across the room. He would ask about my job, my writing and never failed to inquire about my parents, my sister and her son, and the many Columbia friends he’d met when they came for our wedding so many years ago.

Jim always made sure to have a bottle of chardonnay ready when we visited, waited up for David and me on our many late night arrivals in Columbus and insisted on cooking us breakfast when we stayed with him. Jim always remembered birthdays with a card and a check (I just assume he slipped checks in everyone else’s cards 😊.

Jim treasured his conversations with family. He and David talked every single Friday – regardless of time zone, travel plans, work interruptions or any other disruption. Jim called it their streak – and it lasted more than 40 years. Their last call was just last Friday.

Jim got great happiness from his nine grandchildren, and most recently the six great grandchildren. It was a joy to see him light up at Christmas this year when four of these little ones were part of our wonderful Christmas Eve chaos (a word I liked to use to describe large family gatherings). Jim always laughed thinking I’d once called the Campbell family gatherings dysfunctional. Actually, the word I’d used was “chaotic,” and we always loved that little inside joke.

Jim went by several names in the family – Pop, Dad, Idaddy and Shorty. When I married into the family, I got to choose which name to call him (and David’s mom), and we simply settled on Jim and MA. It suited our relationship well. I’m sure Jim and MA are now clicking glasses in heaven watching over us all.

His was a life well lived, and I’m grateful to have had him in my life.

Jim's obituary.



Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A house is still a home in my heart: 50 years later

Fifty years ago today, a young family moved into a house they had just built. Nothing spectacular about this. It’s an event as American as apple pie … a house in a nice quiet neighborhood with lots of kids. Friends and family members were already living nearby. It was close to schools, church, work and everything important to this family.

This house was special to me because it was my childhood home. It was standard 1970s ranch construction with a façade that exactly mirrored a home in historic Colonial Williamsburg that my mother loved. In today’s times, this milestone feels especially important because I am very acutely aware of the need for everything this house stood for – security, family, friends, comfort and familiarity.

Although I moved out for college eight years after we moved in, that house continues to live in my heart as my “childhood home.”

The word “home” can have so many different meanings at various times in your life. A childhood home evokes different feelings than your first young-married home. A retirement home is different from a vacation home. All bring about a variety of emotions, memories and feelings.

But one thing is for sure. A house isn't necessarily a home. A real estate agent says he’s showing a “house” to a potential buyer, but that person will probably say he’s buying a “home.” The saying goes “home is where the heart is” not “house is where the heart is.”

A house becomes a home when its walls get covered with family photos, closets bulge with familiar items and stuff you can’t bear to part with, there are stacks of magazines around your favorite chair, and fuzz bunnies from the much loved dog thrive under the furniture. A real home has quirks and treasured spaces, favorite rooms lit for the morning sun and persnickety doorknobs that never work.

Relative to most people my age, I lived in only a few houses growing up. My parents built their first house when I was a toddler, and I lived there until second grade. We lived in a rental for a few months after returning from a 2-year stint in Virginia before my parents built this house I consider my childhood home. We moved there when I was in the fourth grade. Just about all the vivid memories I have of my growing up years are associated with that house.

The Williamsburg Christmas lights in the windows every year; first-day-of-school pictures in front of the fireplace; plays and beauty pageants in the downstairs playroom; prom date photos in the living room in front of the "blue chair" (that later became striped); the cool window seat in my bedroom where I wrote in my diary believing that spot gave me “inspiration;” the shelves that held my Mrs. Beasley and my Mme Alexander doll collection; photos with the cousins on the den sofa; the memories we made on the huge screened porch; birthday parties in the playroom; the neat-as-pin attic that held boxes of photos, letters and grade school papers; milestone photos on the front porch. What I love and remember about that house could go on forever.

It’s funny to think that I lived there for only eight years before heading to college. That’s just a couple of blinks in my 59 years. When I moved to a dorm and then an apartment in college, my childhood home became more of a way-stop. Once I moved to DC and had my own apartments, more of my belongings went back with me every time I visited Columbia.

After I got married and my childhood room became the guest room, I started gradually thinking of my childhood home as my parents’ house. I'm not sure exactly when that happened, but eventually it became a place to visit rather than a place where I lived. Although I will admit, until my parents moved six years ago, I still had a house key (which has now become a Christmas tree ornament). I’d come and go as I pleased and walked in without knocking. Even as an adult, I still knew where the forks went in the drawer, how to find a pair of scissors and where my mother hid her favorite nail file.

Six years ago, after 44 years in that house, my parents knew it was time to move. The yard and the house were more than they wanted to manage. The house sold quickly to the first family that looked at it. I know they would pick up the good karma of my family’s many happy times there. My childhood home became someone else’s home. But for some reason the date of April 8 as the day we moved in to that house has always stuck in my head.

I have stayed in touch with the family who bought the house. They let me know when mail still shows up for my parents. They’ve invited me in to see the renovation work they’ve done. They tell me about which of their children lives in my room. They’ve become part of the neighborhood fabric just as my family did. After the 2015 flood, they found several small mementos I’d left behind in that “secret window seat” space in my bedroom and returned these gems to me. They also discovered a piece of flooring where I’d carved my name when we first moved in. Today, 50 years after moving into that house, those are mementos I will treasure always.

Every house has its time to be a home. My home now is where I have lived with my husband and dogs for 25+ years. The sale of my childhood home didn’t mean the memories, photos, old friends and great neighbors went away. I’m lucky to have them tucked into a place in my heart that will always be with me.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to tucking some of those memories into several plastic bins containing old photos, letters, term papers, report cards and news articles that I couldn't bear to pitch when the house sold. Maybe the gift of time from this virus crisis will allow me the luxury of culling through all of those old bins … or maybe not. Just knowing they are up in a closet of my house gives me great joy.

Apologies to all below for some of the hideous outfits :)


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Word of the day: Emotion

This is another in my series of posts spotlighting some of the good circulating on social media. The word of the day is emotions. As an Enneagram 2, I have a lot of those:)

Over the past couple of days, I’ve found reassurance and a sense of community from several experts on the topics of fear and grief – two emotions I’ve had a hard time reconciling as part of the events going on around us. If you’re looking for some insight and encouragement around these topics right now, these folks below offer us some good advice.

I live in the shadow of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, and while I am not a member, I have long drawn peace from its physical presence. The predictability of the church bells has been especially comforting these past few weeks. Last week, the church’s FB page hosted a lesson about grief and how it affects us (scroll to post on April 3). Nancy Smith - a mental health counselor, wife of Eastminster’s pastor and a long-time family friend - led the session. This lifted my spirits with encouragement to write a little, read a Bible passage and ended with a guided mediation. Beautifully done!
Two women in Columbia I immensely respect in the mental health field are Rhea Merck and Amy Montanez. Their blog - Messy Marvelous - is back with several new posts specific to our current circumstances. I gained some calming insight from their discussions about change, uncertainty, failure and hope.

Cathy Rigg Monetti - a recently acquired neighbor, successful business owner and beautiful writer - has a regular blog series called TheDailyGrace. Her most recent post hit my inbox at just the moment I needed it. She gives some very concrete suggestions in a checklist format (something my disorganized mind craves) of very everyday things to do every day. My goal is to hit three each day. Just three for now.

In the wider world, I caught up with two of my favorite writers/thought gurus/insprirers/disrupters newest posts this week that left me feeling a little calmer and able to see things more clearly.
I caught Elizabeth Gilbert's (of Eat, Pray, Love and The Big Magic fame) TED talk podcast then stumbled upon her beautiful post (scroll to March 31) focusing on a lesson she learned about how living isn’t about your physical circumstances – rather how you live is in your heart and where you live is in your mind. No physical circumstances can change that.

And finally, one of my all-time favorite writers, Brené Brown, recently launched a new podcast called Unlocking Us. It was in the works to launch before the virus crisis hit, but the episodes that have run over the past couple of weeks are right on topic in helping us cull through the deep emotions of today’s world.
(I'm attempting a somewhat daily series of trying to share posts I find insightful or uplifting to use social media for good in these crazy times. Please note you may have to scroll down on some of the links here to find the posts I mention.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Inspiration is the word of the day

Another in my periodic posts spotlighting social media posts I have found uplifting.

Inspiration springs from so many places these days. I’ve come up on a few things this week that brought bursts of inspiration to me – whether it’s inspired me to laugh harder, give more, appreciate simple beauty or be more thankful. Here are a few of my favorites:

My sister, Elizabeth Hull Foster, and I grew up loving The Sound of Music thanks to our mother, and she later instilled that same love in my nephew. So when I saw this parody of Do-Re-Mi today, I couldn’t help but watch. Take a look if you’re a lover of all things SOM (or even if you’re not). It’s perfect to share with little ones, too. (

I'm learning that music can move me in ways I’ve never felt before. I’ve been listening to the“No Intermission” series by Adam Parker, Post and Courier that features local musicians and stage performers in short “Tiny Desk Concert”-like videos. Today I listened to Columbia’s Reggie Sullivan soulfully play a piece that repeated “sing about your troubles and they might just pass” and heard a Charleston-based stage actor do a monologue from “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”
A post today from a fellow writer left me speechless over her health journey and grateful to hear of her ongoing recovery. Anne Creed is someone I’ve known for many years, but more as a social acquaintance. I had no idea of her scary, horrific cancer journey over the last year. Her post today tells the story of friends and faith and hope.

If you get inspiration from simple beauty in nature, Debra A. Daniel reminds us of the hope that comes from this simplicity in her frequent posts of the lovely flowers in her yard on (appropriately named) Hope Avenue.

Another spot of inspiration came from a series on WLTX News19 called the Daily Grace. Every morning until Easter the station is featuring local musicians singing their versions of “Amazing Grace.” Watch Robbie Grice's (Parker’s Back) version in today’s post.

And finally, I’m truly inspired by the creativity and generosity of so many of the restaurants I frequent. Today I especially loved seeing the experience that Drip Coffee in Five Points has created. I stopped by to get my tea one day last week and came away with a delicious scone and a quick visit. Today, their post described a variety of scones, espresso drinks and lunch items now available. They’ve also got a fund for restaurant workers and offer half off to anyone in the industry. Eat (and drink coffee) local, y’all.

(I'm attempting a somewhat daily series of trying to share posts I find insightful or uplifting to use social media for good in these crazy times. Please note you may have to scroll down on some of the links here to find the posts I mention.)