Driving Career Success and Passion: for New Graduates and Beyond

It’s that time of year. Thousands of new graduates are heading out to the workplace, looking for that perfect job and an opportunity to make their mark on the world. I recently was honored to deliver the commencement speech for the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. It was exhilarating to be a part of the energy in that room and a good reminder of everything I love about this profession.

Over the years, the number one question students have asked me is, what does it take to be successful in communication-related careers? Here are three tips for fueling the energy that drives career success and keeps you passionate about your work.

  1. Feed your curiosity.

Smart, imaginative thinking comes from having an insatiable appetite for learning more, observing more, asking more questions, uncovering new perceptions and understanding the “why” behind everything and everyone.

With today’s technology, finding information is easier than ever – with the click of a few buttons, the world is at your fingertips. But pulling information from the internet doesn’t provide the same value or creative spark that uncovering it in the real world does. The nuance, the context, the connection, the realness is missing. To get to that, step away from what’s familiar and force yourself to ask the questions that could lead to the next creative breakthrough.

Earlier in my career, I worked with a barley-based biofuel production company that wanted to secure the barley needed for production from local farmers. Our clients felt strongly that if farmers just understood how great barley was, they would rush to plant it. So, I focused on learning as much as I could about barley. I admit, I really struggled. I just was not that curious about barley. And it showed in my work.

But one day, it hit me: this assignment wasn’t about the benefits of barley – it was about understanding farmers. And so, I decided to get to know them better. I went to farm equipment shows and hung out at Southern States. I walked around, watched and listened. I asked lots of questions: What keeps you up at night? How do you manage the uncertainty? What would you change if you could? Who do you want to sell your crops to – and who do you avoid like the plague?

I learned a lot. And once I took the time to ask the questions that led to understanding, I found that I approached this client work with a lot more interest and passion, because now, I wasn’t just trying to sell a crop – I was helping to make farmers’ lives better.

  1. Ditch your desk.

At Padilla, we call this mindset Wonder and Wander. It pushes us to walk away from our desk and go explore – whether it’s walking around the block, looking at how another industry approaches a business challenge, or just taking your laptop to a coffee shop or outside for a different perspective.

Wonder and wander isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the middle of the daily chaos, it’s easy to jump online to find a quick bit of information to help create content or inform a creative strategy. Feeding your curiosity in a way that sparks creativity and understanding takes discipline. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to schedule time to be curious until it becomes a habit.

Recently, on an insanely busy day, I unexpectedly had to cover dog duty at lunch. I was not a happy camper, but I figured I would answer emails on my phone while the dog ran around the yard – until I realized I had left my phone at the office. So, I grabbed the leash and set off for a quick walk around the neighborhood, grumbling as I went.

As I neared the end of the block, I heard the most delightful giggles and shrieks that I had heard in a long time. When I got closer, I saw a little boy jumping in a big puddle over and over, trying to make the biggest splash possible. The pure joy on his face was contagious. I watched him for a few more jumps, gave him a high five, and then continued around the block. I drove back to work feeling more energized than I had all week. My schedule was shot – but, I managed to work the concept of puddle-jumping into a client experience I was concepting. What I initially saw as pain-in-the-butt interruption turned out to be a gift, in more ways than one.

  1. Experience the experience.

If you’ve chosen the communication industry for your career, you probably already have a deep-seeded curiosity about the world and the people in it. The challenge is finding the time to actively feed your curiosity – and to not use technology as a replacement for experiencing the world and connecting with others. What you learn from being present and in-the-moment can’t be replicated by even the most arcane, fascinating find on the internet.

The challenge is finding the time to actively feed your curiosity – and to not use technology as a replacement for experiencing the world and connecting with others. Click To Tweet

One last story: several months ago, I went to see Green Day in concert. I lucked into a seat with a close view of the stage, which extended into the standing crowd. The energy was contagious and the band phenomenal, with the lead singer, Billy Joe Armstrong, working the stage and the crowd. Just as Billy Joe started the intro to American Idiot, he leaned down into the crowd and said to a teenage boy holding up a phone, “Hey – are you recording this?” “Yes!” said the kid, who was clearly excited to have been singled out.

“Put down your GD phone and experience this,” Billy Joe said. And then, he pulled that kid right up on the stage, handed him a mic and picked up the song where he left off.

I’m sure that was an evening that kid will never forget. And I’m sure it’s the last time he spent a concert with a phone in front of his face.

Whether you’re a new graduate or an industry veteran, get up from your desk, feed your curiosity and go experience life. The stories that fuel your work – and your life – are out there waiting to be discovered.

What advice would you give to new graduates?

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