Yesterday I wrote about my desire to, in some way, feel like a student ... to find something new I wanted to learn, and feel excited and challenged about discovering new things I'm capable of doing, or might fail miserably at.
Today, I want to write about what it feels like to teach. Teaching is one of the many things I do in my career, and I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the hallowed halls of Georgetown University, working with graduate students in PR and Journalism.
My first experience in teaching was in 2006 in Johns Hopkins' grad school, after which I moved over to teach at Georgetown in 2007. I taught PR writing for a few years, as well as a class called The Power of Opinion, where my students wrote and submitted op-eds and letters to the editor each week, and they all got published in major media outlets. My PR practice went BOOM, so I took a break from teaching for a bit, returning in 2014 to teach a class called Personal Branding.
Yeah I rolled my eyes, too, the first time I heard those words. It sounds so ::pew-pew:: winky-finger-guns, doesn't it? Barf. I made it my personal mission to make the class NOT barfy and, instead, work with students on their personal brands, and understand what that really means.
Personal branding is not a logo, a tagline, or an elevator speech (the ultimate in barf).
Your personal brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. If 10 people in a room have 10 different perceptions of you, then there's something going on in the authenticity department. It's my job, as a teacher, to help my students peel off all those layers and be who they are and teach them how to build meaningful relationships that make our communities and our world a better place.
Here's the thing: PR people are good at what they do because they love molding, shaping, and promoting others. We are great behind the scenes, making shit happen, and keeping our clients in the spotlight. Same goes for journalists. Great reporters are good at what they do because they're telling other people's stories. Ask them to tell their own, and they will self-deprecate beyond belief and deftly turn the tables and begin asking more questions so as to not talk about themselves.
The reason we're good at doing PR or being a journalist is because we spend very little time on ourselves, and all our time on our clients, products, employers, and interview subjects. We're great at shaping others' stories, but have no idea what our own story is.
So, for two hours each week, my students come into a cocoon where they think only about themselves. In my classroom, we are not our work titles. We are not what others tell us we should be. We are not the children of our parents. We strip all that away and think about who we are, how we're perceived, what our skills and talents are, what we are best at doing (at our core), and what we ultimately want to achieve. We talk, we write, we figure it out, and we get it done.
It's a tough class. It's frustrating and deep and introspective (if done right). On the flip side, it's surprising and rewarding to find out what we love to do and what we're good at when we finally stop "should-ing" all over ourselves. It makes us better communicators overall, and helps us move forward in our careers and in life in sometimes unexpected ways.