Tom Martin is Executive-in-Residence, Communication Department, College of Charleston. Launched the Martin Scholars program, a mentoring program for graduating seniors (2016). Led communications at FedEx and ITT. Board service: Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State University, the PRSA Foundation, the Arthur W. Page Society (Chairman 2004-05), the Josephson Institute of Ethics. Recipient of College of Charleston’s Distinguished Adjunct Faculty of the Year award, 2017; Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award, 2011.
I remember vividly a time several years ago, when I was in a leadership training program for FedEx executives. We were out in Logan, Utah at a mountain retreat, exploring both the majestic mountains and the inner peaks and valleys of our personal leadership styles. As part of a high ropes course we had to ascend a telephone poll, climb on to a swiveling metal disc screwed to the top of the pole, stand upright and then leap to a trapeze bar a few feet away. It was called the “pucker” pole for fairly obvious reasons. I managed to get to the top, make it on the disc, steady myself and make the leap to the trapeze. I wasn’t able to hang on to the bar, but thankfully I was on a belaying line and was safely lowered to the ground. It was a hair-raising experience, back when I still had enough hair to raise.
In the end, it didn’t matter whether or not you were able to hold on to the trapeze; most of the participants did not. What mattered was your willingness to take the leap. It is a lesson that has stayed with me through the years. I have taken many leaps, some much scarier than the pucker pole, and I couldn’t always depend on someone holding the belaying line to keep me from falling. But each time I learned something about the challenge and about myself.
Each semester when I face a new group of students, I share with them a fact about myself that I feel they should know. On paper, I would not have qualified for any position that I have held in a career that now spans almost 40 years, including my current position as an executive in residence.
At each critical juncture in my career, when I have been offered an opportunity to take a risk, to try something new, to go beyond my comfort zone, I have done so. And to this day I have no regrets about any of these decisions, no matter how daunting, even foolhardy, they seemed at the time.
That is my advice to all who are preparing to enter the communications profession. Go beyond your fears. Take a chance. Make yourself uncomfortable. If you stay in a comfortable place your entire career, you will never know just how far you can go.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never attempted to fly a plane, or perform brain surgery, or play professional baseball. We all have limits, and I am keenly aware of my own. What I’m suggesting is to push the boundaries of your skills, your education, your preparation and your personality to try and reach your ultimate potential. If you never take a chance, you will never know just how far you can go.
When I talk to peers and colleagues in the communications profession, a common theme emerges: Most of us have not had a straight-line career. We have navigated a circuitous and sometimes illogical career path that has at times taken us in a direction that didn’t make sense. But in the end, we learned from each of these twists and turns and they added up to a diverse range of experiences that made us who we are, and helped us achieve things we never imagined were possible.
That is my challenge to you. Reach high and reach often, even when it seems more than a little scary. You may need a Band-Aid now and then, but in the long run, the scratches will lead to better stories and better careers.