Professional guidance?

Although I've been adult for something like 15 years -- give or take 12 -- it oftentimes surprises me when I'm approached as an adult and professional, and asked for my input. I'm caught by surprise, like I have to quickly put down my coloring crayons and pay attention.

"Who, me? Oh, that's right. I'm a professional. Yes. How may I help you? Excuse the food stains on my pajamas."

A friend of mine, whom I met in the big, bad social media world last year, is the vice president of the Society of Professional Journalists on campus. He reached out to me a while back to ask if I'd sit on a panel of other area professionals to talk to the students about the powers of blogging and preparing for the outside career world. I agreed, like I do, and then put it out of my mind.

And, like I do, exactly two days before it's time to sit on the panel, I realize I agreed to sit on a panel, and I have the requisite panic attack. It's only in the last year or so that I've started getting my feet wet in the presentation world, and I've yet to reach a point where I go confidently in the direction of a large group of people. I'm still busy going confidently in the direction of my dreams, or whatever it is Henry David Thoreau told us to do.

Or the direction of the couch. Whichever. 

It's as though I forget I'm an adult. That I have a career and job that I'm good at. That people may come to me with questions and advice, and that I may know the answer. I'm a professional (when I'm not busy being not a professional), and I professional very well, if I may use "professional" as a verb. How many times can I use "professional" in one sentence? Did we lose count?

I get nervous when I know people are coming to me for inspiration or thought leadership in the career world. I have thoughts, I do. And I know how I got to where I am in my career, but what if it isn't the path people should take? What if I made mistakes along the way? What if there is a better way? 

There are very defining moments in my career path that have led to where I am. In fact, this very blog once landed me my first job in public relations. But I know I still have room to grow and things to learn (lots of things), and when there is a room full of eager, smart, young minds looking at me, I forget all of the things I do know. Their world is so much different than when I sat in their place.

Let me step back a moment. I graduated from college ten years ago this year, which blows every corner of my mind. OK, carry on.

Ten years ago, I didn't have social media. I didn't have Facebook until later that year. There was no Twitter. It'd be another year before my blog would come to exist. It's hard to even imagine a world without social media, as it's become a significant part of my life, including my job. But if I did have social media as a networking outlet as a college student, I can't imagine the opportunities that would exist. 

When I was a student, I'd sit down with my mentor and talk about experiences and opportunities. I'd call newspaper editors looking for jobs. Begging for jobs. I'd occasionally email people I knew, though even then that was more rare than you'd think. I didn't have a website to house my writing -- I had printed copies that I'd bind nicely in a folder. My news clips from the college newspaper were hardly available online. And this was just ten years ago. Technology moves at light speed. 

Today, students are building web portfolios. They're tweeting editors and CEOs and people of influence. Everyone is connecting on Facebook and LinkedIn. We're getting jobs because of how we've created our social presence on the internet. When I sat in my job interview for my current job, we sat around chatting about my blog and Twitter feed because they'd all seen it. Read through it. Knew "who" I was.

That can be a good and a bad thing, let me add. The persona you create online is critical, if that's how you're marketing yourself professionally. Be prepared for the repercussions. Make sure the persona you create is your actual persona. I've been lucky in that I've found myself in situations where who I am, and who I portray myself to be in the social media realm, have aligned quite nicely with my work environment. I think my profession sort of lends itself to that. You're more likely to hear, "Hey, what's your Twitter handle?" than you are to have someone ask for your email address or business card. 

And just like that, I've rambled for ten minutes about finding your footing in the professional world because I do know these things. I need to be reminded sometimes. It's just that sometimes that reminder comes in the form of young, soon-to-be professionals looking for guidance. 

And so I try to guide. 

And then I quickly go home, put on my pajamas, and cuddle up with cats in front of trashy television because that is what I do when I'm not professional-ing.

Never forget.