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A Few Lessons for Early-Career Success
CENTER ONLINE, 02/07/2013

Every association professional carves his or her career path differently, but the lessons that can be learned along the way are universal.

What do art history, television news, politics, and beer distribution have in common? If you say, "absolutely nothing," I'd say you are absolutely right! But for me, they do have one significant thing in common. They have all paved the path of my career and have led me to where I am today.

I have been fortunate to have many fascinating experiences along the way—from producing the evening news on September 11 to working backstage at presidential press conferences to building communications for America's 3,300 beer distributors.

While I have experienced a lot, I've also learned a lot. When I was interviewing six years ago with National Beer Wholesalers Association President Craig Purser, he asked me how I have learned and defined my management style. I said that I'd learned just as much about what I don't want to do as what I dowant to do from those I've worked with, and for, over the years. So with that in mind, I offer these keys to success in propelling your career forward.

Fall in Order to Succeed

It's alright to make mistakes. Not only is it OK, it's encouraged. We hear more and more these days about kids who get trophies for just being on a team or games where there is no score. Everyone's a winner, and there are no skinned knees. That may be acceptable for young children—depending on your perspective—but that's not how life goes.

When I was in school, we had to select and read a book about someone we admired in a relevant field, and I picked Oprah Winfrey. I thought her story would be all about a meteoric rise to fame and success, but what has stuck with me all of these years is that she had many failures along the way. She didn't always get the job she wanted, and she even got fired. She had bad days. But after each disappointment or set-back, she analyzed what happened and learned from it.

While I never expected to be Oprah, I was inspired by her gusto and her determination to pick up and keep going. We've all had disappointments, and there will certainly be more down the road. It's OK to trip and fall—you just have to make sure you get up, dust yourself off, and keep on moving.

Be Persistent and Patient

It's no secret that it's a tough job market right now. The economy is still soft at best, and businesses, including associations, are really mindful of the bottom line. The economy was also fragile when I was graduating from school and looking for my first job. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say—hungry to get my first job in television news. I sent resumes to about 100 stations as I was finishing school, searching desperately for that first gig. I was invited to two interviews and received one job offer. That one offer is what launched my career in television news. It's not the jobs you don't get that matter; it's the jobs you do get and what you do to take advantage of every opportunity you are given.

Invest in Tomorrow

My interest in television news began when I was just 15 years old. I'd heard the anchor from the local NBC station speak at career day at my high school, and the next year I interned at her station. I was fortunate that my high school invests in the future of its students by allowing them to do internships in a wide range of occupations. Some students fall in love with a career path, as I did. Others realize they may not like a career as much as they had thought; that is just as valuable, if not more.

While all 16-year-old students may not have a month to do an internship, we can all give them a few minutes of our time and share our experiences. Just a conversation can go a long way to inspiring a future leader, even while we're working on advancing our own careers.

While we all have our own unique journeys, I believe the greatest resource we have is each other. Now that I'm in the association world, I continue to learn each and every day—especially from peers at other associations.

Rebecca Spicer is vice president of communications and public affairs for the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Email: rspicer@nbwa.org

Learn More

Rebecca Spicer will lead an Idea Lab titled "10 Tips for Propelling Your Career Forward" at ASAE's 2013 Great Ideas Conference, March 10-12, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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