With only a few weeks left of spring courses at DePaul University in 2009, I was eager for the summer to arrive. Sitting in Global Marketing Management one morning, our class was interrupted. In came two of our professors from the honors marketing program, otherwise known as Integrated Marketing Education (IME). One professor, a short, intellectual, bald-headed African-American male and the other a plump, curly-haired Indian male, normally warm and personable, arrived with an agenda. You could see it on their faces that they were agitated and meant business. To maintain anonymity I will refer to the first professor as Dr. H and the second as Dr. I.
Dr. H began, “Listen up. Dr. I and I have been receiving plenty of complaints from you all lately about finding jobs. We have held several meetings and practice interviews with you concerning your professional careers. It seems that the majority of you have still not found full-time positions. It is now late May and most of you still have not received offers.”
Dr. I, “Dr. H is right. I hate to break it to you guys but employers are not going to knock on your doors and hand you jobs. You need to continue working on your resumes, to network, to practice interviews, and to be relentless in your search.”
I recall feeling a bit disheveled. Was I not as prepared as I could be? I had a summer internship locked in, as I still had one more quarter to complete my studies, but knew that seeking full-time employment would come soon. I panned the room to take notice of the reactions on my colleagues’ faces. Expressions of self-doubt, ineptitude, and sadness loomed.
“We realize that with exams nearing, time may not be of the essence. Life, however, will not stop. You all need to continue to stay aggressive and take action,” preached Dr. H.
“We will be in our offices this week. Please do not hesitate to drop by,” added Dr. I.
Both men paced swiftly towards the door and exited the room. A long pause lingered. Taking a couple of steps towards the front-center of the room our Global Marketing Management professor took the stage with a response in store. One that changed my life.
Our professor, whom I will refer to as Dr. L, was a Latin American male from New York with an incredibly rich east coast accent, was in his 70’s, and had a passion for international business. He was in tip-top shape for his age and mentioned to our class that he would run next to Lake Michigan every morning. The silver fox was also married to a woman about 20 years his minor. Dr. L commanded respect. He was direct, humorous, and incredibly intelligent. All students came to class prepared. If we did not Dr. L called us out on it, making us look foolish in front of our peers. The fear he instilled in others drove everyone to heavily research and exhibit confidence when defending their business findings to him. I remember a time when Dr. L asked me eight specific follow-up questions to an article that I had read about the honey business in South America. Eight! I was humbled rather quickly. He also never hesitated to give me words of wisdom, “Mill-ah, don’t be a wise ass.”
When Dr. L faced us after the professors had left, I knew he was going to contribute something of value.
“Well, what can I say? Your professas are two incredibly sha-ap and respected individuals. They know what they’re tawking about, but I’d like to give you my opinion,” started Dr. L in his thick tone.
“Y’all are incredibly sma-ht and talented, but yah’re also young. Ya’ve been institutionalized from the time ya began school until now. If I were you, I would go and travel somewhere in the world. Go anywhere! Go flip burg-as somewhere on an island, play a guit-ah on the beach. Ya have the rest of ya lives to worry about wo-hk. Take time to decide what you want.”
The wheels began to churn. Here was a man nearing the end of his career who had worked in Latin America, Asia, and Europe with considerable success. His goal as a professor was to educate us, but also to assist us in establishing our own careers. His interest was vested in our success. All I could think about was: this type of advice never came from a professor. It was too honest, unfiltered. Before any of these words had been spoken, I had envisioned myself getting a job and staying in Chicago. I lacked the fire and foresight to examine what I wanted.
“Ya know, I had a colleague. He moved to Japan a while back and began takin’ photos. He got to know the country well. He lived there full-time. He got to understand the cult-cha and local preferences. He eventually was hired by Kodak for his local knowledge and connections.”
I became inspired to think global.
“Sometimes we get so caught up in work, that we forget about what’s around us. There was a time when I was doing work in my office and my son wanted to play with me. I told him that I could not and that I was busy. Then, I took a moment and thought to myself, ‘gee, would it hurt you to go outside and play with your son’? I had 10 minutes to give. So I left the room and found my son.”
What astounded me about Dr. L and his advice was just how human they were.
Five years later, I write this post as a Peace Corps volunteer and international business student. I have taken pride in facing each challenge presented by the complexities of both Mexico and the Republic of Moldova. It has undoubtedly grown me as a person and professional. I see a future working in international markets, interacting with clients in foreign languages, and bringing the same passion to each project I take on.
I am indebted to Dr. L for his words that morning. Each time I think about the reasons for why I choose to live so far away from comfort, I see meat patties twirling through the sky and that kid plucking chords on the white, warm sand.