Last year I received a mail from my friend Caroline.
As well as running her own communications company Caroline, a fellow Brit, lectures on International Marketing at a couple of universities in Strasbourg. She got in touch with me because one of her universities was looking for someone to teach Digital Marketing to final-year students studying for a “Business Strategy & Administration” degree. Caroline thought that I would fit the bill, and wanted to know if I’d be interested.
My initial thought was to thank Caroline for thinking of me, but to say that I was far too busy doing what I’m doing. That I’d love to help, but with all my various business commitments I wouldn’t be able to devote the time and attention that such a project deserves. Sounds like a good enough reason to pass, right?
Well it would have been – if it were true.
The truth was that I could have found the time. The truth was that the idea appealed to me. The truth was that having the chance to “give something back” was something that I relished.
So why did I want to turn the offer down? The truth is I was scared.
- I’d never done anything like that before, so how could I be any good?
- What topics should I focus on? What topics should I leave out? How in-depth should I go? (the curriculum was pretty open).
- Supposing I screwed it up? I’d be responsible for negatively affecting the final exam results of 34 people who were just starting their careers. They didn’t need that after studying hard for the past five years (well, hard-ish – after all they’re students, right?)
I had a number of chats with Caroline, confiding in her about my concerns. She went through some of her own experiences teaching at a number of universities over the last few years. While we haven’t worked on a project together so far, Caroline knows a bit about how I work (i.e. giving 110% on anything I do, or not bother doing it) and had total faith that I would come up with the goods. She was sure that I wouldn’t let down the students – or the university.
She reminded me about when I would complain about the quality of marketing interns, back in the days when I was Director of Marketing for a software company. I was often disappointed in the abilities of the interns – great looking CV, but so clueless regarding real-world operational marketing that the only tasks that could be given to them were boring, “loser’s job” duties such as database cleaning, or translations.
These interns were capable of a lot more, but the skills they came to me with weren’t relevant. I’m sure they could quote whole chapters of marketing books such as Blue Ocean Strategy verbatim. However they couldn’t write an email communication, contribute to a content strategy blueprint, or handle basic SEO tasks like keyword research, meta descriptions, or ‘alt’ tags for images. In essence, they were ‘educated fools’.
“Now’s your chance to change that,” said Caroline. “You have the opportunity to provide your students with skills relevant in the real world. Skills that will enable them to be given real objectives and responsibilities, instead of having them spend their first year filing. Skills that companies value.”
She was right. It wasn’t long before I was convinced to give it a go.
Fear It, Feel It – And Move On.
Well the end of term is now upon us, and I can look back and say that the experience was one of the most enjoyable, rewarding things I’ve done for many years. I absolutely LOVED it.
As a newbie, of course I had totally underestimated how much work was involved. But even then I didn’t mind working into the early hours preparing lectures, devising projects, and setting mid-term tests – as well as the final exam.
My students seemed to have enjoyed it too. I remember one of them coming up to me after my first lesson and saying that he’d been waiting 4 years to hear the sorts of things that I was saying about how marketing is changing, the evolving role of social, and so on. The feedback was so positive that I’ve been asked back next year – this time to teach two classes.
The Fear Doesn’t Go Away. But That’s The Point
Fear is never far away when starting or running any business. If you want an easy life then find another job. Fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety are part of what you signed up to.
Look at anyone who’s ever done anything worthwhile. They’ve had to put themselves out on a limb to get there. They’ve all felt the fear, accepted it, and gone ahead anyway. And that’s the point.
Fear in business doesn’t go away – ever. Bill Gates, back in the days when he was running Redmond’s finest, is quoted as once saying that “Microsoft is always 18 months away from bankruptcy.” The easiest thing to do is to avoid the risk. But it’s at the edge – where fear, risk and anxiety live – where we do our best work.
Fear is where the magic happens. Fear is the way to let us know that – if we play it right – good things can come. The enemy isn’t fear. It’s indifference, anxiety – and paralysis. Don’t let fear stop you doing what needs to be done.
UPDATE: I just found a great article about insecurity and business. Take a look.