Many of us came to AAJA’s ELP week-long seminar because we wanted an answer to the burning question: What’s next?
The ELP seminar, for mid-career journalists, does not provide an easy answer. Some of my peers came because they had reached a crossroads in their career. Others were comfortable being at the top of their game, but felt like they were selling themselves short if they did not continue to challenge themselves. We all strive for success, but the definition of that is different for each of us. The program sought to introduce to us a framework that would help us consider that question for ourselves from broader perspectives.
On paper, ELP teaches us how to build soft skills and professional goals to take our careers to the next level. But the greatest takeaway for many of us was the chance to be introspective, explore our personal values and learn how they drive our professional direction.
The selective program was a great equalizer, where our titles at respected companies were discarded for four and a half days. On a pragmatic level, we learned through a branding workshop that we could never depend on our company for our reputation – that could change in an instant. All we have is our personal identity. More importantly, on a learning level, we knew we all craved something, and the humility to seek help and to give in to do so dismantled the classroom dynamic and created a family.
On the first day, program director Paul Cheung asked us to consider five questions:
- What do you value?
- What do you need?
- What do you fear?
- What do you resist?
- What are you good at?
Being self-critical perfectionists, we were comfortable with addressing our fears and resistances – failure, complacency, risk – but it would take days to address the rest.
We learned how our values and personality traits affect our work style, and strategies to determine others’ work styles and how to work with them. On day one, a boisterous group of journalists who were old friends dominated the energy in the room as the quieter members watched alarmed and wide-eyed. But once we understood those elements from a broader perspective, we could adapt and cooperate. That bromance then shifted from a source of friction to part of the glue that held our group together.
Other helpful workshops addressed navigating power and leadership in the workplace, goal setting, networking and public speaking, plus an intimate discussion of work-life balance, where the older peers advised to allow time to grow as a person, try new things, date, build a family, whatever one’s priorities may be.
We also had the opportunity to speak off the record with some of New York’s most successful journalists of color about their career direction, leadership style and opinions on promoting diversity in the newsroom.
Finally, ELP paired each of us with top executives from across the media landscape for a mentoring lunch to give us an opportunity to speak candidly with someone farther down the road.
Coming as a freelancer from Asia, I took with a grain of salt some workplace culture lessons that were not applicable to me. But in the process I found I had more in common with my peers in D.C., the Bay or New York than I thought. The experience helped me to respect our differences and to respect myself for being different.
On the last day, we readdressed Paul’s five questions: What do you value? What do you need? What do you fear? What do you resist? What are you good at?
It evolved into a group therapy session where we could finally put into words why we do what we do.
How we were raised or the tramas we experienced may lead us to different values. Our parents’ sacrifice may lead us to value tradition, family and legacy while others value professional rankings, justice and time.
Some of us were still beginning to understand our values, and that was OK, too. And knowing these values would help us decide what’s next for ourselves.
AAJA hosts the ELP seminar every spring in New York. Visit aaja.org/executive-leadership-program for more info.