Wednesday, May 30, 2012

At Long Last, Test Drive Day

Team meeting in the mobile office


That's the title of the workbook I was using today on my much-anticipated "Test Drive" with Keka DasGupta, President of Precision Marketing Group. The workbook was provided for me by the company that set up this unique opportunity for me, Challenge Factory, who have been helping to motivate me for the past nine months or so. Today was the culmination of my activities of introspection, self-assessment and outright soul-searching under the watchful eyes of Challenge Factory's president, Lisa Taylor, and my Career Coach, Michael Ehling. Well, perhaps "culmination" is not entirely accurate: Test Drive Day has been the target of the months of work but it is by no means the end of the journey.

I met with Lisa, a woman with an incredible amount of passion for what she does and patience with me, and Sivan Nitzan, Marketing and Client Program Administrator, last Friday morning to receive my agenda for today, along with the aforementioned workbook. Over the weekend and early this week I recorded in that journal all of the aspects of my previous Challenge Factory work that had led me to my "Sweet Spot Statement". Then Sarah and I sat down together and worked out all the questions I would like to ask of my mentor today, Keka.

And then it was time for the Test Drive itself. Lisa had gone outside of the box in my case and created this particular day with a Public Relations expert specifically for me. I met with Keka this morning at a Starbucks in Leaside and that served as her mobile office for the day. I filled Keka in on where I stood with this programme and told her how I had come to work with Challenge Factory. We discussed my past (mostly spotty) work experiences and what I hoped to accomplish with the day. Then it was my turn to ask Keka the questions that Sarah and I had worked out and she was most forthcoming: honest, transparent (one of her favourite words) and so undeniably passionate about what she does that it was impossible to not be drawn into her world. She told me how she had come to work in Public Relations in the first place and what processes had set in motion her running her own company at the present time. I won't divulge much of our conversation here as I don't wish to even come close to breaking our confidentiality agreement; suffice it to say that I found her story to be fascinating and compelling.

Keka then needed to meet a deadline with an email and a phone call, so I took that opportunity to fill out my workbook with my first impressions of the world of Public Relations, as related by Keka DasGupta. After the email was sent and the phone call made, Keka walked me through the process of what she had been working on, openly and in easily-understood terms. She had not been through a Test Drive before but she could not have been better at laying out the fundamentals for me and I really appreciated this talent of hers.

There was more work to be done just before lunch and Keka did her best to keep me in the loop. I kept making notes in the workbook while everything was fresh in my head. Then her staff member, Rachelle, arrived and met us for lunch (which was paid for by Lisa, I learned today, although Lisa wanted me to think it was paid for by Keka, which was very gracious of her on both counts). This is where I started to really see the daily goings-on of Precision Marketing Group, both from the point of view of the President and from her main employee; it was tremendously beneficial to have these two independent and yet related angles to learn from. They both answered more of my questions over lunch (at a brand-new location of the Sunset Grill which had just opened in Leaside) and then we returned to Starbucks where they held a weekly "Team Meeting".

As much as I enjoyed the give-and-take of the morning, this chance to sit in on a meeting where Keka and Rachelle went over all of the projects they had on the go was my favourite part of the day. I will admit it was a bit tough to sit and not contribute anything to the proceedings for the most part (as any of you who truly know me will realize to be true); at one point, however, I was able to make a suggestion and was immensely gratified to watch Rachelle add it into their "to-do list" on the spot.

At about 4:30 their meeting wrapped up and Rachelle departed, leaving Keka and myself to rehash the day and talk over how it had gone, what I thought about the life of a PR guru and her business' place within that world, and answer any last questions I had. And then Keka did something wonderful for me: she went a little past our ending time and took that opportunity to deliver an encouraging, optimistic, motivational message to me, filled with all manner of useful, thoughtful and important suggestions as to how I might proceed from here.

And then the day was done. I thanked Keka profusely - I'm not sure I was able to convey how much I enjoyed our day together as I was still absorbing everything I had seen and learned (and will continue to do so for some time), but I hope she understood - and left the cafe. I sat in my car for a few minutes while I filled out the rest of the workbook, with the day still fresh in my mind. Then I headed for home.


That was the title of my first workbook with Challenge Factory. It is a word that is as applicable to the events of today as it was to the earliest work I did with Lisa and Mike. My Test Drive did exactly what it was supposed to do for me: it has both inspired and motivated me to stop dragging my heels and proceed into the future with a much clearer idea of not only what may lie ahead of me, but also a better understanding of what will fulfill and satisfy me in future career endeavours. I don't know if that will lie in the kind of Public Relations work that Keka and her company perform; I do love the creativity of it, I love the gregariousness one must possess to excel at it and I am quite fond of the ideas of setting one's own timetable and maintaining a mobile work environment, but I may find I will want to be more specific in the kind of PR work I pursue. I learned from Keka where the biggest holes are in the industry; in other words, what area is the toughest to recruit from because of a paucity of qualified workers to choose from. It's a gap I feel I could fill myself and I will definitely be looking into it. I also would still like to work with animal advocacy groups, zookeepers or veterinarians; Keka had wonderful suggestions for me on that front as well. In many ways, she was the perfect fit for me as a mentor and a personality for this Test Drive.

So that's where I stand now. I have a lot to think about; a lot to look into; a lot to discuss with Sarah and Lisa. All in all today was one of the most interesting, satisfying and enlightening experiences I have had in a long time. I cannot express my gratitude strongly enough to Lisa, Keka, Mike, Rachelle and Sivan for everything they have done for me from the beginning of my Challenge Factory journey to this day; also, it would be absolutely impossible to overstate the love, support and encouragement of my wonderful partner, Sarah, throughout this entire process and, indeed, every day of our lives. As I mentioned before, this is by no means the final destination; however, I feel I've finally opened the road map to the right page.

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