Becoming My Most Courageous Self
By Giana Darvilleon
November 05, 2019
The journey from Huntsville, Alabama to San Diego, California felt like the longest plane ride of my life. Like many other students headed to the 2019 PRSSA International Conference (PRSSAIC), my head spun with concerns about my current qualifications and uncertainty about my future career. Unlike many of the other attendees, however, this was the first PRSSA event I would experience, and I was attending as an affiliate member without a chapter to represent or companion in which I could confide. I was grateful for the generosity of The PRSA Foundation and the travel grant that allowed me to attend the conference, but in those moments as the aircraft sped toward our final destination, my worries felt larger than my excitement. Would I struggle to find community within this huge group? Would the sessions feel dated and out of touch with my career aspirations? Would I be the only brown face in a sea of white? I was completely unsure about what to expect. Gratefully, the reality could not have been more contrary to my fears.
Soon after taking my seat at the first opening session, I found myself scrambling to write down every nugget of information provided to me. Every new conference activity exposed me to entirely new worlds within the field that I never thought to explore! I learned about the intricacies of sports communications though my career tour with the San Diego Padres at Petco Park and appreciated newfound exposure to military communications through panels and conversations with PRSA professionals. Each session somehow spoke directly to my current stage in life as well as how I should go about developing into the person and professional I hope to become. I consistently drew confidence from the adamant support of my newfound (and constantly growing) community of society members, as well as our speakers’ reminders to be vocal about what I want and advocate for myself in every setting. With each new experience, I felt fearfulness fall away and allowed excitement and inquisitiveness to take its place.
Almost immediately, I experienced a deep connection with professional and student members of the society unlike any sense of belonging I’ve experienced before. While I was comfortable, and instinctively connected with the many other multicultural students in attendance, I also thoroughly enjoyed the ease of discussion with attendees from all walks of life. I especially appreciated the impromptu and intentional mentoring sessions from professionals in PRSA while in line for coffee, between sessions and during events. These practitioners didn’t even know my name, but they were fully prepared to offer wise words and encouragement that would stick with me well after our conversation ended and business cards were exchanged. I gleefully observed the well-rounded perspectives that each individualbrought to our discussions and was impressed by the laid-back confidence and intentional kindness every member possessed.
During her session on the hidden world of PR, Brandi Boatner said, “there’s a lesson to be learned when something ends.” As I look back after the conclusion of PRSSAIC 2019, I can now see that simply altering my outlook from one of fear to one of anticipation completely changed the trajectory of my experience. This experience taught me that remaining open to uncomfortable or unfamiliar experiences can only result in personal growth, specialized knowledge or unique opportunities. It’s only on the outskirts of one’s comfort zone that such opportunities present themselves, and I’m thankful I was able to grow so much in such a short span of time.
As I transition from my role as a full-time student to that of a career communicator, I’ll carry with me these final words of advice from PRSSAIC 2019 that challenge me to be my most courageous self:
“Say yes more than you say no, raise your hand, even if you don’t think you know how to do the job.” —Barby Siegel, Zeno Global
“Be someone that people want to work with because you’re reliable.” —Jim Joseph, Burson Cohn & Wolfe
“Just be a plus-one person. Do whatever you’re supposed to do plus one. It will make you stand out ten times over.” —Heather Kernahan, Hotwire
This year’s International Conference was an amazing opportunity to better myself as both a person and a PR professional, and I cannot wait to attend as a new member of PRSA in 2020.