WHEN YOU CHASE A DREAM AND CATCH IT…NOW WHAT?
By Graham Olney, Corporate Intern, Publicis Health/Publicis Communication
Last year, I wrote about my quest that resulted in a highly coveted conversation with then CEO of Publicis Health, Nick Colucci. Today, I’m happy to share the next chapter in an improbable story: How a question from an intern turned into the opportunity of a lifetime. “Email me if you have any questions?” he said, and so I did. Twelve months and what seems a lifetime of experience later, I’m still benefiting from the fantastic mentoring I’ve received and opportunities I never expected.
CIRCA AUGUST 2017
My internship in New York last summer became a catalyst for many changes, and when I returned to school in the fall, I didn’t take the time to slow down. I was still riding the high from an incredible summer with fascinating work and the lifestyle of the city, and I was intent on riding that momentum right into my junior year.
Although it was early in the fall, I was already planning for the next summer, and I began reaching out to a few mentors and people I admired in the industry. First on the list was Nick Colucci. When I had met with Nick over the summer, he challenged me to craft aspirational, business goals for The Agency, a student-staffed, on-campus advertising firm at which I had worked for two years, and also set academic goals for my junior year. Now, with my goals clearly articulated, I constructed an email where I shared my plans and summarized everything that had happened since we last met in his office at One Penn Plaza. A day later, when I checked my email, right at the top was Nick’s reply. I read with excitement his familiar, encouraging words intermingled with advice in his note back. What really stood out, however, were two words:
I’ll never forget my reaction to those two simple words. “Now what,” I repeated to myself over and over. “Now what?” I stared at the screen for what felt like hours. The CEO from a global powerhouse flipped the script on me. What was next? I knew I had to capitalize on the challenge Nick laid out for me: “Translate all your ideas into action and properly execute.” But how?
I then set out to parlay my success from my time at Digitas Health into my junior year, and I began to focus on plans I had for the organizations of which I was a part at school.
Nick threw down the gauntlet for me to prove myself, and I took that challenge and ran with it. My junior year proved to be my best ever academically. I took a stab at outlining changes to my student-staffed agency, working relentlessly to implement fresh ideas. I saw first-hand that there were some opportunities to improve an on-campus experience for the 150 or so students who made up the organization. I learned some precious lessons on how to implement change: an idea often takes time to take root, sprout and grow.
At this time, my commitment to “go hard or go home” seemed to be the right one, the “adult” one; driven by an intense desire to hone my skills as a marketer. In addition to my work at The Agency, I sought to expand my horizon and get involved in even more projects, and after a few months and some sincere conversations with my roommates, friends, brothers, and girlfriend, I found that I had overcommitted and as a result, spread myself too thin. I had engaged in a zero-sum trade-off between achieving personal goals and leisure. Another valuable lesson: remember to put first things first and to seek balance.
As fall became spring, it was again time to apply to internship programs. While I knew it was a long shot, I had a clear-cut dream: intern for Nick Colucci. I had focused all of my energy on positioning myself to create this opportunity, and as I had kept up the momentum from the summer before: keeping my rods in the fire, dedicating myself to school, I felt that I had put in the work to make myself as attractive a candidate as possible.
Sure enough, it all paid off, and I was thrilled to hear that this dream would become a reality. Nick had now become Chief Operating Officer, and the position I was offered was the perfect blend of the two verticals, communications, and health. To this day, I cannot put into words how amazing interning for Nick has been, but a funny thing happened after accepting that offer: I had spent so much of my time focusing on landing this plum internship that when I looked back; I realized an entire semester had passed with very little memory of what had actually happened. The proverbial dog had finally caught its tail. Nick’s words came rushing back: Now what?
I had a burning desire to further my career, but when I stepped back, I realized I was soon to be a rising senior in the glorious — and more importantly extremely finite — 4-year window that is college. This was the first time I had processed the gravity of all my unbridled ambition, for better and for worse. It was during this time that I began to experience a shift in my mindset toward greater harmony.
The time between the acceptance of that offer to now has been more transformative and eye-opening than any other in my life. As I returned to Publicis, I was given specifics about my program and was pleased to hear that the client we would be working with was NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health as a topic resonated with me since my cousin has struggled with depression and anxiety for years. Additionally, this partnership bolstered my newfound attitude toward work: to progress as not only a professional but also as a person.
The craziest thing as I sit here in the final week of my internship with Nick, an incredibly dedicated C-suite leader, is that all of these harmony related realizations have been reaffirmed. Nick gets it. Although he is pulled in so many directions that require his undivided attention, he has his priorities straight. Nick is dedicated to his wife and his three sons, who are now starting their own careers. He is able to balance this while being at the top of his organization. He has taught me as much about this business as he has about life.
Those lessons rest on hundreds of pages in my journal and padfolio — no exaggeration. I have torn through notes in an attempt to capture each brilliant insight. Allow me to share some of them with you.
FIVE KEY INSIGHTS:
1. Surround yourself with amazing people that are just as talented and dedicated as you are — if not more so. Working diligently on your own is essential, but success within a team can be defined by his adage: “Drive effective results through and with people.” This mirrors another maxim I enjoy of African origin. “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you’re going to travel far, go together.
2. Be keenly self-aware and choose your moments wisely.
3. It’s our natural inclination to look forward and to prepare for what’s to come, but nobody is truly “ready” for the next level.
4. The most effective leaders lead with their head, heart, and hands.
5. Leadership and communication need to be adaptive, flexing to the individual and the situation.
Above all, he has taught me to slow down as a tenacious young professional, which has helped me find clarity in my work and stability in life. If you genuinely love what you do, then put your all in it, but remember to stop and smell the roses along the way.
This internship has been the most daunting challenge I have ever faced. The people and concepts I have been exposed to are mind-blowing for a person at my level, but my biggest takeaway has been to define what work/life balance means to me, and most importantly, to seek harmony in that balance. Work hard to achieve your goals and remember what’s really important to you. Put that first, and whatever that is, hold it (or them), close to your heart.