Three promises to keep

As a 38-year career comes into focus in my rear-view mirror, I reflect on the many self-promises we make, those devout but fleeting resolutions.

As a 38-year career comes into focus in my rear-view mirror, I reflect on the many self-promises we make, those devout but fleeting resolutions. Many promises are no more enduring than raindrops.

Yet we come into life and we enter a career as bright promises – what we might do, become, accomplish, and contribute. My mother's teaching philosophy from many years ago expressed this eloquently. “Every child who entered my one-room school house represented a bright promise for the future,” she said. “My job was to help make that promise shine, shine, shine.”

Others help shine our promise, too: mentors, bosses, friends, family. Experiences add luster. And along the way we discover false promises, unfulfilled promises, so many promises. In retrospect, three self-promises seem most meaningful.  

1. Engage in the human community. We live in a world of both glory and agony where a sea of human kindness and love surges daily against a rugged coast of misery, inequities, and injustices – poverty, illiteracy, hunger, oppression, wars, illnesses. Pick an issue that seizes your heart. Exit virtual reality. Get out and connect with real people and real needs. What better gift can one give than to make a positive difference in the life of another?

2. Pass the character test every day. Forget the LSAT, GRE, and PR accreditation test. The biggest test is the character test: how you act, the choices you make, your personal values and ethics, and especially how you treat others. What's the price of a smile? How much does it cost to listen? What's the calculus of caring?

3. Live with passion. It's said the Greeks of yore often asked about the dead ­– did they live life with passion? Modern research reveals that near the end of life, people talk mostly about how they lived, not what they owned or accomplished, where they traveled, or how many “likes” they scored on Facebook. Instead they wonder: Did I follow my dreams? Did I help others? Did I live life to the fullest?

Will you chase your dreams? Will you engage? Will passion light your life? What self-promises will live on inside you during the journey?   

It has been my pleasure to pen this column. I proudly pass the baton to Shannon Bowen, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of South Carolina, who will be sharing her vast wisdom in this space going forward. Thanks to PRWeek for allowing me to offer some thoughts with students and young professionals these past four years. Adieu.

Bruce Berger Ph.D. has just completed his final semester as Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. A member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, he was previously VP of PR at Whirlpool.

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