Open Minds and Hearts on My First Business Trip

June 1, 2017

[Hoffecker and Ryan]
[Hoffecker and Ryan]

I was at dinner on my first-ever business trip, a visit to Cleveland Clinic in July 2013 to lead two goal-setting workshops, when the client asked me a surprising question: “Would you like to see open-heart surgery tomorrow?” I enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” What other response can you give when you’re at the top hospital for heart care?

Neither my client nor my CEO David Rockland knew, however, that I have a tendency to faint at the sight of blood and needles. I was also unaware at the time I’d be observing not one, but two heart surgeries — one robotic and one open-heart.

On top of all this, these surgeries were scheduled to take place at the same time as the two workshops I was supposed to help run. It was my first business trip, and I was abandoning my CEO and putting myself in an extremely uncomfortable position.

The next morning, I arrived to observe the procedures with my colleague Laura Ryan. I was absolutely terrified, but tried to keep my cool behind the medical scrubs, mask and cap that I had to wear.
About 10 minutes into the first surgery, I began to feel faint. But after a brief break to splash cold water on my face, I returned and ended up staying the whole time — asking questions in the room, and spending time with Laura. I even managed to make it to the second workshop we planned.

On that invigorating day, I learned important lessons about myself and my career:

1. Face your fears. I would not normally volunteer to watch open-heart surgery, but that is all the more reason to try it. The same can be said for any task or project. If it intimidates you, or generally makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s all the more reason to do it. After all, the biggest growth occurs outside of your comfort zone.

2. Bring solutions, not problems. Rather than telling David I couldn’t come to the workshops at all, I suggested a solution that could accommodate both my observation of the surgeries and my participation in a workshop. This showed my solution-oriented mindset, and demonstrated my investment in the client.

3. Meet as many people as possible. Because I had worked only minimally with Laura, I took advantage of the time with her to ask questions, learn about her start in public relations, and find out more about the PR initiatives for Cleveland Clinic. As fantastic as networking outside of your company can be, sometimes it’s just as — if not more — valuable to network internally.

4. Become an expert. The surgeons I watched are some of the best in the world. They may have a background in all things medical, but they specialize in the heart. In a similar sense, I have a generalist background in PR research, but am an expert in global quantitative surveys. Having an expertise has helped me accelerate my career.

5. Be positive and enthusiastic. I could have stayed out of the operating room feeling sorry for myself after leaving in the beginning, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make the most of it.
This positive, can-do attitude is actually what helped me get my first job in PR research. I had zero background in the subject, and my boss said it was my enthusiasm that got her to hire me. There is no doubt in my mind that this outlook has helped me get to where I am today, and will only help me in the future.


These lessons from my first business trip have certainly helped me grow my career, and I carry them with me through every project, relationship and office that I work in. I hope they help you as well — without having to step foot in an operating room to learn them!

 

Margaret Hoffecker

Margaret Hoffecker is the research director with Ketchum Global Research & Analytics in London, where she designs, executes and reports on research across all practices, with a focus on global surveys. In the fall, Hoffecker will take on a brand-new challenge that scares her (but doesn’t involve blood or needles): pursuing an MBA at HEC Paris. Email: margaret.hoffecker@ketchum.com.

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