Jennifer Tucker
consultant, author

Jennifer Tucker

Consulting director, Otto Kroeger Associates. PhD in science and technology studies from Virginia Tech. Author of "Type and Project Management."


From misery to marching bands

Q: As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we often look back at the people and experiences that helped us get where we are. Who (and what) were your "game-changers," and how did they change the way you look at your life and career?

My most significant career transition began in an Indiana forest in 1995. I was a graduate student in forestry at Purdue University, and one of my research tasks was to go to the woods each week to gather leaves, and then convert these artifacts of nature into scientific measures of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon.

I'll not forget that beautiful October day. I was in the woods, and felt empty inside. I found nothing about my research to be compelling or useful to anyone, and while I knew I should have been excited by the laboratory revelations that lay ahead, I felt uninspired, trapped, and completely deficient in my lack of passion.

Alone with my leaf bags, I moved from emptiness to tears, and by day's end, I had concluded that my fledgling career as a scientist was over, and I needed a new way to contribute to the world.

That day marked the start of a new game (though I did not know yet what sport) facilitated by two people who helped shape the career I have today. First was Dr. Steve Green at Purdue's Krannert School of Management, who I was referred to by a statistics classmate.

Steve respected my past and values, but also helped unpack the assumptions and perceived pressures that had led me to that Indiana forest. Later, after I was accepted into Krannert, Steve was the one who introduced me to the fields of organization development and leadership, central to my work today.

Of course, transferring from forestry to management meant my research funding disappeared. I scoured the campus, and encountered a job opening for public relations director for Purdue University Bands, the home of the Purdue Marching Band and other instrumental groups.

Enter my second game-changing mentor. Dr. David Leppla, director of university bands, knew I had no experience in public relations. What Dave saw, though, was my passion for instrumental music, gained through years of playing trombone in bands and orchestras.

Despite my having few qualifications for the job, Dave took a leap of faith, and for the next two years, while working towards my master's degree, I was the publicist for Purdue Bands. I championed the marching band; worked with delightful musicians, students, and media; and had the time of my life. Today, I continue to use the skills developed in that job in my communications work with clients.

The lessons I learned through this transition have stayed with me, and give me confidence when I feel unsure. First, I had to confront my unhappiness and commit myself to finding a new way. Second, I had to open myself up to possibilities I had never considered and ask for help, which I do not do easily. Third, I had to place my trust and future in people who I did not know, but who somehow saw my potential and decided to take a leap of faith. They became important mentors in my life journey.

My career has been a series of fun and intriguing games, and I love my ever-changing life as a committed liberal arts generalist. The game-changing events at Purdue that led me from misery to marching bands, though, have been the most pivotal. Steve and Dave, wherever you are in this moment, I thank you both.

By Jennifer Tucker  |  November 29, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Mentors Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

I am flattered that Jennifer considers me a mentor, as I am a firm believer in the value of mentoring as a factor in career success. However, there are even more important factors in an individual's success, such as self discipline, personal motivation, drive to succeed, self-criticism and such. I personally believe than Jennifer possesses all of these personal factors and more to a very high degree and that she was destined to succeed with or without my help. She was always open to new ideas, suggestions, and constructive criticism, and was organized to a fault. What I saw in Jennifer was a passion for life and a willingness to put in the time and effort necessary to reach her personal goals. Many nights I would find Jennifer and her equally motivated fellow grad assistant Heather Lasher in the office working on band matters when they could have been out socializing or taking care of their own academic work. Jennifer has to be one of the most dedicated, talented, and self-motivated individuals with whom I have ever worked, and she has earned every bit of success that she has achieved through her own hard work and passion to succeed. If I had some small role in that success, I am tremendously thrilled, but Jennifer needs to take credit for the major role her own efforts have played. Keep an eye on Jennifer - there are more great things to come! What the world needs today is more young professionals with her passion and depth of character. Bravo!

Posted by: daleppla | December 4, 2010 3:50 PM
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