Working alongside John F Kennedy Jr changed my life. I was given incredible opportunities and I had a unique window into American history. More importantly, I had a mentor and a friend I could look up to in John. His life experience was one that put him in situations very few people can imagine themselves in. For that reason, his instincts were spot on. Sometimes, his advice was as simple as, “Do nothing and let it play out.” I learned so much working with him, but I attribute these two lessons in particular to most of my personal and professional success.
1. Get in over your head
Most people achieve success when they go beyond their comfort zone. John believed that, when you put people in over their heads, they generally would rise to the occasion. When I started working for him, I was his assistant – juggling his calendar, booking travel and facilitating meetings. At George, we had a PR firm who handled the magazine’s press which entailed getting our stories and the editors out in the media. They also had to deal with the massive amount of requests coming in for John daily.
After a particularly intense call from a journalist he knew who was frustrated by how long it took to get an answer from him about an interview she had requested, John called me into his office and said, “You’re going to handle my personal press and oversee a press person in-house for the magazine. You should probably start interviewing candidates.”
I was terrified at first. I had never worked for a magazine or for a person who had anywhere NEAR the fame and media attention that John did. Yet, there was no way I could turn this opportunity down, so I dove in and learned as much as I could. I asked tons of questions, reached out to other PR professionals and paid very close attention to what worked and what didn’t.
Within one year I became his Chief-of-Staff overseeing the magazine’s PR and marketing and all of John and Carolyn’s press. I made some BIG mistakes and a lot of small ones, but I learned so much about the job and about myself. When I started my PR firm, I always went after the clients I wanted, even if they seemed too big to handle. They don’t always work out but, if I try I learn.
2. Always take the high road
For every person who fell all over themselves to be nice to John, there were those who took the opposite approach. Especially some media folks. They mocked the magazine, his intelligence, his family and his wife. My first instinct was to pick up the phone and let them have it! But John always opted to rise above it. Part of this was self-preservation as he didn’t need a story about him losing it in the tabloids. There were instances where he felt he had to correct something or express how unfairly Carolyn was being treated. He was firm, always polite and professional and, because of that, he was heard. They didn’t always correct it or agree but he made his point. Think about any disagreement or argument you’ve overheard – the person lashing out and raising their voice generally seems like the one in the wrong. No matter what the point is, people will always remember the loudest voice. Sometimes, the louder the noise is, the less you are heard.