Plan Tomorrow Today

by Raquel Rivera Torres

ver time, I have found myself performing what many people consider a “ritual” during the first month of each year. For me, this ritual or process is part of a meaningful journey and is one of the best presents I give myself—that of setting me-time to plan the agenda for the year.

Establishing time to get away from the everyday busy craziness is a crucial exercise. Think about it: If we make that kind of adjustment for our family, work, church, professional associations, and community, why not do it for ourselves? Dedicating this space ensures that I have enough time assigned to focus on my own goals and be inspired to stride ahead.

Setting the Stage
Last January 2022, I identified time to develop my New Year’s resolutions, including creating a personal brand plan for the year and pondering the new projects I want to embark on or finally conclude during the next twelve months. To make the process more exciting, I always buy new notebooks and planners. I even registered to attend a webinar on successful planning and bullet journaling!

A big part of this process includes setting priorities, identifying accomplishments, and setting goals so that you have the best possible option for positive results.

I try to make my journey more extraordinary by selecting someone to join me whom I find inspiring. This past year, I created a vision board with some friends. I had never done it before; however, the result was a pictorial representation of what I wanted my year to look like and where I wanted my adventure to travel. It was truly motivating, and as a bonus, I received great ideas from my friends and even discovered new things about myself during the process. After completing the journey, I feel renewed with energy and sparks for the new year. Indeed, it is a fascinating process that takes genuine analysis, introspection, vision, and optimism.

Charting a personal path

A big part of this process includes setting priorities, identifying accomplishments, and setting goals so that you have the best possible option for positive results. And as necessary as it is to know what I want to achieve, it is of utmost importance to proactively identify three triggers or red flags that may distract or detour me away from my own plan.

To keep things simple and help me on this yearly quest, I divide my attention into key areas:

  • First, identifying the mentors and sponsors I need by my side;
  • Second, remembering the importance of sharing knowledge and learning from others;
  • Third, keeping a high level of curiosity;
  • Fourth, reminding myself to never stop learning.

The Magic of Mentorship

I had always heard about mentorship but didn’t quite understand its impact on the mentor and the mentee. According to Forbes magazine, 76 percent of people think mentors are essential. However, only 37 percent of people currently have a mentor. These numbers reflect how I felt at first. I was focused on becoming a mentor and looking for any opportunity to learn to become one. But as part of this new planning process, I discovered how positively a mentor could impact my plan; I knew that in order to become a mentor, I needed to add (and accept) a mentor into the equation.

According to Forbes magazine, 76% of people think mentors are essential. However, only 37% of people currently have a mentor. These numbers reflect how I felt at first.

Keep in mind that a mentor is different from a sponsor. A mentor answers questions and offers advice, while a sponsor uses his or her connections to advocate for younger or less experienced employees and actively participate in their career growth. Fortunately, I’ve had great sponsors and am genuinely thankful for their contribution. However, in this stage of my career (and life), I understood that becoming a mentee has unique rewards. Why? Well, one of my mentors is a former boss, Olga Mayoral Wilson, APR, Fellow PRSA. (I recommend that you read her STRIVE article, “The Power of Pause.”) We have developed an extraordinary relationship full of respect, openness, and honesty. She has guided, encouraged, and helped me navigate some red flags and challenging situations. She leverages her experience to add a deeper level of analysis and introspection to my personal growth and at the same time open new windows of knowledge, connections, and opportunities. I’m truly blessed.

The Importance of Growth—and Sharing
For more than a year now, I have served as faculty advisor of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón’s chapter of PRSSA, aside from my role as a public relations professor for the last eleven years. Through that time and the hundreds of students I’ve met, I’ve learned the impact of intentionally sharing my experiences with my students. While it is intended to help shape their leadership roles, it also makes me grow and has helped me become a better planner and strategist.

As leaders, we must encourage and help this new generation bring their position, opinion, and diverse point of view to the conversation.

Being with this team of young future public relations pros keeps me energized, and I love their optimism and eagerness to achieve great things. However, my role as their leader and professor is to keep their feet on the ground and proactively identify detours and challenges. And in the process, I also learn.

Last semester, in one of my courses, I included an exercise where students were divided into teams, working on the same problem for the same client but focused on different audiences. Their discussions were full of learnings while discovering other points of view. They developed a half dozen plans full of great ideas and recommendations that made the master plan better and more robust. An exciting side lesson was seeing their understanding of how to avoid traps and detours take shape. As leaders, we must encourage and help this new generation bring their position, opinion, and diverse point of view to the conversation.

Keep Asking Questions

Curiosity: a great asset for all communicators. According to the dictionary, curiosity means a strong desire to know or learn something. In all these years as a communications strategist, I’ve learned that public relations practitioners are part of the group asking tough questions—the ones people want to avoid. It is part of our job to manage the elephant in the room to make our messages more precise and effective.

President Obama once said that asking questions “is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something and to learn something new.”

When developing your yearly plan, curiosity needs to be active. It’s the best time to ask all those questions, even the ones you think are irrelevant or ones to which you don’t have the answer.

  • Are there any circumstances, people, or projects that can detour you from this plan?
  • When this project ends, how would you like people to describe your role?
  • Do you have a clear outcome as part of your objectives?
  • Have you broken down the specific deliverables to measure your success?
  • Is this the year to achieve this goal or to start implementation with phase one?
  • Do you have the skills or knowledge that you need?
  • Who can guide or encourage you?
  • What happens if you don’t achieve this goal this year?

Leaders Never Stop Learning

I consider myself a natural learner. Every opportunity to discover and access new knowledge is priceless. However, I have also found my strengths and those areas where my capabilities could be improved or my available time to learn increased.

Aside from always looking for workshops, seminars, or webinars, I decided to add a formal process of identifying subject matter experts as a form of intentional networking. Every touchpoint I have with colleagues, students, and co-workers is an opportunity to connect with an SME. Don’t limit yourself to work-related interactions—maybe you’ll find a great partner at that PTA meeting.

As a young professional Puerto Rican woman, educator, community leader, and student mentor, I have learned to identify, analyze, and weigh as many available solutions as possible for the issues at hand. My optimism directs my energy to focus on what I want to achieve, thus keeping me away from limiting and interfering thoughts.

I consider myself a natural learner. Every opportunity to discover and access new knowledge is priceless.

I confess that my best birthday—a least up to now—has been my thirtieth. That’s because that year, I had an aha moment and discovered what I wanted to do in several areas of my life but also, most importantly, what I didn’t. It applied to relationships, work, family, and home. Now, I look back and I’m grateful for that enlightening moment because it made me a better leader, spouse, mom, daughter, and mentor. One who is inspired by the future and is ready to successfully manage the challenges ahead.

When sharing my experiences with mentees and colleagues, I never fail to mention that I learned from my successes and failures. In weighing both, I acquired a trove of knowledge about situations, human nature, audiences, corporate culture, and—most of all—myself. I can firmly say that today I own my learning process and, in doing so, my life experiences.

A portrait black and white circular headshot photograph of Raquel Rivera Torres smiling
Raquel Rivera Torres is a licensed public relations professional who leads the communication strategy and efforts across the Grupo Ferré Rangel family of companies. She is an active member of PRSA and a former president of the Association of Public Relations Professionals of Puerto Rico. She currently teaches public relations at Sacred Heart University in San Juan and is Faculty Advisor of its PRSSA chapter. She has received multiple awards for effective public relations campaigns, internal communications efforts, and special events. In 2017, she was recognized as Public Relations Professional of the Year.