Career Pivots and Communications: An Interview with Deirdre Breakenridge

Is there a deep question you’ve encountered that can’t be answered through a Google search alone? Do you believe the insights from speaking to others about this question would benefit not only you, but others? Could you imagine that the experience of exploring this question could lead to a career pivot or, in the case of a student, exploring a different professional route that you previously didn’t consider? 

If yes, follow the example of Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications. Deirdre’s career was in cruise control: she had established a successful consultancy, written several popular business books, had taught as a university professor for many years and had created several popular online courses.

After the tragic loss of Deirdre’s 24-year old stepdaughter Noelle in 2018, Deirdre went on a year-long quest looking for answers from other millennials. She interviewed over 100 young individuals who shared their insights and deepest thoughts. This ultimately led to Deirdre developing a model for communications called FEEL: facing your Fears, engaging with Empathy, using Ethics and good judgment and unleashing the Love of your mission across communication channels for genuine engagement to build unbreakable bonds. Deirdre’s work now focuses on using this proprietary model in her work as a consultant.

“We were all heartbroken and I had to reevaluate everything,” Deirdre said on episode 13 of the Informational Interview 2.0 podcast. “When I looked at what I was doing and how I was showing up, I thought immediately that I needed to better understand how millennials were thinking and feeling. I had so many questions and I couldn’t ask Noelle, so I went out and did this passion project in which I interviewed 100 millennials.”

She asked questions like:

  • How do you show up to your conversations?
  • What do you value?
  • Are you being authentic?
  • How do you build trust?
  • What are you looking for from the people around you?

How Stories Informed the Model

A particularly striking story was of a young person who spent the weekend in the hospital emergency room due to a health matter, but rather than telling any of her colleagues she submitted her project on the Monday deadline because she didn’t feel that there would be any compassion or kindness.

Another moving story was of a young lady who expected her boyfriend to propose. Instead, she found out that he was cheating on her. The next day she was posting her best selfies on social media, trying to convey that notion of everything in life being perfect on social media, even though she was broken on the inside.

These types of stories informed the FEEL model that Deirdre developed which is now the backbone of her work. 

“Everything must be strategic in communications, but you need a FEEL lens,” said Deirdre. “You use strategy to get engagement. When you do engage, will it be a one-off transaction or will you go deeper? When you put a FEEL lens on that interaction, that is when you get the real relationship, trust, loyalty and advocacy.”

Gaining Clarity around your Mission

The “L” of the FEEL model – love of your mission – can be challenging for many, especially students and younger professionals. Deirdre shared that “things are going to change throughout your career. We all grow. What we think success entails at age 20 might be different by age 30 and in your 40s. But what is one thing that you really love to do and is a problem you are solving that people would pay for, yet you would do this for free.” 

To find this mission, Deirdre advised that you:

  • Tune in to yourself.
  • Don’t be distracted by external forces. 
  • Be wary of naysayers.

You can take the FEEL First Test at this link.

In addition, Deirdre shared that there are many ways we can innovate in our own careers by networking with other individuals. Conversations alone won’t suffice; you need to truly and actively listen. For example, based on the learning from the conversations during her research project, she is now in the process of authoring a new book entitled Answers for Ethical Marketers

She encouraged others to also create content as part of their career journeys. 

“When you do this, you learn, grow, expand your horizons and meet new people. You also open up yourself to new opportunities.”

To be more effective at content creation as a means to gaining career clarity, Deirdre advised that you closely follow the work of other professionals.

“If you find a professional who is inspiring and you like their content, think about what they are doing. Look at their website, blog and social media channels. Engage and share their work.”  

By doing this, you then have a foundation in place and can potentially reach out to try setting up an opportunity to connect for a phone call or meeting.

You can learn more about Deirdre’s work at her blog, connect with her on LinkedIn and listen to her podcast Women Worldwide

The Informational Interview 2.0 Podcast is brought to you by the Global Innovators Academy’s “Interview an Innovator” course experience and by Career Path Writing Solutions.