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Series 1, “Now What?” Episode 1: Danal Blessis

When Danal Blessis ’82 got the offer to work for a consultant designing a railroad in Hong Kong, his experience with railways came entirely from a transportation course he’d taken at Duke. He took the job. He was once offered a job in knowledge management: “That sounds great,” he said, “but I’ve never heard those two words used in the same sentence before.” He took the job. He graduated Duke with a degree in engineering, but his experience through a series of jobs underscores his advice to get out of your comfort zone: take chances, take risks, and take what comes.

TRANSCRIPT:

TRACK
I’m Scott Huler and this is the Devils’ Share — a podcast of Duke Magazine

Series One: Now What?

[music]

TRACK
You know that moment. You graduated. You’re a few years out of school. You’ve had a job or two, live in an apartment, own a couch. The first couple years after college pass in a blur, but then you begin to settle down. And as your eyes finally adjust, you begin to understand the way work … works, and it’s not what you expected.

ACTUALITY
“[00:04:04] the head of engineering said to me I want to you to be in charge of knowledge management. And I said Well that sounds great but I’ve never heard those two words used in the same sentence before. [00:04:13]1

TRACK
You have a job, but the career you wanted turns out to be the wrong career. Or you’ve figured out your career, but now how do you get there? Or you’re just showing up to work every day and you realize: you have no idea what you’re doing. Or what you’re supposed to be doing. Or how to find out. What skills do you really need? How do you get where you’re supposed to be?

And that’s when real life starts.

ACTUALITY
You get times in your life, in your career, where you are asked to do things that you might think are out of your comfort zone. But clearly somebody else thinks you’ve got an ability or a talent to do something different than what you’ve been doing.” 0:15

TRACK
Everyone has some version of this story — the story of your work finding you. For Vox Alumni, the Duke Magazine podcast in which Duke alumni tell you about things they’ve thought about, we asked Duke alumni on campus for a meeting at the Penn Pavilion about that moment — about figuring out what they were up to, and about how that moment comes — over and over again.

ACTUALITY
I’m Donal Blessis I’m living in Raleigh, I’m a civil engineer, currently retired, worked for 20 years in Hong Kong in the mass transit railway industry. I graduated in 1982 from Pratt School of Engineering. I can think to many times in my career when I had sort of an a–ha moment when somebodh asked me to do something that came way out of leftfield and I had no idea what it was.

The very first time that happened to me was when i had been working as an engineer for the power company and and i’m sitting in my office one day and the director of HR comes in and says will you come to work for me in HR and be our compensation manager?

And I was like, Where is that coming from? I told him flat out i wasn’t even thinking i just sort of spurted out, My god, I don’t know anything about HR and compensation other than what I see in my own salary statement. But the point was he said to me I don’t need an HR expert. If I wanted that I would have gone to somebody else. He said I want somebody who’s been in the organization and understands the technical jobs and what’s going on in line management.”

TRACK
SImilar things have happened many times.

ACTUALITY
“I got an offer to work in … for a consultant planning and designing a new railway project in Hong Kong. As I said I had worked in the electric utilities industry i had no experience with railways … other than one transportation course I took at Duke. but they wanted me for communication skills and the ability to put reports and proposals together and things like that.

The third time was when I started a brand new job and I went into the office and the head of the legal department said to me your job description’s just changed i’m going to put you in charge of a merger we have with the other railway company. And I said this is crazy I know nothing about mergers and acquisitions. But there again they felt like I knew enough about what was going on on the ground to help make that work.”

TRACK
Had he tried to predict his path, to stick to some plan, he’d never have found his way. Who knows what skills will turn out to be important?

ACTUALITY
“Absolutely and I think this is what Duke gave me and something that some engineers are better at the design and the technical and the number crunching and computer programming and things like that. I was always more interested in the soft skills and the management side and the business side of things and I think my bosses always recognized that in me along the way. I often tell people that probably the best course I ever took at Duke was my freshman writing course because if you find an engineer who can put words on paper that’s a pretty good skill to have.”

TRACK
Willing to follow an unexpected path, Blessis let his work find him. He considers that a vital lesson.

ACTUALITY
“Don’t focus only on exactly what job you’re doing or on what you think is your perfect or ideal job. Whatever job you get, get in there, do a good job, and as you are in there for a while you’ll start understanding what you’re good at, what part of the business you like better than othyers, the bosses and the management will start to see that as well and the organization will help you find your perfect spot in the organization. You don’t need to have it right out of college. …

TRACK
Next on the Devils’ Share

ACTUALITY, different voice:
I guess what I would say is if you find yourself in that place first of all you’re going to have lots of those moments in life. This is not the first time so don’t panic. I’m 45 and what I thought

TRACK
Thanks for listening to the Devils’ Share, from Duke Magazine.

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