Professional Development: No Box Required

The purpose of professional development is to strive to be better, to perform more effectively, to reach a higher professional level, and to know more in a world full of knowledge. While there are many continuing education classes, training, research, and reading opportunities, often these don’t fit our specific needs. Understanding how one learns may also impact how they should go about professional development. Sometimes thinking outside of the box is the most effective way to achieve growth on a consistent basis.

Earlier this year I took a Harvard class on leadership.. It energized me by taking the class andI wanted to take another one right away. Instead, my chronic illness flared up, and I decided that the way forward was to focus on self-paced professional development. A few months later I took part in an Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Awareness Challenge, and started a project to provide encouragement and education to others with this syndrome. I also took the personal challenge of informing my team and professional network of my battle with EDS.

I didn’t consider talking to my team about my chronic illness as professional development until I evaluated what professional development means. I started asking, “Am I in a different/better position than I was before opening up to my team? Did it benefit my career? Did it improve my workflow?” The answer is: Yes. Instead of pressuring myself to perform flawlessly, my vulnerability enabled me to refocus on what really matters. That has also helped me be more compassionate, more understanding, and more focused on my team’s and client’s needs.

Do these things technically qualify as professional development? If the goal of professional development is to grow and become a better professional, then it absolutely qualifies. Growth in a positive, professional manner is exactly what we should be striving for. Learning something to pass an exam or achieve a piece of paper does not compare to broadening everyday life skills. Ticking a checkbox, for example, isn’t about learning or growth; it’s adhering to someone else’s definition of what you need to know. That is often not enough and sometimes the only way to achieve genuine professional development is to get creative, and stretch your definitions.

Ways to think outside the box with your professional development:

Be a leader.

Being a leader enables you to take what you learn and put it into practice. It reinforces all of the work/dedication you are already putting in, and at the same time it helps others. While leadership may be more time consuming than independently working on your own core skill set, the ultimate proof of understanding is being able to educate others by putting concepts into practice.

Take risks.

Taking considered risks and managing them is how we push our ability to handle increasingly difficult situations. Sometimes you have to take the initiative. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up first when someone is asking for a volunteer, or offer suggestions no matter how good you think they are. And most importantly - never let failure discourage you from reaching your goals.

Know that when you’re uncomfortable, it’s a good thing.

Just like taking risks, you only grow when you’re uncomfortable. Saying “no” is easy.Saying “yes” is a commitment that leads to change. It’s easy to say “I’m too tired to exercise” and then tell yourself “someday I’ll be fit.” It’s harder to get off the couch than it is to do the workout itself. It’s uncomfortable, and it hurts, but once you make that commitment to yourself and learn to embrace the uncomfortable, your mindset will change.

Sometimes the opposite is necessary, such as when you’re trying to build better habits and not eat that piece of cheesecake or binge watch that TV show when you should be reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Focus on building yourself and your future; be intentional with your words and don’t avoid discomfort.

Don’t talk - DO.

Planning is not action. Telling people about your plans is not action. Writing about your plans is not action. Opportunities fall in your lap when you start doing instead of planning. Often when you start with one thing, you’ll find a whole new area to discover, both about your trade and about yourself.

Take every opportunity.

While this piece is geared around professional development, growth can be achieved in every aspect of life. The challenge is in recognizing opportunities and acting on them. When evaluating an opportunity or challenge, ask yourself the following: Will the skill benefit your professional life, even in indirect ways? Will it improve your mindset so you can perform better or be happier? Why are you stopping yourself? Call yourself out; we need accountability and to be reminded that we have the last say when it comes to our own successes.