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What is Professional Development?

What do you think of when you hear the words “professional development”?

For some, those words conjure images of hundreds of people sitting in an auditorium listening to a speaker drone on about their latest system with a fancy acronym and why you should enroll in their latest program that costs thousands of dollars that will pretty much tell you a bunch of things you had already figured out for yourself.

It could be the professional development day that your company has set aside full of trust falls, creating team slogans, along with cheering and chanting. Meanwhile everyone is thinking about all the work they will have to catch up on when they get back to the office.

Or we picture the latest computer-based training that our organization has made mandatory for everyone to accomplish. Nothing makes professional development more boring than clicking through slides on a computer. Unfortunately, in many cases, what those responsible for our professional development believe we should work on is way off the mark of what would provide us the most benefit.

It doesn’t need to be that way though. There is a way to grow professionally in the areas we believe are most valuable to our development and are most interesting to us at the same time.

The answer is to take responsibility for our own professional development. Yes, we need to do all the things our organization asks (or mandates) us to do; but if those activities are not enriching our lives and sparking a desire to advance in our careers, we need to find some activities that will.

Professional development is anything that you do to expand your knowledge, skills or experience to do your job better. Look for ideas that are not obvious but can still teach you something about yourself and inspire you to act.

  • Take a cooking class to understand how important it is to develop processes that have a core to be followed but also allow flexibility to account for style and taste.

  • Do an escape room with your team to practice your attention to detail and problem-solving skills.

  • Read or listen to something that interest you for an hour each evening. It doesn’t need to be a business or self-help book. History, art, music and even fiction all have valuable lessons that can help us be better at our jobs and grow as leaders.

  • If you have skills you feel like you need to learn for your job, alternate your professional development between learning those skills and exploring topics that interest you or take you out of your comfort zone.

It’s more important to get in the habit of fostering your curiosity on a regular basis rather than choose the perfect topic for professional development. Absorbing many influences and making connections between them on our own time can be much more valuable to our professional development than digging into a detailed course or program. Those classes can certainly be part of our growth but are not the end all and be all.

At its core, professional development is personal. Take the initiative to figure out what interests you the most and learn from it. You’ll always be able to take something away that will help you in your job and career as long as you approach it from a place of curiosity and a sincere desire to learn.

The bottom line is that we absolutely must do professional development if we want to grow, but what we do doesn’t need to conform to someone else’s idea of growth. More importantly, we need to just do it for ourselves and pursue those activities that will answer the questions we are most curious about in life. You may find that by taking responsibility for your own professional development that you have headed down a path towards an even more exciting career that you never imagined!


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