Professional Development is Your Project

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The problem with high school is that there’s a lot of people telling you what to do, where to be, and how you need to complete x,y and z in order to get your diploma.

Then in university or college you’ve got a little more freedom to decide how and when you do things, but you still have to meet the prerequisites to graduate, and do more schooling, or become a whatever and by then you’ll have totally figured out how to do things for yourself, right?

Unfortunately, I’ve found this isn’t always the case. Sure, each workplace has a certain set of rules you have to follow, and most jobs have a job description that you have to adhere to. But your job is just you job; your workplace is just where you work. That is, for now. Who helps you to decide when it’s time to move on? Who tells you what to do to gain upward mobility in your company? What the prerequisites for getting promotions? For changing careers? For scaling back?

For some, knowing that your career has the ability to head in whatever direction you want is really freeing. Others might be totally cool with finding a good position and sticking with it, providing it meets their lifestyle needs. If you’re one the latter, congratulations- it sounds like you’re already in the place that you need to be.

I think most of us meet somewhere in the middle (myself included). We crave the autonomy to make our own decisions about when, where and what we work at (exciting!); at the same time, we wish there was someone to guide us where we need to go otherwise how else do we find our way of getting there? (Scary!)

It’s kind of brutal, but it’s the truth: professional development is your project.

Don’t panic; it’s actually pretty liberating. Does it require a certain amount of discipline and motivation on your part? Totally. But you’re in change of when, where and how you want to develop yourself professionally.

The most exciting (and challenging) part is deciding the what:

  • What skills do you want to acquire?
  • Which skills do you want to improve?
  • What contacts do you want to make?
  • What experience do you want to gain?
  • What do you want to get certified in?
  • What do you want to learn?

Once you’ve figured out the what, the how comes so much easier: take a workshop, join a club, go back to school, audit a class, attend a conference, get a membership, volunteer, shadow a mentor.

And read, read, read: books related to finding your ideal career or better yet, find the biography of someone who has achieved success at what you want to do. Read magazines, newspapers, blogs and other industry publications to keep your knowledge current.

You may want to map out what of some of these steps look like on a long-term scale. What are some of your goals? What do you want to accomplish? Where do you want to go? Where do you want to end up?

Or maybe you’ve already found yourself in a good place career-wise and you’re looking to keep the momentum going. Your professional development projects might be more along the lines of expanding your target market, developing a new product, or re-branding your company.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to change it up, or hate challenging the status quo: professional development is definitely a project we have to take on ourselves. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. In a way careers can mimic- they can be ebb and flow and take us to destinations that we never thought were possible.

The beauty of it, is that you have the freedom to choose how you’ll navigate that flow, and hopefully you’ll end up somewhere wonderful.

At the very least, I hope you enjoy the ride.

KBwB-BFlower-50What are some of the professional skills that you’ve been working on? Share your trials and tribulations below, or email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com.

For more advice on navigating careers and the workplace, click here.

Book Review: Jon Acuff on Loving Your Job Anyways

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I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself the other day until I read Jon Acuff’s Do Over.

No, it didn’t make me feel better; at least, not at first. It made me bawl my eyes out.

Even though Do Over is the only business book to evoke such an emotional response from me, I didn’t enjoy it just for the catharsis it provided me. It’s a fresh perspective on why we work the kinds of jobs that we do, and the choices that we make in the workplace that can advance (or destroy) our careers.

Acuff argues that as a society we’re trained to find jobs instead of pursuing careers. Gone are the days when people found a “good job” and stayed in the same position for twenty-five years. Nowadays it’s common to switch careers up to three times throughout your working life.

So why this sudden shift?

Things like job security and health benefits are still important to most people. But in a world with a growing population and a fluctuating economy, these “good jobs” are fewer and far between. We’re living longer, too, and becoming more educated, so the competition for these jobs is higher. Many are forced to adopt a lower standard or accept a less than ideal position in order to remain employed.

Although much of Do Over is about giving your career a fresh start, what made it so poignant for me was the empathy Acuff expresses for his readers who feel frustrated and stuck in their current positions. And then he gives those readers a swift kick in the pants. It’s our attitudes that are the problem, he explains. No one ever got to exactly where they wanted without hard work and sacrifice. Sometimes it’s about making the best of an opportunity. Through befriending co-workers, finding mentors and developing new skills, you can take what you’ve learned in your current job and adapt it to any future situation, so you can finally start heading in the direction that you want to go.

Is it a challenge? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

And that’s kind of why the book got me in the feels- we’ve all been in situation where we feel stuck, bored or dissatisfied in our jobs. Yes, the purpose of a job is to make money, but there’s a lot to be said for enjoying yourself (even just a little) in the place where you spend most of your waking hours.

Don’t forget, there could be benefits to your job as well besides the money- a great relationship with your co-workers, a sense of autonomy, or a chance to be creative may be the reason you choose to stay in a position, or the reason why you chose a position in the first place.

Even if you’re not looking to make a major career change, I’d still recommend Do Over as a good read after a bad work day, or a bad work week, or if you’re simply just frustrated and in the mood for some wallowing. Acuff’s writing is snappy and humorous but at the end of the day it’s the catharsis I experienced after finishing it that makes Do Over such a good read.

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Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

When You Just Need a Sounding Board

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Everyone needs at least one important person in their professional lives that has nothing to do with your boss, your co-workers, or your employees. Whether you’re the person who runs meetings or the person who cleans up after them, we all as professional people need a sounding board to get us through our professional crises and challenges.

Swapping work horror stories over margaritas with friends may be a fun way to unwind and let loose all of that nasty stuff that you’ve been holding in all week, like how tired you are of hearing your co-worker swoon over her new boyfriend, or how poorly-dressed the new supervisor was last Thursday.

Having someone to act as a sounding board for you is a more meaningful experience than that. It’s useful to be able to gossip (and depending on your relationship with your sounding board there may be some sniping involved). But more importantly, your sounding board is someone you should be able to go to in times of real difficulty; someone who knows you well enough to understand how you operate and which professional goals mean the most to you. They can help provide an objective perspective on your own unique challenges at work while keeping your personal and professional well-being in mind.

This person may be a trusted friend, a former colleague, or an acquaintance met through work connections. Maybe it’s a friend of yours that has similar career goals, or a relative who may have experience in your particular field. Whatever your relationship is to your sounding board, they ultimately should be someone you trust and ultimately someone whose opinion you respect. Ideally, your sounding board should be drawn from your pool of acquaintances outside of your own workplace (if you have one). Work relationships run the risk of going south quickly if sensitive or potentially harmful information is shared. Open communication between you and your sounding board is key; it’s important that you choose a sounding board with whom you can be candid, and who can return your candor in a constructive way.

A mentor may be someone with whom you share a working relationship, or hope to someday; a sounding board is someone with whom you can maintain a somewhat professional distance. You never want your own personal feelings or opinions to get in the way of a potential client or partnership. A sounding board is someone who will understand that you are not the sum of what you do to make money and that your career is not necessarily based on the current job you have.

I’m lucky enough to have a couple of different sounding boards in my life- people who I can rant to, people who can give me guidance when I’m feeling stuck, even people who are willing to look at my work with a fresh pair of eyes when I’m feeling like my brain is made of mush.

Choose your sounding boards carefully and you can find yourself in one of the best relationships you’ve experienced in your working career.  I know I have and as I continue to dream and grow (and mostly dream) my business, I hope to meet many more.

KBwB-BFlower-50Do you have a sounding board in your life? Give them a shout-out below, or if you’ve got a special story to share, email it to me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I may decide to include it in a future post (with you and your sounding board’s permission, of course).

I look at careers and working life a little differently than the rest- probably because I spend most of my life working and then reading books that are about working. To see where I get some of my inspiration, click here to read some of my business book reviews. If you’re looking for more ways to balance your professional life, I write a lot about doing business here.