Professional development would ideally be an ongoing process, but we know that it can be challenging to find enough time with work-life pressures, or sufficient motivation with so many other things to prioritise.
If often feels like it must take a conscious effort just to get going – to pick a day to begin, to write a list of goals, or to put down a target to reach by a certain date. And then to start over again a few months later when other things have got in the way and your plans have been thrown off track.
The hardest thing about professional development is probably finding the time to get down to it. We know that we risk missing out if we ignore it. We know that by investing in it we take greater control over our destiny. We know that we don’t have to wait for a milestone – a birthday, a new year, a new job – to act as the catalyst. With that in mind, we’ve put together seven sustainable ways to boost your professional development: small things you can do right now to increase your confidence in the skills you already have and to build your knowledge in new directions.
1. Don’t be afraid of feedback
Worrying about what feedback might be can easily get in the way of asking for it in the first place. Seeking it out can feel like we’re inviting personal criticism or uncovering blind spots that increase our self-doubt. However, it’s only when you understand where you can improve that you can take steps to do something about it. Feedback is usually rarely as self-critical as you fear, and with the mindset of using it to get better, you shouldn’t be afraid of approaching others – your manager, a colleague, a family member, a friend – to ask them to give you feedback on a recent piece of work or accomplishment. Try to weigh positive feedback equally with anything negative and make the most of the other person’s opinion to get an outside perspective on areas where you can improve.
2. Ask more questions
Sometimes it can feel like we’re failing by asking questions: troubling others unnecessarily or broadcasting the shortcomings in our own knowledge. But often the best way to get an answer, or to learn something new, is simply just to ask. Getting answers can be quite transformative. It can make you more engaged with existing challenges, throw up new questions you’d never thought about, and help you to build a rapport with other people who you can then help in turn. Try not to fall into the trap of asking questions just to prop up your confidence. Make sure you understand the answers you’re given so that you can retain the information and act upon it. Keep curious – enquire about what others are working on, see if there’s a better way to do something, find out what changes, challenges and projects are on the horizon. Often, if you never ask, you’ll never know.
3. Believe in yourself
It’s very rare for anyone to go through their professional life without moments of self-doubt or feelings of imposter syndrome. But the chances are you have many more skills and much greater resilience than you realise. Improve your confidence by paying attention to your negative voice but find ways to reframe the dialogue. Reflect on the skills that you have successfully developed and the goals that you have attained. Realise that you can step out of your comfort zone, that you can handle challenges, and that you can get to where you want to be. If you have more confidence in what you are capable of, it’s easier to embrace something new and say yes to opportunities that you might have put off or be in danger of letting pass by.
4. Share your knowledge
Sharing what you know with others is a fantastic way to reinforce your capabilities, as you think deeper about your knowledge and skills and how you go about putting them into practice. Sharing will often make you think about things in a different way, give you a new purpose by helping others, and work on your softer skills of communication and teamwork. You will probably be asked questions you hadn’t considered before, giving you the chance to adapt or extend your knowledge. Informing others will also help to develop your self-awareness, give you the opportunity to network with new people, and open the door to reciprocal knowledge sharing in the future.
5. Learn from others
Whether it’s taking part in formal training, picking up a book, watching an online video or asking a friend or colleague for advice, there will always be something that you can do to learn something new or advance an existing skill. It doesn’t have to be in an area you are already familiar with. One of the best things about learning from others is when it broadens your horizons and takes you into territory you’d never considered or gives you fresh tools that you can use straight away or in the future. Learning from others can be particularly powerful if you can find a person who has been in your shoes or got to where you want to be. This could be someone you already know or someone completely outside your network. There are plenty of experts in every field and so many ways to tap into that knowledge.
6. Focus on your wellbeing
Professional development is about putting yourself and your own wellbeing first. Stress, overwork, or even lack of activity and boredom are not conducive to personal growth and advancement. Make sure that the foundations are in place to optimise your well-being so that you’re in the right mindset to learn and that new knowledge can take root and flourish. There are many simple ways to focus on your well-being. You could aim to get more exercise, leave work behind in working hours, eat a better diet, or get more hours of quality sleep. Even just having the occasional quiet moment to yourself can help you to relax and reflect on the things you want to achieve, and to visualise all the positive things you’re going to do.
7. Be adaptable to change
Whether it’s taking your career in a new direction, advancing in an existing career, or simply to feel like you’re gaining more mastery and satisfaction in what you’re doing already, being adaptable to change is very important to keep yourself on that path. Life is all about the unexpected and being adaptable will keep you resilient to whatever change may come your way. Don’t feel like it is ever too late to try something different, step away from something that isn’t fulfilling you, or ask for help if you’re feeling lost. By accepting that change is a constant part of life and professional growth, you will be in a good frame of mind to overcome setbacks and make the most of unexpected opportunities.
If you are interested in boosting your professional development, then studying for a new qualification can be a great way of reaching your goal. To find out more about our online undergraduate and postgraduate courses, download our prospectus today.