No matter what professional field you find yourself in, you never know everything. Staying on top of the latest theories and technical advancements of your profession can sometimes seem like a full time job on its own. And then there are the skills we need to be able to develop within ourselves and reach our full potential. Here are some suggestions for how to approach your ongoing professional development to help grow and blossom to your fullest potential.
Before we get too deep into the detail, let’s make sure we’re clear on what we mean when we talk about professional development. Probably unsurprisingly, it can be regarded in a few different ways. In the broadest sense, professional development is the ongoing advancement of skills and knowledge in order to maintain or increase a level of competence in a professional field.
In this broad application, it may include technical training specific to the field, or it may enhance other personal skills development that will enable someone to grow, nurture their talents, and realise greater potential. Professional training such as time management, delegation skills, public speaking and presentation, coaching, or leadership skills, can all help realise one’s professional potential, without necessarily building on specific technical skills.
Professional development can also be a more formal requirement of a particular profession, like teaching, nursing, accounting, and various medical professions. Specialists in these fields are often expected to continue their learning to maintain professional credentials and registrations. This might include academic qualifications, formal coursework, conferences and other learning opportunities. Some professional organisations expect that their members will undertake continuous professional development and facilitate this by providing learning materials, courses, and workshops.
It’s a good idea to create a professional development plan based on your career goals and aspirations. Writing down your ambitions and aspirations is incredibly helpful in clarifying where you want your career to take you. Committing it all to writing gives you a clearly articulated reference point, that you can check back on and use to measure your progress towards goals. It’s like creating a vision statement for yourself.
As you develop your vision, think about things like:
Keep you plan somewhere prominent so that you see it often and remind yourself of where you’re heading and how you are progressing. It’s easy to let the busy-ness of everyday life get in the way of big picture goals. Keep them front of mind.
Sometimes big goals and ambitions can be daunting. Prioritise which goals are most important to you and then break them down into individual, achievable tasks. Keep working through the lists of tasks that you need to achieve each goal and you’ll be well on the road to success before you know it.
If you’re struggling to define your career goals, or struggling to stay on track to achieve them, you should consider using a career coach. A coach won’t find you a job or tell you exactly what career path you should follow. But, she will work with you to help you identify your life purpose – your reason to get out of bed in the morning – and identify careers that align with this. She’ll also help you identify your talents, and strengths and weaknesses and what jobs are suited to your unique personality and passion.
A coach is terrific in helping you build your career roadmap, supporting you to create long term goals and the milestones you need to achieve in order to accomplish your goals. And – probably most importantly – a coach will keep you accountable to the goals you have set.
A professional development plan is never final. Whilst having something a bit formal and structured makes it much easier to map your progress and achieve your goals, it doesn’t mean that it can never change once you’ve chosen a course of action. You obviously can’t predict the future and there are all sorts of things that can happen in life that will impact your career journey. Your thoughts and opinions might change. Your goals might shift. You might get married or divorced, or have a child.
There may be significant changes in the economic environment. Virtually none of this is reasonably foreseeable. And part of being a successful professional is the ability to remain nimble, flexible, and responsive to your surrounding environment. Continue to use your plan as your rough roadmap to the things you want to achieve, and revise it regularly.
The gift of learning is so much more than a stepping stone to a career goal. Embrace lifelong learning for all that it has to offer – not just a means to an end. If you really are all about ticking off new skills and information for career growth, that’s ok too. Just remember that if you move forward as you plan to, you will need to continue to build your skills, knowledge and expertise, so there will always be more learning to be had. While you continue to pursue a career, your professional development plan will be an integral part of your success.