How to Approach Personal and Professional Development

Thanks to blogs like this, social media, traditionally-published books and articles, workshops, and podcasts, there’s a wealth of information on personal and professional development. It can be overwhelming just to figure out where to start, let alone find resources that are applicable to your situation. So, before I delve into my opinions on the subject, I’d like to outline some ways to use everything I’ll be posting here.

1. I’m not always right (and neither is anyone else!)

I hope this is obvious, but if it wasn’t, consider it said here and now: Take any advice you get with a good grain of salt. My advice is inherently limited by my own experiences and research; your mileage will vary, and only you are going to know what will help you grow and further your own goals. There may be times when it behooves you to totally go against something I’ve advised. The important thing is to follow your instincts, sort through which parts work for you and which don’t, and adapt advice as you see fit. That being said, I do encourage you to not dismiss things that may be helpful but will take you out of your comfort zone: After all, we only gain experience through living that experience, and every time you stretch your comfort zone you get to keep the extra space.

Which leads me to…

2. Figure out what you want, and use your personal and professional development journey to get closer to that goal

Picture what you want…now go get it! Easy, right?

Just kidding. I’ve known a handful of people who have always known what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be, and even then, some of them took a roundabout way to get there. If you aren’t one of these people, don’t worry — figuring out what you want out of life is going to be the first topic I’m going to cover here, precisely because it’s good to start out with a goal. It’s okay if your goal is small and vague, because it’ll change as you learn more and put your tools into action.

As I said, we’ll be going into more detail on this soon, but I want to give you a small teaser: When I was in business school, I realized that no matter where I ended up, I didn’t want to work somewhere that required me to wear a suit. I have never been comfortable in suits, and would rather be able to work somewhere where I was allowed to be professional in a more casual setting, even if it meant losing out on opportunities that may earn me more money, or help me meet other aspects of my goals faster. It also meant giving up on certain careers entirely, but they’re careers that wouldn’t have suited me for a number of reasons, clothing least of all. That choice allowed me to focus my search to jobs I did want, and led to other similar realizations about the lifestyle I wanted while working.

I recognize this depends on having the privilege to choose, but these considerations are still worth thinking about even if you are not in a financial or other situation that allows you to pursue the career you want, because…

3. You reap the benefits of whatever you put time into

This is an important lesson to learn now. You aren’t allowed to know how much time as you’re given on this earth, but you are allowed to decide what to do with it. And let me be clear right now: I don’t (and nor should anyone) expect you to use every waking breath to be bettering yourself. Time off is incredibly important, and rest is beneficial to your brain and well-being. But I want you to consider how you use your time on a daily basis. How long do you spend scrolling through endless status updates on social media? How many levels of Candy Crush have you played this week? How many shows have you binged this month?

Trust me, no one is immune — I’ve played more solitaire than I will ever care to admit, and I have an explicit ban on installing Match-3 style games to my phone. But becoming conscious of your time and how you use it will help you find pockets of time in which to level up your life. Can you listen to a podcast about your hobby or career on your way to work instead of the radio? How about dedicating an hour each weekend to reading? Could you have lunch with a coworker instead of browsing Buzzfeed in your cubicle?

Your skills are like financial interest, and effort put into bettering them will compound over time — honestly, in my mind, time is the most important resource you have, and it’s far from free — it’s worth a lot, to all of us. We’ll work on learning to use it to your advantage, especially when using it to work toward your goals.

In fact, set a goal now. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but couldn’t find the time? We’re at the beginning of the year, when resolutions have been recently made. Find the time in your week, schedule it on your calendar, to achieve your goal. Mine for this year is this blog; yours can be anything. Start now, and we’ll use this time to make it to the end together. The important thing is to start somewhere, now!

4. Accountability is your friend

I find that declaring intent often is one of the best ways to transforming your habits and meeting your goals. This can be anything from simply writing your goal down and keeping it in a visible place where you see it daily, to getting a buddy with whom you communicate about the status and progress of your goals. I keep a star chart for my daily writing on which, like one might do for children, I give myself a star every time I complete my goal — let me tell you, it’s underrated. Giving myself a daily star gives me more pleasure than any other treat or bribe I’ve tried to give myself in the past. There’s something so satisfying about watching those stars add up! I also announce my intent on social media, mostly to friends, whose acknowledgement and comments help me commit to the work I’m doing.

Find your own way to keep your goals in mind. Photos, Pinterest boards, written goals, frequent updates, accountability partners…heck, even writing your dream salary down, if that’s what’s most important to you. Become accountable to something, and you’ll help keep yourself on track to your future.

5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Part of why it’s taken me so long to get this blog started is, honestly, fear of putting myself out there. In the writing of this post, I’ve thought of at least three better ways to go about it. Maybe I’m making no sense at all! Maybe I’m boring you all to tears.

Guess what — mistakes happen, will always happen. And frankly, they, too, are critical to your development.

There’s a reason why “tell me about a time you failed” is a popular interview question: Not only does it show that you are introspective and have good enough self-awareness to identify a moment or period of personal failure, as well as the courage to share it, but it shows that you’ve carried your mistakes with you into the future with, hopefully, the experience of how to deal with it already under your belt.

There’s been a lot of work done on fear and vulnerability, and how instrumental they are to finding your stride as the person you want to become. This goes back to pushing your comfort zone, but the more you can become vulnerable and face your fears, the bigger your comfort zone grows, and the more uncertainty you can handle…because now, fewer things are uncertain. You’ve already dealt with the ambiguity of fear, the anxiousness that comes with trying something new. Embrace the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability, and make them work for you.

And, something that’s so easily forgotten in the internet age: no one is perfect. Every single one of us is growing and learning day by day. By making, acknowledging, and learning from your own mistakes, you become more compassionate to the mistakes of others. And who knows? Your mistakes, if handled well and learned from, may just make you more friends.

6. Keep an open mind

I am all for skepticism, believe you me. However, so many of the moments I’ve had that have taught me something about myself came about from trying something new. By remaining open to change and flexible, you’ll achieve your goals with less work and better results.

That’s a big promise, right?

But I mean it. Again, trust your instincts: If something inside you is telling you to pivot, and you’ve done your research/know it won’t cause you or others harm, go for it. The worst that happens is that you fail…which, as I’ve already pointed out, can be a good thing. So what’s the harm?

I’m not saying to give up your high-powered Wall Street finance job to take up beekeeping, but if something is telling you that you need an apiary, maybe start by taking a class or reading a book. Explore what calls to you, and don’t be afraid to pivot if the timing is right.

Okay, my “tips” blog post is becoming small teasers for many of the things I’m going to cover in detail this year, but I hope you keep these things in mind as you start or continue your journey into personal and professional development!