The Three “Rs” – Stages of Growth in Professional Development
By Hon. Adrienne Nelson
In a world in which we have multiple roles which we perform on a daily basis – community leader, daughter, mother, spouse/domestic partner, aunt, sister, trusted friend – it’s hard to find time for professional development. For me, juggling multiple roles has made it a real challenge to focus on my professional growth. Over time, I had to have an honest talk with myself about what was working in my life and what was not while accepting that self-awareness is part of professional development. Then I took slow and deliberate steps to become more self-aware through what I call the three R’s: reflection, reality and renewal.
Self-Awareness through Reflection, Reality and Renewal
To develop yourself professionally, you have to spend some time getting to know who you are and not just who you want to be or want others to see. This is where the first “R,” reflection, occurs. Finding out who you are is not easy. It takes initiative, commitment, hard work, perseverance and courage to get to know just who you are and what you want. How do you reflect to get to know yourself? By knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you will figure out your skills, limitations and boundaries. When you know yourself, you’re more empathetic to others’ needs and are rarely blind-sided or viewed as out of touch. As you get to know yourself, you will exhibit a unique professional presence. Self-awareness is an essential precursor to leading others and marketing yourself successfully. It is at this stage that you can come up with a professional development plan. More about that later!
Next, move into the second “R,” reality. Have a real heart-to- heart with yourself as often as needed: every three months, every six months or once a year. Determine where you are right now on your plan, if you have met your established goals and why or why not. Identify the skills and experience you need to have in order to achieve the next steps of your professional development plan. Revise your plan as needed. As you work through this step, you will learn your true professional value, which means you will understand your special skills, what contributions you bring and know what professional environments work and don’t work for you. When you are in the “reality” phase, you can foster success in yourself and others because you understand where you add value, and recognized when to say “no,” or when to stay out of others’ way so that they can do what they do best.
Now, move into the third “R,” renewal. Now that you know where you are and where you are going, take some time for replenishing yourself mentally, physically, emotionally as well as spiritually. Exercising, spending time with friends and family, developing hobbies and interests, taking time off from work, and eating well give you the tools needed as well as the ability to succeed in your professional development. Don’t minimize their importance.
By reflecting, living in reality and renewing myself on a regular basis, I receive some unexpected benefits along the way. I became more patient, peaceful and grounded. I let things just be the way they are without trying to control the outcome. As I accepted people and situations for what they are, I felt healthier, clearer and less stressed.
Self-awareness is a lifelong process with ups and downs. But being self-aware will help you handle all of the various tasks, interests and obligations in your life.
The Professional Development Plan
Through my experience with self-awareness, I came up with a ten-step professional development plan I would like to share with you but with these disclaimers: it is an evolving plan, the steps don’t have to occur in order, the plan is not a “one-size fits all” – it is just what has worked for me!
Step 1 - Take charge of your own life. It’s the responsibility of each of us to take steps to increase our insight, plan our own future, assess our career and professional growth, focus on our targets and goals and set professional standards. Going hand in hand with that, our standards are reflected in how we treat other people. By acting ethically and treating others with respect, you will earn other people’s admiration, make others want to work with you and encourage others to follow your lead.
Step 2 - Identify what stage you are in your professional development – the early career stage, the mid-career stage, or the late-career stage.
- The entry stage of your career is when you first enter the profession or a new job within the profession. This is where you will need the most professional development in the most areas.
- The mid-career stage is when you are established as a contributing member of the professional community with a unique identity. At least one area of expertise is developed during this stage and your professional identity is established through your work on projects, committees and special assignments. Often you are involved in organizations and associations in the professional community, ultimately chairing a committee and taking on leadership roles in them. Professional development continues in this stage but becomes more focused.
- The late-career stage is when you take on increasing responsibility, either formal or informal, for developing others in organizations and the workplace until you play a key role in shaping the future by “developing” people, programs and ideas. Often you have developed a distinct competence in several areas of expertise and have a regional or national reputation. You can be a catalyst for change and are capable of exercising formal and informal influence in the decision-making process. Professional development occurs in this stage but may change depending on your evolving roles.
Step 4 - Verbalize your professional development goals. Clearly and concisely state your long-term professional goals. Examples of professional development goals might be to gain knowledge and skills necessary to work more effectively with a business or an organization, expand expertise in litigating cases or develop a personal brand. First, be sure your goals are so clear that you will know when or whether you have accomplished them. Second, write them down. Give your goals top priority by keeping them visible to you every day – either at work, at home or at both. You may also wish to carry them with you.
Your accomplishment will be determined by your ability to direct your day-to-day actions toward clearly defined, measurable goals. Success does not come from plans; it comes from accomplishments!
One of the most frequent reasons for not setting goals is the conscious or subconscious fear of failure. If you don’t set goals, you can’t fail. Not so – the clearest failures of the future will be those who can’t move ahead, can’t risk. In a rapidly changing society, no career can stand still for long. Even if you’re on the right track, if you’re not moving forward you’ll be run over.
Step 5 - Select appropriate professional development opportunities. For each professional development goal, list those professional development opportunities you wish to pursue that will assist you in reaching those goals. For example, take a CLE, speak at an event, go to a networking session. It is up to you.
Step 6 - Engage in mind, body and spirit stretching. In this step it is important to recognize that personal growth requires new experiences for mind, body and spirit. Branch out into interdisciplinary approaches in learning and living. Develop new linkages with people, organizations, and activities that develop new insights and experiences. This takes an experimental attitude which will involve risk.
Step 7 - Inventory your life. Periodically inventory your capabilities, desires and resources. Review the constraints on your life as well as your achievements. Conduct an annual personal performance review.
Step 8 - Write a personal mission statement. Writing a personal mission statement may seem time consuming or irrelevant, but it is a way to add meaning to all of the work that you do and gives you focus. Here’s what I know: when you have a better understanding of why you are here and what your purpose is, you can develop realistic goals and valuable long-range goals (10 to 20 or more years). Long-range goals can then be divided into short-term goals (1 to 5 years) and supported by tasks (daily, monthly, yearly).
Step 9 - Develop an action plan. In any integration of a career and personal growth, each of us needs an action plan than involves setting targets and reexamining our lifestyle to determine if it contributes to our goals. This action plan reviews past learning experiences and develops lifelong learning plans for personal education experiences, challenges and opportunities.
Step 10 - Plan for support, review, and evaluation. Identify and value the support of significant others in your life: those friends and colleagues who can give feedback on behavior, competencies and limitations to help you better understand how to market yourself and meet the needs of others. Evaluate new directions to assess their meaningfulness and satisfaction. Build spontaneous celebrations of achievement and successes into life to reinforce the value of continuous growth. This step helps you to “stay on track.”
Benefits of a Professional Development Plan
A professional development plan provides a system and process that can help you plan for the future. Some of the specific benefits are:
- To help determine where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.
- To provide an opportunity to discuss professional development goals with colleagues who can offer ideas, support and feedback.
- To reinforce the concept of “everything’s possible” and that goals aren’t overwhelming if tackled step-by-step. The plan makes goals manageable.
- To assist you in preparing information and plans for annual performance appraisal, honors and awards, professional leave, and building your resume and vita.
- To help you determine needs for in-service training and professional development.
- To assist you in planning for future career opportunities.
I hope that I have encouraged you to develop or refine your professional development plan. Living successfully is an opportunity to make change. Take the responsibility seriously. Know the road you travel will be often filled with difficult choices. Rise to the challenge knowing that you have everything inside you to be successful.