professional development

How to Work on Your Professional Development

This article was last updated on December 29, 2015

Road to professionalism is a tough one, and there is no advice set in stone, because we are all a bit different. However, there is a well-defined picture that comes to mind whenever the word professional is mentioned. We usually imagine someone who is formally dressed, knows how to eloquently express his or her thoughts, and how to handle situation under pressure. There are also celebrities that are usually regarded as renowned professionals, like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elizabeth Holmes etc.

These are all successful people and we all love to read their thoughts on a specific topic, since they are considered to be a valid source of information. Personally I think it is the circumstances and motivation that play crucial roles in these situations, and I really do not believe in universal advice, since almost everyone is seduced by their own experience when it comes to success stories.

Even though I do not have the luxury of calling myself a professional, here are a couple of things I do and hope to put them to good use. Like I said, these are not to be regarded as universal tips, perhaps your experience will tell you otherwise, but I do feel you should give them a shot.   

How to Work on Your Professional Development

Learn how to express yourself

What you say is important, but do not be allowed to think it doesn’t matter how you say it. You can have a plethora of useful information and insight, but without eloquence it is truly hard for people to take you seriously. When you are negotiating, mediating or trying to seal the deal during business transactions, you need to leave a good impression.

People are generally vigilant about these things, and coming off as a charlatan is much easier than you’d think. Even being completely honest might not convince someone of your good intentions. This is why you always need to prepare ahead by thinking about how you want to convey your ideas.

Moreover, think about whether the way you phrased something opens a possibility for that to be interpreted differently. Every public speaker has a speech prepared, and for a good reason, it would be embarrassing to stutter or to be caught off guard.  

Take any opportunity you can to earn a little extra

As any good businessman will tell you, it’s important to have more than one revenue stream. It isn’t just about avoiding putting all your eggs in one basket, although financial security is a good reason to diversify, it’s also a good way of covering all those little extra expenses that tend to add up. Having an additional source of income can also help ensure that there is a steady flow of cash that you can put into your savings account or emergency fund, without spreading your budget too thin and sacrificing certain luxuries.

You don’t need two full-time jobs, as there are tons of simple ways to earn a bit of extra money on the side without sacrificing too much of your free time. Things that really work well and take up very little time include freelance work, paid surveys – but you need to be careful and look for websites that you can trust, as there are a lot of online hustlers out there – teaching classes online or out of your home, selling crafts on Etsy, or something as simple as adding a shop to your blog and selling T-shirts and mugs. You can get really creative and find something that fits your skill set and personality, and branch out into different fields.

Learn to be a good leader

One thing that will make you stand out from the crowd is having leadership skills. You do not need to be a leader in order to have leadership qualities. Some might argue how you need to ooze authority and respect in order to lead, but that does not make you a good leader.

First of all, you need to be capable and skilled in a particular niche if you are to gain authority. Still, this does not give you the right to boss people around – a good leader is someone who offers constructive feedback and suggestions that others are likely to follow.

In other words, your words need to be recognized as guidelines, not as orders. Your tasks need to be assigned like missions, not as chores. However, you cannot regard suggestions that are better than yours as attempts to undermine your authority, since by doing so you prevent good ideas from being realized.

Work on your online presence

People need to have insight into what you are all about. Rest assured that people will Google your name in order to find out more about you, especially if you present yourself as a big shot. If you want to have a rich online profile, you need to become an author on a few blogs, and you need to have a website of your own. The content you create needs to be unique and related to the niche you are promoting.

Also, make sure the content you share is something other people will find either very interesting or very useful. It is the perfect way to show how skilled you are, while actually helping people. I recently posted a more thorough guide on building an online presence, so, if you are interested you can find it here.   

Step out of your comfort zone

I bet you are tired of hearing this one over and over, but I am not talking about exploring new things, travelling the world, meeting new people and cultures etc. These things are good, but what I mean is moving out of your professional comfort zone. It basically implies that you should rely on versatility. You do not have to be excellent at everything, you only need to know enough so that you won’t be powerless if potential problems arise.

For example, you don’t have to be an expert on web design, but knowing WordPress can’t hurt. You do not have to be an expert on graphic design, but knowing Photoshop will come in handy. The skills I just mentioned are extremely useful in today’s world and the best thing about them is that there are so many tutorials you can use to master them.

Sure you won’t be able to create a perfect product, and it will take a bit longer for you to make a decent page or picture, but the fact that you can do it on your own will make you feel like a more capable individual. Furthermore, you will become a more valuable asset to your company, which is another perk.

Use visualization adequately

People usually think of visualization as motivation, but I can’t fully agree with that. Numerous motivational quotes contain the word “vision” or “dream” in them, and I find them a bit counterproductive. Visualization is great to lift your spirits and power through a difficult working day, but I feel that too much of it will reflect negatively on your productivity.

Our plans tend to fill us with positive energy, and since it feels good we tend to spend a lot of time daydreaming, which can somewhat hinder our perception of reality. To use visualization adequately you need to build a major plan and divide it into smaller pieces, build contingency plans and think of all the possible bumps you may encounter, and leave a possibility for new ones to emerge.

Advertising, economy, building online authority, law in general, are all far more complex systems than we tend to imagine, and yet they all have a part to play in our professional career. So, if you set a goal for yourself,  like making a video game, or writing a book, or even making a short film, don’t allow too much optimism to dictate your delivery time, since it will be highly unlikely to live up  to your own expectations. Still, you should not be discouraged to continue, after all, perfection takes time.     

Be a team player

Being a team player doesn’t just mean that you should be a part of a team and work on a project together with your peers – a lot of people do that, yet they are still not team players. Being a team player means that you are open for suggestions, that you can admit another team member is better at something, and not feeling too proud to ask for directions. It also means being willing to take on tasks yourself if you feel that you are the most qualified to do them. This is  why I mentioned learning new skills, because you can fill in for someone if that person is unable to work on a task at the time.

Photo source: Jörg Schreier

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