You know you it’s important. You know you should do it. But it can be expensive. And time consuming. Plus, you’re just so busy! And you’ve got a business to run. All of these things may be true, but so is this simple fact:
If you don’t take the time to improve and grow, your business won’t either.
And while you may be able to survive a serious development drought on a personal level, your organization can’t. If it doesn’t wither and die, it will quickly become overshadowed and hidden by the growth happening all around it.
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. No industry, market, or sector stands still. Laws, regulations, technology, consumer needs and expectations are constantly changing, with or without you. You can choose to keep up, stay stagnant, or fall behind. You can also choose to get ahead and be looked to as someone who is leading the change instead of fearing or ignoring it.
Sounds good, right?
You’re darn right it does. Because the difficulties that come with change are nothing compared to the stress of being left behind.
When you’re leading the charge, you get to determine what it looks like and how it gets executed. You also get to collaborate with other like-minded leaders who are trying to accomplish the same things, which increases your confidence, your influence, and your effectiveness exponentially.
But you have to be strategic
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of professional development opportunities out there. A quick scroll through your in-box will easily prove this to be true. Everyone’s got an angle. Everyone wants you to sign up for their service, adopt their platform, or attend their seminar. Unfortunately, many of these so-called opportunities are, in fact, a waste of time and money.
There are four ways to approach these opportunities:
1.) Be a whale
It can be tempting to want to take in everything that comes your way. If a little personal development is good, then a lot must be even better, right? Not so much. Whales have a very efficient filtering system that allows them to keep what is useful and discard the rest— before they spend a bunch of time trying to digest it. Unless you’ve got a fleet of people with lots of time on their hands, you don’t have that luxury. Biting off more than you can chew will only give you indigestion.
2.) Be an ostrich
You know these folks. The ones who are always putting their heads in the sand. To be fair to our real, live ostrich friends, they actually have good reason for doing this. They’re nesting. But you’re a business person, not a giant bird. Putting your head in the sand will only keep you in the dark. And focusing too much on your cozy little nest will only ensure that you stay squarely in your comfort zone. Which isn’t going to move you forward.
3.) Be a deer
You want to improve yourself, your business, and your chances of success, but you're overwhelmed by the fear, the circumstances, and the sheer number of options. Instead of propelling yourself forward, you stay frozen and immobile, unable to make a decision. “Deer are crepuscular,” says David C. Yancy, a deer biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. When a headlight beam strikes eyes that are fully dilated to capture as much light as possible, deer cannot see at all, and they freeze until the eyes can adjust. “They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.” We all know how this story ends.
4.) Be a falcon
“The Peregrine falcon is not your average avian predator. When hunting, this remarkable bird will fly to great heights, then dive bomb its prey abruptly at speeds of up to 242 mph,” says the Smithsonian Channel. Um. Yeah. This bird is your new idol. First, he finds a solid perch where he can take a good look at the bigger picture. What’s happening in the landscape before him? What opportunities does he see? What obstacles are in his way? What exactly does he want to go after? Then, once he sets his sights on his goal, he’s 100% focus. We’re talking all in. At 242 miles per hour, he can’t afford to be distracted, or go after things he doesn’t need.
Which one do you want to be?
The falcon, right? (Please say it’s the falcon).
If you’re a whale, at least there’s hope. But if you’re an ostrich or a deer, you need to change your ways. Like, yesterday.
Take a look at where you currently are, and where you want to be. What kinds of skills and tools do you need to get from point A to point B? Evaluate your business, your clients, and your market. What strategies are working for you? What strategies are falling flat? Where do your strengths lie? Where do you struggle?
Once you’ve uncovered areas for improvement, don’t jump onboard with the first thing (or everything!) that comes your way.
Do your research. Look into different groups, events, and options. Seek out industry people and companies you admire and look at the kinds of things they’re doing. See what organizations and associations they belong to, what events they’re attending, who they’re connected with, and what books they’re reading. Ask around, get advice, and choose carefully. Your time and resources are a precious commodity, and you need to make them count.
It’s like your mom used to say, “You are who you hang out with.” Make sure you're seeking professional development from organizations and colleagues you admire, respect, and trust.
Once you’ve figured out what you need and how you want to go about getting it, you can begin to shift your mindset and start thinking about professional development as a critical investment you can’t afford NOT to make.
After all, if you don’t invest in yourself, why should anyone else?
Photo by Radachynskyi Serhii