When we think about taking care of ourselves, most people immediately think of their personal health. Eating healthier, exercising more often, losing weight–these are the typical thoughts that come to mind. And they are all good ones, too. After all, who doesn’t want a healthier, happier lifestyle? But here’s the problem. If you focus too much on your physical health, you are neglecting another huge part of your life. Your professional health.
Let’s face it, most of us spend more time at work than we do at home. For many people however, work may be a necessity but it doesn’t bring any satisfaction. It is simply a way to pay the bills so they can enjoy the weekends or that elusive vacation every other year or so. This seems to be especially true if you have been in the same position for a long time, doing the same thing day in and day out. After all, it’s hard to find any satisfaction in a job when it stopped being a challenge years ago. There are several ways to fix this. The first is getting another job. Of course, that’s easier than it sounds, and many people are too far along in their career to change horses at this point. It’s easier to ride it out and wait for retirement. And while that might work for some, for others it’s a roadmap to a breakdown.
So what can you do to improve your professional health? The key lies in continual development. Just as taking up a new hobby at home keeps things interesting, developing new skillsets at work can keep you motivated and stimulated. Now, some organizations are big on professional development for their employees. They chose programs that not only add skillsets, but benefit the individual as well. However, in these still uncertain economic times professional development has been cut from the budget, or is only done to meet certain regulations. On the other hand, there are organizations that spend a lot of time and money training front-line staff, but very little on senior management. The theory seems to be that once you reach a certain level in an organization, you’ve learned all you need to know. Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. But how can you be in charge of your own development? Here is a primer to help you get started.
Choose Wisely–Find something positive that you like to change or develop. It should be something that truly interests you. Let’s face it–making changes is a lot of work and if you aren’t really interested, you won’t follow through. Another key element is to make sure it is something that will benefit not only you, but the organization as well. It can be anything from improving communication, to time management, to building better relationships. Choose one goal at a time. Don’t overload yourself or you will run out of time and energy to devote to your change.
Get Feedback–Some goals, such as relationship building, are made stronger when you involve other people. It can be very informative to see how other people view you. Create a survey and send it to people who could provide valuable input about your current situation.
Make a Plan–Once you have a clearly defined goal, and feedback to guide you if necessary, brainstorm ways the steps needed to reach that goal. Maybe it it means taking time for informal conversations with coworkers, or attending more company functions. Perhaps it might require being more visible.
Learn to Measure–The best way to judge if you are successful in your development is to measure your advances incrementally. Remember, development occurs over time. There is seldom an immediate outcome. Choose a way to measure your progress, and then check in with yourself on a regular basis. This will help keep you motivated when you start to lose steam or get sidetracked.
Close the Loop–One reason many people abandon a development plan is they don’t see an end in sight. Give yourself a deadline to achieve your development goal. Not just a week, but usually a four to six month period is the best. This gives you time to cement the change and make it a consistent behavior.
Of course, another way to promote professional development is with a coach. The great thing about a coach is he or she is an advocate for you. A coach stands shoulder to shoulder with you during the difficult periods and keeps you motivated. Sometimes a coach acts as a mirror, helping you see yourself in a different light. Coaches provide feedback to keep you moving in the right direction or help you make course corrections as necessary. And most importantly–a coach keeps you accountable to yourself. We all know how easy it is to start a development plan and then let it slide when life gets in the way. Just look at all those New Year’s resolutions!
So there you have it. A primer to help you take care of your professional health as well as your personal health. By continually improving yourself, you will feel more satisfaction in your work and that will show in your performance. It will also have a positive effect on your work/life balance (and we all strive for that). If you have been feeling underwhelmed by your career lately, give this a try. You may actually discover change is a good thing.