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Chart Your Own Course

People are the most important resource in any organization. Organizations promote professional development as a bedrock for success and a means to retain and cultivate the workforce. I strongly believe in engaging in the professional development opportunities you are provided with through your employer and also embracing the idea that you chart your own course. You can actively and continuously engage in your own efforts to maximize your growth both personally and professionally.

While by no means representative of the entire workforce, according to Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders, “There are 780 million [knowledge workers], and they sit in front of a computer for 6.5 hours every day. In particular, they spend 28% of their time on email, 19% of their time gathering information (searching for data), and 14% of their time communicating internally (in formal and informal meetings). Those three activities combined constitute 61% of the total time at work for this vast population.”

Given this trend, which does not account for other time spent in meetings or calls, time is clearly precious and scarce. Development should be ongoing, not intermittent. I would like to offer some strategies you can use on your own to further your development and take ownership of your professional and personal development.

1. Create opportunities; don’t wait for them to find you.

You are in charge of your career. You may not be your own boss but you are responsible for your path. It helps to take on new challenges such as volunteering to help out with an assignment, working on a project with someone you haven’t worked with before, or coming up with an idea or a proposal you think would be helpful for your organization. It could be a standard operating procedure that needs to be developed or updated, website content or a proposal for a system improvement. Be open and flexible. Not all assignments are “choice” but that does not mean they are not still necessary or important. By taking the initiative, you gain valuable experience and in time will likely become a subject matter expert.

2.   Do your homework, literally and figuratively, and keep doing it.

Be prepared. Remember Albert Einstein’s famous words, “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.” You want to bring brilliance to your career, so be creative and ready to put in the effort. Take ownership of your assignments and responsibilities, plan out how you will deliver what is expected, factor in time for preparation and reviews of deliverables and keep in mind that other priorities will arise. Know your subject matter and stay abreast of developments in your field. Look for areas you can expand and stretch your knowledge and technical skills.

3.   Find a mentor (or become one).

Your organization may have a formal mentoring program. If it does, by all means explore it. If it does not, you may want to consider your interests and goals and identify someone who can serve as your mentor. It is good advice to keep your supervisor informed and request time during your work day to meet with your mentor, if needed.

4.   Read.

It should go without saying but there are tons of books and other content that will enrich you personally and professionally. You can create a reading list of online material by flagging it and returning to read it later with an app like Pocket. Check book lists and reviews that are of interest to you. Goodreads is a useful resource for reviews and social networking site for readers.

Newsletters and blogs are also valuable sources of information. Find a few that are appealing to you and sign up (e.g. Gates Notes). Author websites are as well (e.g. Jim Collins, author of many bestselling books, including Good to Great, has lots of material and reading recommendations on his website).

There are apps that contain leadership development content as well. One suggestion is the Mindtools app, and its website has lots of leadership development content, including shorter digestible articles.

5.   Listen.

In addition to reading, there are many podcasts that are 100% free and contain a wealth of information and new perspectives. You can listen on your own time when you’re cooking, doing chores, commuting and other activities. A few suggestions include:

6.   Network.

Don’t forget to grow your network and keep up with it. Everyone gets busy, no doubt, but we gain so much from our relationships. Social media, liked LinkedIn, makes it easier to expand your professional network in many ways.

What has been effective for you in charting your course and continuing your professional development? Please share additional suggestions in the comments.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Winter 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”

This writing was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or Federal Government.

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