Be active. Not just physically, mentally, or emotionally, but be active with your professional development – this is a philosophy I’ve truly learned throughout my graduate assistantship and first full-time job search. I’d like to say that it was in my first year of graduate school where I realized that my professional development was in my own hands, but in reality I think this was a lesson I learned as a second year student staff member. As a second year RA I realized that Residence Life had the potential to be a great way to get through graduate school and was something that I truly enjoyed. So – why not combine something I enjoyed with another degree – but how to get that “sweet” assistantship…
My mentor and I quickly identified some things I could do to make myself more marketable, but more importantly give me the experiences I was looking to build upon. So I set forth and decided on planning a large-scale program and getting involved with Up ‘till Dawn with Greek Life. Eventually, I got that assistantship, moved-in, and started a new job. Then the panic set in – what was I going to do was the question that paralyzed my mind. What was I going to do in this new role to make an impact, to change the students I worked with, change the department, and change myself – what was I going to learn?
Most recently, going through the #sapro job search has inspired me to reflect on what I consider professional development to be. As I reflected I came up with, yes I know I know another acronym for the field of acronyms, but here is my professional development philosophy and all you have to do is be ACTIVE.
Authentic: Yes, I am joining in on the beating of the authenticity drum – why? Because it truthfully makes a difference and should be the first step in figuring out what someone wants professional development-wise. Being authentic in this sense, at the core, means being truthful with yourself about your skills, desired skills and experiences, and what makes you nervous. Being authentic with yourself is the first step in being able to share your professional development goals with others – so my unsolicited tip #1 is to spend some time figuring out what you want and need, and the difference between the two.
Create: “The opposite of war/ Isn’t peace/ It’s creation” – RENT. The next step is a process of creation. This part of the philosophy embodies the notion that professional development is up to you. As a young professional I have learned the value of creating a plan and serving an active role in creating opportunities for myself. I’ve learned there is no reason to be at “war” with professional development, but instead create it. There are tons of opportunities out there – and many come at the price of your time, passion, and dedication instead of having you empty your wallet of precious cents and dollars. Unsolicited tip #2: Focus on how you can create the opportunities you are looking for and figure out who needs to be included in this creation process.
Teach: Teaching others are opportunities to not only show your peers and colleagues your mad skills, but it also allows you to work on those presentation skills. In graduate school the biggest lessons I learned was that it is ALWAYS easier to present on something I am passionate about. When you pick that topic you love – it’s as if you didn’t spend hour after hour reading articles by people you assume there are statues dedicated to (when in reality they are retiring from Miami University of Ohio this year as you learned at NASPA – this shout out is for Baxter Magolda!), but have just always known the material. It’s as if the material has always been part of the fabric of who you are. Unsolicited tip #3: Present. Write proposals to present. Present. Then write more proposals to present. Pick topics you love and it will be easier. Lastly, take the feedback and work on it.
Individualization: Now that you have taken the time to be authentic, create a plan, and teach others – now make sure you are taking an individualized approach. Sometimes it is difficult because all your colleagues are going to a certain conference or you believe after a certain number of years you should be at a certain level or place. It is important to remember that it really is about YOU. Take the time to make sure you are exploring what you want and need to do and not because everyone else is going to that conference or you are at a certain year in a job – do it because you have a desire to expand that area of expertise.
Variety: Mix, spice, stir, or however you want to add variety – just do it. If I had never volunteered to serve on a recruitment team, work as a conduct officer, or start a task force/committee I would have missed out on three substantial professional experiences. These three experiences were consistently brought up in my interviews and I was so excited to share them with all these potential employers. Professional development is not about creating resume fodder, but about gaining meaningful experiences that help you discover areas of passion, interest, or even expertise. Unsolicited tip #4: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. If you know the exact career path you want to take – fine – but if you don’t adding variety will let you explore and develop more skill sets.
Engage: Involvement vs. engagement was a recent #SAchat conversation topic and I notice a lot of people advocating and encouraging people to transcend involvement within organizations by entering into engagement. This year I had an opportunity to work with NASPA during the annual conference as a graduate intern. This opportunity highlighted why I enjoy being engaged with an organization in that capacity. Unsolicited tip #5: Get engaged with an organization. Define engagement in your own capacity and become excellent at that.