You’ve been trying to convince your boss that your office needs to provide greater professional development opportunities and been given the cold shoulder. Or you find that every single professional event is scheduled for the hours of 5-7pm when you have to pick up your kids from daycare and start your evening routine at home.
While you may not be able to change mandatory networking Friday happy hours, you can definitely exert a greater amount of agency to elevate your professional (and personal) skills. I have found that the weekend is the perfect time to do a bit of this neglected work when it feels like all you have time for is your day to day job tasks.
Just tomorrow, I’ll be attending an all-day conference for women in science. Given the nature of my schedule these past few weeks, the thought of waking up early on a Saturday is definitely not the most relaxing thing. Once I’m able to get past that particular unpleasantness, I know it will be worthwhile. We have a great list of speakers, and some really interesting sessions on how to improve your visibility in your chosen field while learning to better communicate the nature of your scientific research to the broader public.
I attend about 5-6 day conferences a year and usually they are held on Fridays or Saturdays. What I really enjoy about these events is the opportunity to learn something new, and make connections with interesting people. I use these conferences to strategically hone my skills. From critical listening, effectively communicating my brand, and the always useful art of small talk. When I was younger, it was incredibly intimidating to find myself seated at a table with 9 other people and have to eat an entire meal essentially with strangers. Through deliberate practice at conferences and seminars, I now can confidently walk into any room, introduce myself and begin getting to know the people around me.
Conferences are one great way to enhance your professional development but you don’t have to wait for one to come around to get a head start on cultivating this important skill set. Make a list of anything that you have wanted to do professionally. Do you wish to transition into a new area? Build your client list? Learn how to outsource more of the work to your team or even switch teams altogether? Maybe it’s as simple as finally taking the plunge and working for yourself or growing your side hustle from idea to legitimate business.
Whatever it is you would like to improve or bring into your life; just thinking about it is not going to take you very far. In my field of academia one of the most common desires people express is to learn how to code. It’s not always easy to have to wait for particular software to be created or to have other people analyze your data because there’s a big hole in that particular competency. You might not be building the world’s greatest app but you would be surprised at how just tackling something new, and very different from what you’re used to can improve your neural connections and make you a more motivated, creative worker.
Once you figure out what you want to tackle, set aside a few hours every other Saturday or Sunday to roll up your sleeves and get to work. I taught myself HTML and SEO over the course of nine months and I still don’t really consider myself a techy person. It was important for me to be able to build this site and if there were any glitches not immediately call upon my husband. It was a proud moment when I was discussion some Google metrics about bounce rate and landing pages and HE asked me for clarification.
Want to improve your public speaking? Join Toastmasters and/or practice getting more comfortable in a room full of people by introducing yourself and trying to learn people’s names. Struggling with time management because your overwhelmed with projects? Hire an accountability coach or virtual assistant (It’s way cheaper than you think). Even just spending an hour at Starbucks on a Saturday organizing your schedule can go a long way to improving your everyday life, not to mention slowly you will build those professional skills that are always in high demand.
Whenever possible branch out. You’re never too old to learn or to teach others. Are you really great at fixing computers? Hold a clinic for your less technology-inclined friends. Formal classes and meetup groups can be a great way to build those professional skills especially if you’re not sure your motivation alone would cut it. Whether earning a leadership certificate, improving your fluency in another language, or legitimately undertaking a new degree in complementary areas to your existing job like business or management; the key is intentionality.
Many times great opportunities for building skills and connections can fall right in your lap. That was literally the case with tomorrow’s conference. But you can’t always wait for things to happen. Developing your agency, motivation and importantly, vision, means you have a step up on the millions of people who are just clocking in every 9-5, without the benefit of personal inspiration.