Objective self assessment is a wonderful thing. The moments where we recognize our strengths and weaknesses can lead us to the most impactful learning we will ever experience.
I had one of these moments a few years ago. I observed throughout my career that it always seemed that when I invested time in personal and professional development, an opportunity would arise where I could apply my newly found knowledge and skills, an opportunity that led to bigger, better things, or new challenges.
I was curious about this, and happened to be talking with my team about personal and professional development at the time. So, I put together a spreadsheet with the following headings:
Calendar Year – Year of my career, starting with the first year of my professional career
Personal / Professional Growth Activity – What kind of personal and or professional growth I did that year, ranging from going to college to physical conditioning to almost anything that helped grow my knowledge and abilities
Employer – The company I worked for
Career Activity – What happened in my career that year. Whether I was promoted, recognized, received additional opportunity or responsibility, etc.
Relative Development – A somewhat subjective asssessment of how much energy I put into self development. I used a 0 (no activity) to 5 (full time learning / college) scale.
Income – How much money I earned that year. I used my annual Social Security Benefits Statement to help with this!
Income Change From Previous Year – Simple calculation.
Income Change From Base – Treating the first year of my career (1981 for me) as the “base” level, what percentage change from that point year. Helpful to see how long it took to double, triple, etc. my income level.
Comments – Observations I have about my Personal / Professional Development activity and what happened.
I’be posted a sanitized version of my personal Career Tracking and Assessment tool in another post:
(I am having trouble with sizing this, so please bear with me!)
The results were fascinating. Some of the things I expected to see, and a couple things I didn’t.
1) The General Benefits of Self Development.
When I spent effort on personal and professional development, something would happen that would allow me to apply my knowledge and ability. The most interesting part was that the specific development activity and the impact on what happened from a career perspective were sometimes not directly related.
For example, in 1995 and 1996, I studied Information Engineering and prepped for the PMI exam. I ended up being promoted to an operations management / recruiting manager role. Why? Because I was perceived as aggressive and driven to success and would figure out what I didn’t know if I had to as demonstrated by my self study.
I compare self development to exercise. Pretty much all exercise is good for you, whether you are training to run a marathon or you are just looking to improve your health. The same goes for self development. Devoting time to your personal and professional well being is beneficial whether or not you have a specific end goal in mind.
2) Sometimes, You Have To Take A Risk
There have been a number of critical junctures during my career, where I conciously chose to take a risk:
– In 1983 when I left a secure and promising position with a great company to get experience to improve long term marketability
– In 1993 when I left a secure management position for the opportunity to grow as a Project Manager and learn other environments
– In 1996 when I left a revenue producing consulting position to go to an overhead, operations management position.
– In 2000, when I went into sales. ‘Nuff said about the risks associated with sales!
– In 2004, when I left a company where I had been for twelve years to go to a company where I had to earn my reputation and value
In my mind, at each of these junctures I was presented with the trade-off of short term risk vs. long term reward. I had to evaluate whether going to something new would ultimately be better than the current state I was in.
We need to remind ourselves periodically that we have to force ourselves into this situation, to create our own “burning platform” for change and growth, to prove to ourselves we still have it. Early in our careers when we get that first job, we do it without thinking. Later in our careers, we tend to stay in our comfort zones and become risk averse because of what is at stake (disruption to our personal lives, perceived risk of failure, etc.). We stop pushing into new territory, and it almost always ends badly.
Have you ever met a person like this? That played it so safe and risk averse that they ended up having little market value? They end up with five years of experience and knowledge maybe three or four times over, rather than 15 or 20 years of valuable, progressive experience that reflects viability and the zest thrive in any situation.
You don’t want to be that guy.
I regularly suggest to people to do this analysis for themselves. It is very tempting to play it safe, particularly when you have a job where you are in good standing, that is interesting, and pays the bills. It is easy to lull yourself into becoming comfortable.
However, we do so at our own risk. The pace of change in the world of work is such that if we don’t develop skills and knowledge to assist us with being relevant, it will leave us behind, talking about the good old days, rather than a vision of what might be, what we can create.