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What Professional Development Is … And Is Not

Woman in blue blazer leaning up against a desk with lamp and plants surrounding her.

I ran all over the internet trying to find a good definition for the phrase, “professional development.” All or nearly all definitions involved the words “education” or “continuing education.” And, many articles used phrases that were similar to but different from my idea of what professional development is. So, I want to talk about what professional development is.

Seeking growth

A quote from the late, great Jim Rohn helps us understand that it is about growing to the max.

“It seems that every life form on this planet strives toward its maximum potential…except human beings. A tree does not grow to half its potential size and then say, l guess that will do.” 

To paraphrase Rohn, growth is about maximizing how far we drive our roots, how much we soak up nourishment, and how high and wide we stretch. 

Not confusing the end goals

Many articles use the phrases “professional development” and “career advancement” as more or less synonymous — with the latter implying that promotion is the end goal. In my mind, job promotion is only one possible end goal, but not the only end goal.  

I try to engage in personal and professional development every day of my life. Every day, I learn to read a little better, teach others a little better, run a business a little better, listen to a friend a little better, or knit socks a little better. I’m not shooting for a promotion or even recognition. I just want to do something better. For me, the end goal of both types of development is leaving the world and those in it a little better off.  

Using the 70/20/10 rule

People often assume that development means taking more courses or getting more credentials. That’s certainly part of it! But research shows that we acquire professional development through the 70/20/10 rule. That rule says that we can attribute 10% to education, 20% to professional relationships (which has happened for me), and 70% to doing tough assignments. (Stayed tuned for a post on the 70/20/10 rule.)

Professional development takes hard, ongoing work

As you know, anything worth having is worth having is worth working for. Professional development means being constantly on the lookout for opportunities to grow. It means seizing those opportunities — large or small — every day. You can’t buy this development; you must earn it. Professional development hasn’t always been easy for me, and it probably won’t be easy for you, either. But it will be worth it.  

How can I help you with your own development? Leave me a note below.

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