This time last year, I was working as an independent contractor while I waited to start a career development facilitator (CDF) course that began in June. Now, I continue to work as an independent contractor, who has finally gotten clear on what passions she wants to develop in her work as a professional.
I began 2009 with two undergraduate degrees, a masters degree, and a decade of diverse professional skills and experience. Yet, I felt lost in terms of my professional direction and experienced a deep yearning “to have something to work toward.”
I voiced that desire out loud and in a two hour time span, with the the aid of the internet, I had discovered a CDF training being offered in a city where I knew that I would have a place to stay with friends.
The idea of helping people with career-related needs had entered my thoughts on and off over the course of several years. I had aided various people with writing resumes and cover letters and I had volunteered through agencies that assisted people with job searching and acquiring computer skills. However, I had no idea about how or if that spark of interest would ever develop.
As I was surfing the internet that fateful evening, the idea of career coaching arose in my thoughts again and my web searching turned in that direction. Thankfully, my business and technology background has helped me perfect an art in terms of finding what I need on the internet.
After reviewing several costly options to pursue this interest, I discovered a very economical training offered through the North Carolina Workforce Development Training Center. I felt like I had my answer to “something to work toward.” I conducted more research on the program, called and spoke with one of the program directors, confirmed my place to stay, and registered for the class.
As I worked my way through the course, I realized that the class materials were helping me answer questions about career and professional development that I didn’t even know that I needed to answer. As I recognized the career confusion I felt after graduating as a first-generation college student, the idea of the first-generation professional came forth through this study.
I was able to experience compassion for myself as I reflected on all of the “bumbling around” and “trial and error” I had experienced in terms of my work and career. As a first-generation professional, the likelihood of confusion and a lack of vision is high, especially without recognition of this experience, mentors, and support.
I completed some career assessments for myself during the 120 hours of training, started the process of considering what I am truly passionate about learning and developing, and finally understood the vital importance of career and professional development. Through this class, I learned about the North Carolina Career Development Association (NCCDA) and conducted my first informational interview with the contact for this organization, who is a professional in the field.
I had three degrees and had never conducted an informational interview with anyone in any fields related to those degrees! Having earned three degrees with no career conversations with actual professionals in the field is absurd to me now.
My informational interview with that career development professional revealed a commonality between our paths and interests. I left that first meeting greatly inspired and energized by our interaction. In contrast, I felt like a misfit in the cultural environment of my first professional work position, from day one. Due to the profound sense of professional disconnect at the beginning of my career, I heeded my intuitive warning signs and decided not to pursue licensure as a marriage and family therapist (MFT) after my graduate studies.
My graduate school program director strongly advised me to continue on the expected MFT track and I could not. I grappled with and second-guessed my decision as I worked with the fact that I felt no professional direction a year after graduation.
Over the course of this past year, others have shared similar stories about struggles with confusion and a sense of “trial and error” throughout their educational, career, and professional development. Some educational and career decisions, which were later discovered to be a mismatch, have been financially and psychologically costly to many. I know that there are strategies, methods, and support that can help optimize and better facilitate our paths as developing professionals.
If you have not already given dedicated time to your professional development and 1) feel bored, stagnant, confused, or blocked, 2) are in career transition, or 3) are starting your work path, now is the time to immerse yourself!
Based on my own immersion process (dedicated study and experimentation over the past year), here are 7 practices and some insights that can aid you in your own process of professional development:
- Complete career assessments to help focus your professional research and reveal interests, skills, passions, challenges, and strengths.
- Read, listen to, or watch general career and professional development resources in order to structure your own understanding to skillfully navigate your work life in a way that works for you. For example, I’m an introvert and many traditional extroverted ways of seeking work and professional connection do not appeal to or work for me.
- Read, listen to, or watch targeted career and professional development resources in areas that you have passion. For me, reading about higher education, environmental sustainability, professional development, and intuitive eating have been key.
- Conduct professional outreach activities through completing informational interviews and making connections with people doing work that interests you through social media options like LinkedIn.
- Attend general networking events with professionals and business owners in your local area. I’ve learned a lot about different professional options that I had never considered. General networking is a great way to get exposure, to practice presenting your unique professional interests, and to refine those interests.
- Attend strategic networking events such as events and conferences with people in your fields of interests.
- Volunteer with organizations and professionals in your field and at conferences.
You can find the seeds for a passionate professional life within you and your experience!
The next steps are to plant them and then give some ongoing attention and care for those passions and interests to bud, to grow, and to come to fruition.