Updated: Aug 10, 2021
Investing in yourself to keep up your skills and learn new ones is absolutely essential to remain relevant and competitive in your career, as well as take you to the next level. For a lot of people, college is when they last learnt something new and they have just been along for the ride since then. Additionally I am intentionally using the word "investing" here because it is indeed about allocating resources to your development. Money is one type of resource you can use, but more than anything this is about spending time on your development. Time is by far, the most valuable resource we all have and frankly there is never enough of it. Granted all of us have varying responsibilities demanding our time in our lives, this is about intentionally making the time to develop yourself. There are many ways to think about investing in yourself and below are three of my favorite ones.
Leverage your company resources
Most companies have tons of resources for development, from courses to talent development programs, and some may even have a budget to spend on this. It is however important that you take initiative to utilize these resources. Make development part of your conversations with your manager, if not already. Don’t know where to start on the courses? Ask for recommendations from your HR or manager. Have you found a course you like outside of the company? Pitch it to your manager for budget. Ask to be included in talent development programs and if there is criteria to be part of them, work at it. The last type of development opportunities is looking for stretch assignments on your group or other groups. This requires negotiation with your manager for time to work on other projects. It also requires you to not drop the ball on your regular responsibilities. In my experience, as long as you can justify it you can probably do it.
Take on some extra curricular activities outside of work
Taking courses is not the only way to develop yourself. You should think about taking on extra curricular activities that build your skills outside of work. In a Harvard Business Review article Ken Banter and Olan Boston talk about the need for folks to have strategic side gigs. According to them the pace of change and disruption is making it difficult for corporate learning departments, management schools, and executive education programs to keep their curricula relevant. As a result, leaders who want to rise—and help their organizations thrive—need to find ways to expand their field of vision and build their knowledge, skills, and connections even as they carry on their daily work. These kinds of meaningful engagement in outside activities expose you to different people, information, and cultures but are also in some way synergistic with both your personal interests and your current or future primary work.
Do you want to strengthen your leadership skills? Instead of taking a course on leadership, apply to join the board of a non- profit you are passionate about. Do you want to grow your marketing skills? Volunteer to do marketing for that food bank in your city. Do you want to expand your storytelling skills, be like me, start a podcast :).
Leverage the expertise of other people
A famous African proverb says it takes a village, and in my career I have found that it truly does! Other people are incredibly important as part of your development journey and there are several ways to consider how to include them.
a. Mentors and sponsors- Take time to invest in finding good mentors and sponsors and maintaining those relationships. Listen to the BsquaredC podcast on Tips to elevate your mentoring relationships here for more on this.
b. Peer mentoring- Most people consider mentors only as people more experienced than them, but it is important to take note of the people at your level as well. There is always so much knowledge and perspective to be gained from your peers and peer coaching is one of the most underutilized resources out there. Ping a couple of people you admire in your organization and start a peer coaching circle, where you check in on each other and hold each other accountable for your goals. It will be well worth it!
c. Get an executive coach- This is the one that takes spending some of your own money and a lot of people shy away from executive coaches for this reason. Additionally, there is skepticism around the coaching industry because it has become so crowded lately, making it hard to judge authenticity. There are three things to this for me. The first is to shift your mindset and think of what you are spending on this coach as an investment. Imagine the returns when you are showing up as your best self, getting that raise or landing that role you always wanted! Secondly, read reviews obsessively and get recommendations from people you trust. I specifically take recommendations from women of color because I want a coach who I can culturally connect with. Lastly, as far as the financial investment, yes it can be scary and seem like a lot. Find something that works for your budget, for instance ask for a payment plan. Do not be intimidated by the price tags, figure out how to make it work!
Investing in yourself takes planning, creativity and proactiveness. While companies do have a responsibility to provide opportunities for their employees to grow, it is absolutely essential that you are proactive and get into the driver’s seat of your own career.
Let me know your thoughts on this and which of these tips resonate with you!
Listen to the full BsquaredC episode on Investing in Yourself here.