Prioritizing Professional Development

As I was gathering the needed classroom supplies, binders and folders that would house my son’s various school subjects for the year, I was reminded of the energy that comes with the beginning of a new school year. As pristine planners await a year full of deadlines and assignments, there is a chance to begin anew at engaging in subjects, learning new things and mastering skills which will take a student on a path toward future success. As I prepared supplies and signed syllabi, I was a bit sad that I was not a part of the back to school ‘action’. No – I wasn’t sometime who LOVED going to school all of time and I was not wowed by every subject (especially math and chemistry – you have KEEP those two….) but I do miss cracking open a new book, readying my color-coded highlighters and diving into a subject that is new to me, and has the potential to change my frame of reference and improve my work.

To that end, I was recently asked to serve on an NIU Advisory Council for the Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Studies Department (the NNGO Center). Part of our conversation about readying the next generation of students brought us to the topic of how we personally keep relevant in our field, and how we continue to learn in a world where deadlines loom, meetings run over, and piles of paperwork takes precedent much of the time. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the idea of a nonprofit book club was introduced. We all seemed to think it was a grand way to intentionally carve out time to read professional material, network with our peers and have meaningful conversation about how we can become better and more creative leaders. I was all in! (Incidentally, I though the group needed an engaging title. The front runner seems to be the NNGO Ninjas…I’ll keep you posted.)

As I dusted off my highlighter and readied myself to dive into the material, I realized just how important it is to me to energize myself through continuing education and development. Some of that rejuvenation in my day to day duties comes from administering a successful program; some comes from mentoring new interns each semester who are excited about the field; some comes from developing and implementing curriculum for my board volunteers. But some – things I do not often take the time for – are diving into heavier reading related to my field, and making time for self-reflection to see where I have come from, how I am performing in my work currently, and imagining what an improved future may look like, with a few tweaks.

I am luck to participate annually in a regional United Way conference which is comprised of hundreds of professionals – truly my ‘people’ — speaking in the same acronyms, battling the same issues and celebrating similar successes. Similar to my annual United Way engagement is the unique and wonderful benefit that the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership brings to my work and to our area. Both offer an important opportunity to not only learn more about what I can be doing better programmatically and operationally for my organization to succeed, but they also allow me to share some of my wisdom with the up and coming professionals in the field, learn about best practices across competency areas, and perhaps most importantly – it feeds my soul. I challenge you – whether you are a supervisors or front line staff – to look at professional development not as a necessary evil but as necessary to your evolution as a person, as a leader and as a student of the world. I promise you, if you take the time to engage in stretching your comfort zone personally and professional, you will reap many benefits in the end. Onward professionals! Learn, grow, engage and develop yourself into the nonprofit rock stars you know you can be!

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