Ideally, all employers would invest in the career development of all their people. This is not always the reality. Even if your employer is supportive, you may have growth goals beyond the opportunities you receive at work. And of course, an increasing number of people are choosing freelance work, meaning they are their own Learning & Development departments. This section is for anyone who wants to improve the so-called soft skills that help you work better and happier—and make you the person others love working with.
How does personal development help career growth?
Personal development can cover any and all aspects of your life, but career self-development focuses on making yourself more employable or more satisfied in your career.
Businesses without a vision or a mission tend to fail in meeting their potential. Managers and leaders don’t know where to aim, how to weigh options, what resources they need, or what success looks like. The same is true for the individual.
What is your vision for your future? What’s your role, how do others see you, how much money do you desire, what does your perfect day look like? What will make you feel successful? Everyone will have a different answer, and you should know yours.
Maybe you’re more mission driven. What influence do you want to have? Where do you want to have it? How long are you willing to work on this mission? What change do you want to be a part of? This is also worth knowing.
Clarifying your expectations of yourself for yourself will help you sift through the expectations of your family, community, or society.
What drives you? What is your vision for the future? Everyone has different answers; knowing yours is the first step in growing or changing your career.
Know your starting line
You might have done a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for a business, product, or service. You can also do it for yourself.
There are several steps you can take to better understand your strengths and weaknesses. You can take a personality assessment like Everything DiSC® or complete a values clarification exercise or take a skills test. You can also start a personal list and ask others to help you add to it.
Your list of opportunities might include education, training, or certification. It might also include job shadowing, joining a professional group, taking on a new responsibility, forming a user group, reading industry journals, watching how-to videos, or working with a mentor. Think about all the ways you’re able to learn.
Lastly, you can allow yourself to think of threats. Do you have the time, energy, money, or other resources necessary to build on your strengths or address your weaknesses? Do you need to take an interim step first, such as finding affordable childcare or persuading your boss to pay for a course?
Threats also include things that might happen if you don’t work on your career. Will you lose your job, lose status, never get to present at a conference, have to move, or even just be disappointed in yourself?
Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
Give yourself an upgrade
What developmental or personal upgrades are you interested in? What would make you more employable? What would provide you with more options or a better work-life balance?
Jobs change, businesses go through hiring and layoff cycles, industries are transformed, and the economy shifts. The employees who show themselves as adaptable, as learners, as contributors in multiple ways will have an edge over those who don’t. Increased skills can translate into more career options.
How can you give yourself an upgrade? Consider both what skills you would enjoy learning and what would provide more career options.
Increase your focus
You also have the option of committing more deeply to one area of expertise. You might want to become more of a specialist. Or you might want to develop existing skills by exercising them more.
Or you might want to widen your interests and capabilities. Your focus might be on learning something entirely new. You could challenge yourself to use your skills in a different context or industry, or to add a certification to your resume, or to take up a hobby outside of work.
Do you want to become more of a specialist, or widen your skillset?
Moving outside your comfort zone is the best way to gain new skills and more confidence. Knowing that you can meet a new challenge successfully can decrease your anxieties around changes that are inevitable in the workplace and the economy.
A personal development plan prepares you to confront and manage changes in your career. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback on your progress from your managers, mentors, and colleagues. Be willing to revisit the plan and update it when necessary.
Working toward your own vision and focusing on your own career development, with luck and hard work, can make your career path more rewarding. If you take control of what you can, hopefully you’ll meet or exceed the expectations you have for your future.
Having a personal development plan can decrease your anxieties around the changes that are inevitable in this world.