All too often, training is what happens once or twice during the year if you’re lucky, when you are “summoned” for a course. A time when you step out of your routine, get together with other people, and listen carefully to what is said about a particular subject. Maybe you will even find the subject interesting, and go on to apply it at some time in the future
When I refer to professional development, this is obviously not what I mean. Development does not necessarily mean simply being promoted, although the possibility of this happening undoubtedly grows if you improve your capabilities.
What I mean is our need as human beings to create an ever better version of ourselves. The driving force that makes humankind do things that were supposedly impossible. I refer to that outlook on life of striving to improve, to do things better and do better things.
And to explain it I will use this well-known image that we have no doubt all seen many times.
We all seem to understand what magic is, but what about the comfort zone?
It’s the cave or home we can return to from the harsh outdoors, a comfortable, familiar place where we all feel safe. This is not to say that it is a peaceful place, for it can be complicated and tense for some people who will no doubt complain about being there. But it is the place where you can feel yourself, a place that somehow you don’t want to leave.
The place in which many people feel comfortable, and others don’t, but nevertheless…we all know the saying: better the devil you know.
There are many factors that contribute to this, and the current very difficult and unprecedented economic situation has obviously not helped and has amplified our aversion to risk. It is not the only reason, although in many cases it does reinforce our preference to stay as we are, without even giving ourselves the chance of gradually exploring new territory.
As in the times when the safe place was a cave, I propose that you simply think of whether there might be new areas to explore, new situations, try to see how things really are when you experience them directly. Experimentation and new territory: this is what gets our adrenaline pumping and our senses alert, what makes us sweat and put in greater effort. What really makes us learn and feel progress.
But we shouldn’t do it at the wrong time, or in an uncontrolled manner. What we need to do is to push the limits of our comfort zone… and that you can only do by leaving it behind once in a while.
By now, you’ll obviously be asking yourself what professional development has to do with all this. Well, it has everything to do. Our lives are driven by inertia, whatever perspective you look at it from, be it personal or professional. One day leads to another, one week to the next, and before you know it months and years have gone by. It is extremely easy to be constantly busy and not progress much in anything we do.
So here is some advice to encourage you to step out of your routine:
Everybody has great potential, it’s just that some people are aware of this, and others are not. Look for the things that make you happy, those you are good at and at which you can excel. Walk firmly in that direction, and don’t be afraid of what you may be leaving behind.
Stop, think and visualise. You have to do things purposefully. At times it is OK simply to try to do things differently, but in general it is better to analyse what we do well and what we do not so well, and invest time in considering what to focus on. In this way it will be easier for you to guide your own development; at the very least you will be increasing your opportunities for development.
Visualize how a better version of yourself would do things. The truth is that when we really look at ourselves, openly and in detail, we are able to recognise our strengths and our weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. I think we all know very well what we could really do better.
Learn one thing every day, don’t settle for what comes to you, go out and look for it. Look around you, look at what people you admire are doing, study, read, watch videos, talk to people who are good at what they do, ask, dare to answer if you think you know. Go on training courses –whether they are free or you have to pay for them–, give lessons on what you know, teach others.
Being able to learn does not depend on others as much as we think. If we want to set limits, there will always be excuses for doing so, but there are too many things we could be doing ourselves to simply make others responsible, whether it is “my boss”, or “the company”, or “the guys in Human Resources”. Fortunately, today we all have endless means available to learn anything and everything.
Ask others for help. The best show of strength is knowing when to ask for help. Don’t just stay with those around you who look at the world in a complacent manner. Go with those who make you uncomfortable, who really make you think. People who have one foot in the comfort zone, and the other at the epicentre of magic.
Don’t let yourself be carried away by routine. Create spaces and moments for thinking, at least 15 minutes every week. Whether it is while you practice sports, while you meditate, in the bus or the car, on your own or with someone who inspires you, walking or lying down, when things are going well or even when it’s not a good time. But do it. Otherwise you will never overcome the powerful inertia of your daily routine.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Being an explorer was never easy: explorers make mistakes, they’re sometimes made fun of, and a fear of ridicule is something profoundly human. It’s another of those things that makes you stay in the comfort of your cave. It’s safer to do nothing… to get nowhere. Listen carefully, put into practice whatever it is that you find interesting without being afraid to fail.
I don’t know who or what is man’s best friend, but I do know that our worst enemy is the autopilot.
Switch it off, take control of your own future and make that incredible potential within you grow.