Thread Principal Tracy Shaw shares her reflections on professional development and the single best investment for driving a happy, successful career.
This is an important point I want to underline: professional development is PERSONAL. You have to blaze your own trail of professional development and discovery.
This past November, I was fortunate to attend Dreamforce, the “annual four-day event that brings together the entire Salesforce community,” also known as the largest tech conference in the world and the biggest party San Francisco hosts annually. I heard 173,000 attendees were there this year…whoa! As if the sheer number of people wasn’t enough to impress me, when Marc Benioff ended his opening remarks with, “and now help me welcome ALICIA KEYS to the stage,” I was a girl on FIRE!
I had been looking forward to Dreamforce as an opportunity to increase some technical skills, but I wasn’t prepared for how personally exhilarating it would be. I felt ignited on that opening day, and I was reminded then that by investing further in my Salesforce expertise, what I was really doing was investing in my own sense of value and confidence.
I have been a frontline fundraiser since the late ’90s, and as soon as I realized that I had found my career path, I had a deep desire to be taken seriously as a “non-profit professional.” I wanted to learn and have experiences that would help me express my full potential in each and every role I would eventually hold.
I quickly learned that there was no curated educational experience that leads one to the pinnacle of non-profit career success, so you have to blaze your own trail of professional development and personal discovery. This 20-year process has schooled me in many ways and I hope by sharing with you a few realizations I’ve had about my own career journey can help you blaze your own trail as well.
First, and probably most important, confidence in my abilities and value as an employee doesn’t come from degrees, certifications, or letters behind my name. I respect all of those things. I actually have a few letters behind my name of which I am very proud. However, doing the work to improve my self-confidence and truly value myself in my industry has been almost 100% internal, invested over years of successes and failures.
I value myself, and that has been the most important thing I have done for my career.
Second, more so than any class or conference, identifying and intentionally working with multiple mentors throughout my career has elevated my ability to think objectively about my work performance and improve it. My mentors have provided me invaluable advice and an objective sounding board in an environment of safety and trust. Their influence and accurate feedback, while sometimes difficult to hear, have truly paved my career path and made all my successes that much sweeter.
Finally, teaching others has had a profound effect on my own awareness of the non-profit industry. As I’ve prepared material, dug deep into topics, and facilitated conversations in small group settings, on webinars, or at conferences I’m constantly increasing my knowledge throughout the process. Looking back, I think about that desire to be taken seriously and each time I’ve stepped into the role of teacher or facilitator, I can look that twenty-something young professional in the eye and tell her, “Good work, Tracy.”
You must think personally about how to develop your professional expertise.
I would encourage anyone who’s seeking more professional development opportunities to prioritize what’s most important for you to learn and think personally about how to develop your professional expertise. It might be by attending a conference like Dreamforce or gaining a new certification, but you might also surprise yourself with unique opportunities to boost your confidence and body of knowledge in other ways.
As your determine your path, if your 2020 professional development plan includes attending the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Baltimore hosted by NTEN in March, please join our Thread session as we collaborate with the DC Bar Foundation and discuss how to pick the right consultant match for your organization!