Man running on grass

I’ll never forget this piece of advice I was given very early in my career – we are responsible for our own personal development; no one else can do it for you. Other people might contribute to the process, but it is up to you to ensure that you are growing, learning, and becoming better each day. It is YOUR responsibility to seek out resources, ask questions, and find inspiration.

You may have the opportunity to attend training sessions throughout the year (good for you!), but development is more than just about perfect attendance. It’s about using and applying what you learn day in and day out.

You know the saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have?” Well it works with personal development, too. Envision the person you strive to be, and then start acting like that person!

A few years ago in a previous job I led the development initiatives for the leadership team of that company. There was one person in particular that did not get this concept in the slightest. I can guarantee that there were multiple development opportunities put in front of him: one-on-one mentoring programs, leadership development tracks, personal development planning programs, team building days, conferences and classes, on-demand videos, an unlimited supply of free books! And yet he never got anywhere and maintained his bad habits. He always complained about the opportunities given to others and insisted that he was more deserving but no one would take a chance on him. The truth was, no one WOULD take a chance on him because his actions never matched his words.

We’re past the initial push for new year’s resolutions, but I encourage you to make professional development one of your focuses this year. Personal development is the equivalent of character development in any story. Just think about it- a story without good character development reads flat and tends to be disengaging. It might have its interesting moments, but doesn’t make much of a point overall.

The good news is, you don’t have to take on a massive personal development plan in order to have good character development in your life. Even just committing to one area of growth or one new action can help move you towards becoming the person you want to be. Here are some ideas to help get you started on your personal development planning:

Reflect on Habits and Actions

This one shouldn’t surprise you. Ponder the following…. Your current self versus your ideal self. How are they similar and how are they different? In what areas of your life could you learn and grow more? Are there any areas where you have stopped learning? What does it look like to be a constant learner- and are you doing anything that’s standing in your way from becoming one? Think about a person (or people) who you admire. What daily habits might you mimic?

In the same way that most organizations have core values, consider crafting your own core values. They’ll help you to “walk the talk”. They’ll be your checkpoints or benchmarks each day.

Create Your Own Executive Team

In the same way that a company has an executive team to ensure all areas of the business are being maximized, you can have your own personal executive team, too. Identify people (at work, in your family, your friends, etc.) who can contribute knowledge and encouragement to different areas of your life. This is like having a mentor, but instead of having just one, you have a whole crew of people who are experts in their field and can provide unique insights to that area of your life. You’ll seek out one person to help you problem solve and a different person when you need some brainstorming help. You might have a VP of Work-Life Balance and a VP of Industry Expertise.

Tap into the unique strengths of each person on your team as needed. The key factor here is letting them know that they’re on your executive team so that they can help hold you accountable!

Connect to Resources Outside Yourself

I was told once that the person you are today is the same as the person you’ll be 10 years from now except for the books you read and the people with whom you interact. Think about the areas from which you gather wisdom. Growth is encouraged when we are connected to resources outside ourselves. We need external infusions of motivation, ideas, and feedback in order to grow. If we’re not exposed to new ideas or encouragement then we stay stagnant.

Engaging with others stimulates ambition and links us into networks of knowledge that enlarge our world. Make time to for reading, watching how-to videos, and listening to podcasts. Finding something you want to learn and dedicating time for it is an investment in the one thing on which you can actually control the return.

Make a Plan

I recently read an article in Time Magazine titled How to Make Your 2015 Resolutions Stick. One of the 6 tips was making a plan. The author says “The more you want your goal, the less you’re likely to plan for it…. we tend to think good intentions are enough, but an actual plan prevents procrastination.”

Write down achievable benchmarks, goals, and timeframes. Don’t want to write down a detailed plan? Create a vision board- a collage of pictures and images that depict the highlights of your vision. Talk to someone about it. Set reminders for yourself so that even if you lose focus temporarily, you can be re-aligned with the original goal.

Continual growth may mean walking an uncomfortable road now and then, but it’s better than taking the unnatural road of staying the same.

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