Professional development takes just as much initiative as preparing for a road trip to your favorite destination. Well-balanced luggage includes a combination of bare necessities, choice belongings and emergency items for contingency planning along your journey. Similarly, preparing for your ideal career as a learning leader requires an intentional balance of the intake and application of new knowledge and skills. As complex as this balancing act might appear, we are responsible for writing the narrative of our career success by taking advantage of learning and development opportunities. Below are three tips to owning your professional development and becoming a lifelong learner.

1. Build and Nurture Your Personal Brand.

Personal branding is more than a trendy leadership topic. It’s the mirror we should use to ensure our reflection is true to who we are and how others perceive us. Personal branding has to do with how you personally handle integrity – an important characteristic when building a successful career. Your reputation always speaks more loudly than anything you whisper in silence or shout on a mountain top. Because your personal brand serves as a moral compass, it’s important that it is a label you can live with now and in the future.

2. You Are Never too Old to Start Anew.

I was 24 years old when I was given my first opportunity to teach seasoned, professional adult learners in a higher education setting. The average age of my students was 47. I was 26 years old when I decided to pursue a doctorate degree alongside a peer group whose average age was 55. These diverse individuals’ tenacity in pursuing higher education is worth imitating. They brought plenty of experience and a wealth of knowledge to the classroom, always paving the way for great dialogue and a rich learning experience. They lived through some of the toughest challenges life could present, and they valued education more than most traditional-aged college students. Only by working with this population of students did I learn to embrace this age-old adage: “Age ain’t nothing but a number.”

3. Upskill for Where You Want to Be.

Complacency is the enemy of growth, development and success. When we allow ourselves to become complacent – particularly in our careers – what we’re really saying is, “I don’t want better.”

“Better” can take on many forms, including merit increases or new career opportunities, but it usually aligns with our intrinsic motivators. A sure way to avoid becoming stale in your career is to stay aware of the latest “best practices” and industry trends related to training, learning and development. If you are a leader, take time to understand the newest issues associated with your company’s industry. Take a class, and sign up for a webinar every now and again. Become an active member of your peer community. Hire a coach to help you develop your soft skills. Do what it takes to ensure you can stand confidently among your peers because you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be exactly where you want to be.

Professional development should also align with your personal growth, and personal growth requires personal accountability. While it’s helpful to receive feedback from others when our “walk” doesn’t align with our “talk,” people who own their personal and professional development will intentionally curb undesired behaviors before they occur. Only when we accept full responsibility for where we are as a result of the choices we’ve made can we expect positive change in every area of our lives. You have choices. Choose to become a lifelong learner.

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