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"Investing in your own growth and self-development isn't selfish. It's self-care."

By Dr. Eric Weis

One of the things I most love about my company, Objective Area Solutions (OAS), is how it genuinely applies its six core company values internally within its organic team and externally towards its many satisfied clients. And while our portfolio of contracts spans the spectrum of providing innovative technical concepts and practical solutions to the public sector, we continually emphasize the importance of investing in the human capital that makes organizations successful. This article focuses on one of those talent investment practices, specifically on the practical application of how to invest in yourself.

Despite the challenges presented by this unusual 2020 year, we are extremely thankful that the demand for our unique OAS services has maintained a positive trajectory. One of the biggest areas of growth has been in the realm of coaching. And while there are many schools of “best practices” and innumerable methods for building the coaching relationship, a common goal among the coach community is to provide a practical technique for the coachee that can become habitualized and subsequently leveraged for personal self-developmental goals.  

"Investing in your own growth and self-development isn't selfish. It's self-care."

When I coach and teach workshops that emphasize a section on self-growth, I tend to start with the importance of investing in yourself. Any serious effort towards this end must first begin with a focus on the “self.” Over my career, I’ve categorized what I found to be the top three, best proactive approaches to maximize your personal development. They come from a combination of readings and research on business and world leaders, global and social influencers, and numerous personal and vicarious experiences with practical applications. And while each book or person may put their own personal twist on a particular topic or approach, I’ve found that they also tend to have some common themes on how to best practice your self-development.

First habit– you can’t do this alone. They all suggest that you find a mentor or trusted advisor - someone you respect and value, who won’t be afraid to sometimes give you the “hard truth” and some constructive criticism; bold enough to share when the emperor is wearing no clothes. Some recommend that you should seek this in the form of Executive Coaching – which is a great idea, but not something you need to wait for until you become an “Executive.” In fact, in many of these books, the authors lament the fact that they adopted this mentorship/coaching approach too late in their careers, and wonder at how their career path and progression may have been accelerated if they had sought targeted guidance earlier. For me, this is about finding a respected Accountability Partner that can challenge you and provide practical feedback for your growth.  

The second habit I gleaned is to start “journaling.” This is not about creating a “Dear Diary” capture of everything you did during the day. Nor is it to be confused with whatever resource you typically use to keep track of important organizational events, your ever-increasing to-do lists, or the usual work-related meeting notes. Instead, it is a stand-alone journal that you consciously keep separate from your everyday work. It also is important that you develop the habit of carrying it around with you everywhere. Its purpose: to capture your “A-ha!” moments. Maybe it was a powerful passage you read, an inspiring quote you saw, or a comment you overheard that totally knocked your socks off – basically things that made you pause and ponder due to the impressive diversity of information, talent, perspective, and experience you surround yourself with every day. They can also reflect positive moments (successes), negative ones (failures), or even questions that arise and require additional focused thought later. You only need to copy down a couple of sentences to capture the essence of what you read/saw/heard and then leave some blank space on the page afterwards, so you can come back later when you have time to reflect more deeply on what you wrote (this is tied to Habit #3). It doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time. The simple reason to keep this “A-Ha” journal close and immediately capture these moments on paper is the sad fact that we just don’t remember everything we are exposed to. I wish we all had perfect recall (remind me to tell you my related military photographic memory story), but odds are that we don’t. And if you’re anything like me, while I may remember the “gist” of something, overtime I’m sure to forget “the details” of the cool information or amazing insights I overheard, saw, or experienced last week/month/year. Think of how powerful it would be to have a shelf of journals that captured not only all of your “A-ha!” moments from your earliest days, but also your follow-up thoughts and reactions. The good news is that it’s never too late start this practice!

The final habit is highly related to the previous one. As leaders, we are generally the biggest violators of proper time management. It’s not that we can’t manage our time, but rather that we try to do too much with the limited amount we have available. Leaders I follow and try to emulate tend to agree that you need to carve out a consistent and predictable piece of time each day or week (which we’ll term your “white space”) that is a sacrosanct “do not disturb” period specifically for you. This is not for answering emails or following up with phone calls, and definitely not designed to be extra time to get more work done. This is space for you to reflect. My recommendation here is to consider using this time to review and reflect upon some of those impactful moments you copied down into your “A-Ha” journal – a chance to “think about your thinking” and hopefully expand upon some of the ideas that resonated deep in your soul. There isn’t a hard and fast rule on how to best utilize this time, as long as it focuses on some portion of “you!”

The bottom line is that incorporating these three habits do not require a major life change – but it does require a new (or renewed) emphasis on your own self-development. Additionally, all three of these recommendations reinforce each other and ultimately create the conditions necessary to achieve better self-awareness. The more you practice them, the easier they evolve into focused self-care. And when used consistently, they provide an amazing opportunity for some deep, periodic, and honest self-reflection on not only what’s important to you, but also insight into: 1) where you are; 2) where you want to be; and 3) exploring possible options on how to get there. I’m sure there are other impressive self-development habits out there. You don’t have to adopt these three, but you should ask yourself which ones you do use – because you deserve the focus! Good luck!

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