Professional Development

people sitting around a wooden table with pens, appers, laptop, beverages, eyeglasses, and brainstorming
image courtesy of StartupStockPhotos via

What do you do to keep growing in your profession? How often, in job interviews, are we promised opportunities for professional development, and then the company is too understaffed and too busy to fulfill them? Or they expect the employees to give up their own time (and often money) for them?

Independent contractors have more flexibility in the what and when of professional development opportunities, but it’s still up to us to pay for them!

What do you consider “professional development”?

My definition of it means learning something I don’t know and acquiring new or stronger skills. I consider the whole “soft skills” definition a load of horse manure. Skills are SKILLS. There’s no “hard” or “soft.” It demeans the skills that make better humans, thereby making more positive workspaces.

Since I am a writer, everything I experience is material. Everyone I encounter is material. Which means just about anything can be professional development, because I can and will utilize it in my work at some point.

Some of what I consider professional development others might consider personal development, and I don’t see why they have to be separate. I believe that the best experiences grow as both as people and grow our skills.

I recently did an artist residency with a group of poets. Most of them use this time as something apart from their lives, because they have careers in other arenas, often careers they really love. So this was about growing in their craft, but it was also personal. I considered it very much both personal and professional. I do not have the grounding in the craft of poetry that they do, but I could learn from every poem that was brought into the space, even when it wasn’t mine. And my work was able to take a huge leap. The work was exciting, the sense of nurture and excitement about each other’s work was incredible, and I learned poetic techniques that will serve me well in ALL my writing.

The nine-week Nightwood Creatryx program with Nightwood Theatre in Toronto was definitely professional development, because it helped me grow in my work as a playwright, something that is very central to my work. It also provided personal development, because we all trusted and nurtured each other’s work, and we were all invested in each other’s work in very intimate ways.

What if I want to take a workshop working with clay again? I miss working with clay. But I am not a professional ceramics artist. I would take a workshop to play with clay, try new things, learn new techniques. Where would that fall?

Again, I see it falling into both. I take it for fun, to learn about shaping and forming and building and firing and glazing. Learning from my fellow artists, and learning what I can do with  my hands contributes to personal growth.

The physicality will give me sensory details. The steps will give me other details. So when I create a character who works with clay, the daily details will help make the character more relatable. Even though I take the workshop for fun, and personal growth, it will feed into my work.

I hope, overwinter, to find/take some sort of class that will make me more comfortable with web development. Something that will teach me not to fear CSS coding, and the rest. That will very much add a marketable skill to my toolbox. It will also encourage personal growth, because I will feel more confident and grounded in that work, and not tell myself I’m not smart enough to learn it. It will start as professional development, but also have a positive impact on personal growth.

How do you define “professional development”? Do you separate it from the personal, or consider them integrated?