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The Personal Journey of Professional Development

Published on November 15, 2018, at 5:40 p.m.
by McClelland Schilling.

Professional development is a term that is ingrained into public relations practitioners from the very start of their collegiate years. It is also something that practitioners are encouraged to pursue throughout the longevity of their careers. But as most practitioners know, the line between professional life and personal life is often blurred and the pursuit for professional development can become a personal journey as well (and vise versa).

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With the PR industry constantly increasing in speed and demanding more of those who serve it, professionals must actively seek tools and resources to assist in their personal and professional growth in order to keep up with the change in pace.

With so many areas of personal and professional development to consider, how can one determine where to begin? Dr. Betsy Emmons, director of professional development for PRSA’s Alabama chapter, offers advice on how professionals can distinguish what areas to focus on.

“Keeping conversations going with the PR community in your industry and in your town are great ways to pinpoint areas to improve. If you see a PR tactic that wows you, find out who did it, reach out to them, tell them how awesome it was, then ask how to replicate it or tweak it to fit your needs,” she explained. “I used to feel jealous when I heard another PR professional have an innovative idea because I wish I had been the one to figure it out first, but that was my pride and insecurity talking. I have since learned that rather than feel jealous, I needed an attitude of intellectual curiosity. None of us have it all figured out, as our industry is evolving too quickly.”

Having open and stimulating conversations can be a stepping stone in discovering how one should begin their journey. Ultimately, these conversations should stimulate something much larger: a vision. Without vision for the future, professionals cannot navigate the next steps for growth.

Oftentimes, creating a detailed plan and sticking to it can be overwhelming and intimidating, but if there is a vision, professionals can begin to take baby steps that point them in the direction of their vision. Professionals who have a clear vision and life plan are more likely to be successful in their careers than those that do not.

There are many tools and resources such as conferences, classes and webinars that can help professionals grow personally and professionally. While these are all valuable methods, sometimes growth can simply come from finding the courage to try something completely new.

“One of the most important self-improvement techniques I think is to embrace the idea of failing at something new,” Emmons said. “Try new things and don’t be afraid of failure in the name of learning.”

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Professionals who seek knowledge in areas both inside and outside of their expertise show their employers that they are ambitious and adaptable. Those who make a continuous effort to seek growth are more likely to be retained by the organizations that employ them and will quickly see promotions and rewards.

Lack of pursuing personal and professional growth and failing to frequently audit one’s goals and ambitions can lead professionals to experience what many know as “burnout.” Those experiencing career burnout typically feel physically and mentally exhausted, and feel a loss of focus and/or passion for an industry that once excited them.

Ted Tagalakis, vice president of social media for Intermark Group, has been in the social media/intelligence industry for over 15 years and has experienced career burnout firsthand. Early in his career, he was advised by a mentor of the importance of finding a balance between work and personal life, but it wasn’t until tragedy struck that he truly understood what his mentor meant.

“It seems that tragedy often brings clarity, and my epiphany was when my father had a stroke,” Tagalakis explained. “At the time, I was working close to 70 hours a week with a huge amount of client travel. When my father’s stroke happened, I realized that I needed to be by his side for a prolonged period and re-assessed my client workload and life. Taking an introspective look, I was able to identify what was important to me personally and professionally. This helped me reprioritize every aspect of my life and keep a better perspective on my professional and personal life.”

“Since then, I’ve made it a point to not only create annual professional goals but personal ones as well. I’ll review them quarterly to make sure that I’m on track with both, and if I need to make adjustments, I’ll do so. By creating personal and professional goals and actually taking vacation time to decompress, I’ve been able to reignite my passion and ensure that the flame doesn’t die,” Tagalakis said.

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In addition to his annual goals, Tagalakis sets aside five to 10 hours a week to continue his education to further his professional and personal growth. He does this by utilizing podcasts, blogs, industry websites and even formal education through the pursuit of a master’s degree. One other thing that he has found particularly helpful is surrounding himself with great thought leaders with whom he exchanges ideas with. Social media has proven to be a useful platform in forming these connections, and Tagalakis said it has been a game changer for him.

Not only has Tagalakis made continuous development a priority in his own life, but he has also made it a priority for his team. After joining Intermark, one of the first things Tagalakis did was create weekly, personal development meetings. These meetings focus on a variety of different topics. Currently, they are focused on Facebook’s Blueprint certification.

Whether you are a young professional or a well-established industry leader, the journey of personal and professional development is one that will never truly be complete. The key is to never remain stagnant and to embrace the lifelong journey.

“I think it was Betsy Plank who said PR professionals should embrace the concept of lifelong learning in our industry. It’s true, and I’d add that we can break that lifelong learning concept into daily moments,” Emmons said.

By breaking down what is a never-ending journey into daily moments, professionals can be more intentional with the actions they take to ensure those actions align with their vision. When growth is accepted and welcomed, professionals can anticipate a more efficient and pleasant journey that leads them to feel fulfilled in both their personal and professional lives.

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