Have you seen your CEO carrying a moleskine, or spotted a shiny-leather bound volume sitting on your MD’s desk? All the entrepreneurs and leaders you may have read about, or seen videos of, often talk about their personal notebooks too. This is not a coincidence.
From Leonardo Da Vinci to Robin Sharma, leaders keep a notebook. Journaling, while incredibly powerful tool for personal development is no less useful when it comes to professional development. I have written before about how you can keep a career journal. In this article, I want to highlight how you can use your journal in your day-to-day work life for professional development.
Here are five simple steps to using journaling for professional development:
You don’t need to wait for official evaluation at work. Getting useful feedback is good, but letting someone else have control over your career progress is not very empowering. Particularly, because not all bosses are equipped to handle such responsibility. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, and have a really good supervisor who gives you good feedback, and is keen on your development, then work with them. But even then, the responsibility should not be completely on them.Professional evaluation in most companies is simply an exercise, which add in resentment or bonuses, and not much more. But there are opportunities to use it for more. Throughout the year, evaluate yourself.
Did particular project go well? Make notes about it. What was good? What wasn’t? What worked so well that you would repeat it again? What did not work? What lessons have you learned? If certain projects failed because of other people, don’t focus on the blame game. Your journal is for your professional development. Focus on what you could have done differently, whether by selecting different team members, or participating in the team differently in a way that would have encouraged others to be more efficient.
Look at your official job description, and answer following questions in your journal.How much of your work actually matches up with that? Are there things on the job description that you are not doing? Are there things that you are doing, but are not on the job description? What are these tasks? Why are you doing them? Are you expected to do them? If you are, can you have them added to your official job description? Are these the things you are doing because you want to? How do they add value to your skills, as well as to the company? Make a case for them in your journal, so that you are prepared to make a case for them to your company when the opportunity arises.
Above and Beyond the Call of Duty & Thank You Notes
Write down specifics whenever you go above and beyond the call of duty at your job, and when people compliment you on your efforts. If a grateful client showers you with gratitude, or your line manager/colleague is pleased by your dedication, make a note of what you did (and how you did it). If you spent time quietly fixing away a problem that no one else had picked up on, and prevented a disaster, then make a note of that too.
The point of this exercise is not to continuously blow your own trumpet or turn into an arrogant ass. But rather to start understanding how often you go out of your way to do something useful for the company. Once you have written down these examples, dig into your motives. Why did you do it? Why did you went out of your way, spent your Saturday, missed out on spending time with your family, to do this extra bit of work? What drives you? If you are looking for a fulfilling career, and not just a job, then knowing your motivation is essential. To be able to sustain an interest, or even passion for a large part of your adult lives – needs strong motivation. Figure out if you have it, or you may find yourself dissatisfied and disillusioned few years down the line.
As a side note – there is nothing wrong with changing paths if you do find yourself in that position. I have done it myself. However, with hindsight, I can see things may have progressed much faster if I had been more certain of what career I wanted to follow from the beginning. I hope that by reading this, it may help at least one person follow more direct route.
Where You See Yourself
Your job title is just your current position. It tells people what you do right now. It doesn’t define you (though a lot of people judge you as if it does). Never ever forget that. Your job title is not a permanent part of your identity. Think about where you see yourself.
Are you content to be where you are now? Or do you see yourself at the top of your industry? Perhaps a mid-level management position is all your desire, something that gives you enough work satisfaction without being absorbed by it. There are no wrong answers. Not everyone needs to have sky high professional ambitions. Your focus could be on family ambitions, travel ambitions, creative ambitions…whatever it is, it has to be important to you.
Figure out how much your work matters to you, and that will give you an answer on whether or not you are prepared to make the sacrifices that come with the kind of career you envision for yourself. For example, even for much coveted positions like footballers and TV stars – there are sacrifices. You work at your profession’s schedule, not your own. There is not time-off for your daughter’s birthday or Christmas, if the professional schedule demands otherwise. So, when you decide where you see yourself, decide whether it is what you actually want to do, or if it is just the glamour of the job title, or potential rewards that make you think you want that.
This is where journaling about your motives, as well as your motivations can help you gain that awareness.
How You Can Get There
Knowing what you want is just the first step (albeit often very difficult step that most people don’t ever get to). Once you know what you want, you need to figure out how you are going to get it. Do you have a clear vision now of where you want to be? A clear vision driven by your intrinsic motivation (not merely by material rewards)? Okay, now make a map. Point A is where you are right now. Point B is your ultimate destination. Now map out all the points in between. Further break down what each of these points would require. See below example:
This is just one example of a corporate ladder. Use what suits your industry, and your company (or the companies you are interested in working for).
Point A – Purchasing Administrator
A.1 – Assistant Buyer
Do you have all the skills, and even some experience to be an Assistant Buyer? If you don’t, then start gaining some of that. If you do, next step would be start finding that opportunity either in your company or elsewhere.
A.2 – Buyer
When you are an Assistant Buyer, start picking up skills that a Buyer would need. All industries may also require professional certifications if you intend to move up. These qualifications usually require time, money and lots of effort. Keep note of reasons why your company might want to finance this education. Most SMEs and large corporations may do this if they consider you a good employee they want to retain.
A. 3 – Senior Buyer
By now, you may have your qualifications. You have excelled as a Buyer, shown that you can build good relationships with suppliers, are a good team player, and have shown some leadership abilities. As a Senior Buyer, you can then take on official responsibility of being a manager of people, as well as of purchasing. You may be responsible for an Assistant Buyer, or simply overseeing some of the accounts that the Buyer is handling. Start building your CV to reflect those skills. They don’t all have to come from your company, or even from your industry. Most skills are transferable, the skill lies in how your present them.
In your journal, get used to making notes of skills you use for the things you do both at work and in life. Whether it’s your presentation skills, sales skills, or organisation skills. Start writing concrete examples of how you have displayed the use of this skill. (By the way, this will also make interviews much much easier, because you will have all of these information at your fingertips).
Point B – Procurement Manager
You think you can handle the stress and the responsibility? Then, start applying for this position.
Using journaling as a tool for professional development is like constantly conditioning yourself to be where you want to be. People don’t just climb Mount Everest. They first train for it, condition themselves to handle the altitude and the physical exertion. Only once they have gone through it that they start the actual climb. Moving up on a corporate ladder, or indeed any profession, is no different. Start with a vision, and forge your path.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
Start journaling for your professional development. Today.
Journaling is a personal thing, and as I’ve repeatedly said here, how you journal is entirely up to you. However, there are certain benefits to keeping a daily journal:
- Develop a habit of journaling
If you are trying to develop a regular journaling habit then there is no better way than to do it daily, even if it’s just for five to ten minutes a day.
- Record your day-to-day life
A quick, daily log in your journal captures your life. It may seem boring and obvious now, but years or decades later it’s the little things that you would feel nostalgic over.
- Represent the world as you see it
Your daily journal entries are an opportunity to record the world through your eyes. We may all leave in the same world, but we all see it differently. The way you look at people, at your city, at your country would be different than the way anyone else looks at it. Use your journal to capture that in writing.
- Be more aware
We go through life with blinkers on sometimes. Journaling can help you gain deeper awareness about the world around you, about the people in your life, as well as about your self.
- Gain perspective
It’s easy to lose perspective when you are in the middle of life. Things seem to get out of hand. You get so wrapped up in the now that you can barely remember the bigger picture. This is where journaling can keep you grounded, so that you keep (or regain) your perspective about what is important.
- Appreciate life
Daily gratitude is a powerful habit in itself. In your daily journal, write down positive things about your day, or simply record one thing that you are grateful about. It will get you accustomed to counting your blessings, so that down times will feel less like the end of the world.
- Achieve your goals
The best way to achieve your goals is to first have goals, and then ensure that they remain fresh in your mind as you take steps to achieve them. Use your daily journaling to keep track of your most important goals, and your progress on them.
- Gain clarity
Do you ever feel like your head gets into a muddle? Thoughts circle around and around, spiralling out of control? Jotting them down gives you an opportunity to then see things in black and white so that you can gain clarity.
- Gain awareness of patterns of behaviour
Most of us tend to repeat patterns of behaviour if we don’t pay attention. Particularly negative patterns. You may find that you are complaining about the same thing now that you were complaining about five years ago, without having done anything about it. Journaling helps you spot these patterns, so that you can take action to alter them.
- Ask important (to you) questions
Whether it’s search for your life purpose, the goals that drive you, meaning of life, existence of god, or figuring out whether you prefer cappuccino or latte, your journal can be a place to ask questions. Questions are often more important than answers, because it’s the curiosity that keeps you going, that drives you, that gives you the urge to find answers. So in your daily journaling, jot down whatever questions come to your mind.
These are just some of the many benefits that you can gain from journaling, and just some of the many things you can use your daily journal for.
Action You Can Take Today:
Try doing daily journaling for 30 days, even if it’s just 5 minutes per day and see how you feel at the end of the month.
You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
– Mary Pickford
It’s tempting isn’t it? Starting from scratch? Beginning again, as if moving to a new country or a new city, starting a new job, starting a new relationship, or just doing something new, wipes the slate clean.
If you’ve ever started with an idea of starting fresh, you know that’s not entirely true. There is no tabula rasa, because we still carry our personal baggage with us wherever we go. Yet, there are degrees of starting fresh. Sometimes, you choose them, and sometimes they are forced upon you.
I’d a mixture of that just over a year ago when I moved to London in June 2014. I didn’t really know anyone here. A family friend very kindly came to pick me up at the airport and offered to help if I needed anything. That was a very nice offer, and I’m glad he and his wife made a trip to the airport for me, but the rest was still up to me.
This was my situation when I moved to London:
- I had to find a place to live. (I’d a temporary room booked through Airbnb)
- I had to figure out how I was going to make money. (Without resorting to jobs I hated, or without getting stuck into full-time job again.)
- I had to make new friends (as I didn’t know anyone)
- I was about to start studying for a full-time Master’s degree in October (while working full-time)
- I was almost a year into being alone after a decade long relationship and with plenty of baggage (which turned out to be way more baggage than anticipated)
So keeping that in mind, I am pretty chuffed with results of where I am today, a year and two months since moving to London:
- I’ve a place to live with good housemates
- I’m making a full-time income doing various jobs I like (as opposed to being stuck in an office full-time). This is by no means easy, and I work my ass off, but the point is, I’m moving in the right direction for the kind of career I envision having.
- I have made amazing friends here, and I’m grateful to have them in my life.
- I’ve almost finished my Master’s degree.
- The relationship baggage has been mostly dealt with, and I’ve come out on the other side where I’ve genuine goodwill for my ex, and want him to be happy, and remember what we had for the good times rather than the bad.
That’s a hell of a year!!
But I will point out again, none of it was easy. None if it just happened. I worked towards every single one of those things. Most days, it was just about getting to the next day, figuring out the next step. A lot of it worked out by trial and error. But hindsight is useful. So with that hindsight in mind, here are the five things I recommend you keep in mind if you are starting fresh:
Give yourself a break
It is tempting to beat yourself up. If you are the type who takes responsibility for your actions (good on you!) then you are also likely to take responsibility for how your life has turned out (i.e. not what you wanted). You may be thinking about things you could have done differently, or how you could have been different. You may berate yourself for mistakes made, or just bad decisions. Okay, get it out of your system – then stop! Accept that you can’t change the past. So the only thing left to do is start from where you are today, and move forward and try not to repeat the same mistakes again.
You are not alone
It always feels like you are the only one who is going through this, that no one else can understand. It’s so easy to believe that you have the hardest time, and your pain is the worst. But know that you are not alone. It doesn’t matter what you are going through – divorce, bereavement, illness, or anything else under the sun – other humans before you have also been through it. This is where you tap into the collective humanity, and feel the solidarity. You don’t need to join support groups (though they may be useful depending on the nature of your crisis), you can find that solace through several different means – such as reading memoirs of people who have lived through similar experiences. Journaling helps you keep things in perspective too. Journal about people you know (not necessarily personally) through similar things and have survived.
Believe – wholeheartedly – that you will get through the rough patches
There is a time to live in the present, and there is time to live in hope. When you are feeling down, and when things seem to be going wrong, that is definitely the time to dwell on the positive future you can create. If you believe that you will forever be miserable, and never get out of the rough patches, then it will likely be true, because you will never open your eyes wide enough to see the opportunities for happiness around you.
Have a goal (or several)
You need things to occupy you, a plan of action, and something to aim towards when you are starting fresh. You need to have somewhere to go. You don’t need to have your entire life-plan worked out (if you are starting fresh, you have probably already discovered that life-plans are not set in stone), but having milestones help. For me, the immediate goals were moving to London which I’d always wanted to do, and getting an MA which I’d waited ten years for. It gave me a purpose, something concrete to focus on, as I started working out rest of the details. If you don’t have any goals, you won’t feel a sense of purpose that gets you out of bed everyday. So find things you want to do/achieve in life. Then go do them.
Surround yourself with the right people
This is absolutely essential. The kind of company you keep, defines to a large extent the quality of your life, and your overall positivity and optimism (key ingredients for a happy life). Surround yourself with positive people. The type who push each other up, instead of keeping others down to feel better about themselves. Surround yourself with people who are making an effort with their own lives, and not merely complaining about everything that does not work out. In other words, surround yourself with the type of people in whom you see the type of person you want to be.
None of this is rocket science. As I have said, most people go through things in life where they need some kind of a new beginning. It’s just more drastic for some of us than for others. But doesn’t matter what comes your way, just remember that as long as you are alive, there is always another tomorrow. Another sunrise to look forward to. Another day to hope and dream. So keep going. Because you have to believe that the best is yet to come.