How often do you invest in yourself? What is your monthly budget for self-development, professional advice or mentoring? Out of a small sample survey of 5 friends, the average is zero. When asked why, they claim, simply, that there is no need — their employer maps out a training plan and duly provides. Friends with small businesses are too busy building the business, and can’t justify the cost. It’s something they see as a last resort, when they are in trouble, or ‘stuck’.
Why Bother With Self Development?
It’s all too easy to undermine the importance of getting ourselves the right personal and professional support, whether employed, working for ourselves or branching out to something new.
It’s easy to dismiss professional development outside of an employee environment as unnecessary. We get focussed on what’s in front of us — the company provides some technical training so what more do I need?
But what about the bigger picture? What about you and where you want to be going? Are you investing in developing you — in terms of technical skills, capability and personal ambition? Often companies simply don’t have the expertise or resources, or vested interest for that matter, of finding out what you really want from your career or working life, and putting you on a path to achieve that. Because, quite frankly, for many of us it doesn’t involve the job we’re in.
In the UK, there seems to be a stigma around this. People who engage coaches, go on weekend seminars or attend professional development courses ‘out of hours’ can often be viewed as pushy, self-important or as someone who’s a bit lost and in need of some, erm, ‘guidance’.
A Different Point of View
As an employee it took a while for me to catch on to a different point of view. I was always focussed on progressing to the next rung and happily trotted off to the courses that had been mapped out by the company — project management certification to tick the technical skills box, and presenting skills for the competency box. Good generic skills for the CV.
Many managers out there are truly exceptional, but for those of us not lucky enough to find one of those gems, when it comes to understanding who you are and where your limitations lie, or really pushing yourself out of your comfort zone or delving into long-held limiting beliefs, we often need to look elsewhere.
Even more so when you’re doing your own thing — a small business owner, freelance, contractor — self-investment can drop right down the priority list into obscurity. I’ve been working as an independent consultant since leaving my job four years ago and I’ve let this one slip. I’ve always been a keen reader of self-development books and have loved sharing reading lists with like-minded friends and colleagues, but for some reason have always drawn the line when it’s come to paying more than £20. I’ve been quick to dismiss the expenditure, telling myself that’s what Google and Waterstones is for. I don’t think I’ve been on a course since I was an employee.
It’s an easy trap to fall into — you see it as an unnecessary cost, particularly if you don’t have a regular salary coming in. But if your child had their heart set on learning the guitar or getting an A in Maths, you wouldn’t think twice about paying for lessons or extra tuition. You’d find the money to give them what they needed in order to achieve that goal.
So why do we dismiss our own needs for personal investment when we’d readily help others?
I remember back to childhood days when I a dedicated equestrian competitor. I was dead set on making the national team and my parents supported this wholeheartedly. I was training daily, constantly going to weekend training camps and my parents would track down highly regarded specialists to make sure we had the best advice, whether that be horse care, equipment or team strategy. One trainer refused to teach me — he only taught adults — but we were persistent, sold our cause and persuaded him to see me once, following which we secured a great training partnership.
When I thought back on this, I had the ping of a lightbulb moment. Hang on, my parents were prepared to invest an enormous amount of time and effort into helping me achieve my goal. They really valued my ambition, my desires and must have truly believed in me to drive me up and down the country to compete every weekend. And what an amazing time it was — emotional ups and downs, high peaks of elation followed by dark dips of self-doubt, celebrating successes and the awful, arduous drive home after a disastrous day. And the sense of being part of a focussed team (which was constantly whirring around the storming/ performing phases). It took years of training, tweaking and refining, looking for constant improvement, and of course a huge commitment from the whole family.
You Don’t Risk Anything Reading Books
Fast forward 20 years and my professional focus is on setting up a successful business. I want it to be a truly high calibre outfit, but I’ve been reluctant to spend any money investing in professional help, personal training, or courses, telling myself it’s all available through books and online and that I ‘should’ be able to do this on my own. What a crazy way of thinking! I could have read books about how to ride a horse but would that have got me onto Team GB? Possibly but highly unlikely. Books don’t bring momentum, a sense of team or personal mindset coaching to deal with self-imposed mental blockers. It’s too theoretical and easy to hide behind. You don’t risk anything reading books.
I’ve now realised it is a much harder road to success if you’re not prepared to invest. If you want to fulfil your ambition, there are no extra points for saying you did it on your own. All successful entrepreneurs or careerists have had some sort of mentoring along the way. In fact, your business needs you to invest in it. It’s a vital element for it to grow and prosper.
Not investing is a way of saying I don’t value my dream. Our personal goals are valid and worthwhile — just as much as the next person. If my parents are prepared to believe in me that much, then so should I. If we don’t put our ambition and aspirations at the top of our agenda, no one else is going to do it. We can’t rely on spouses, parents, managers, or anyone else to drive our agenda. It would feel disconnected if they did.
It’s understandable to play them down — we don’t want to fail, we don’t want to look silly and feel like we’ve wasted money if it doesn’t work out. But investing in you and yourself is never a waste of money — it all takes you closer to your goal, even if that goal isn’t completely clear right now. You will always learn something about yourself — you can’t avoid it. And imagine if you didn’t — imagine if you downplayed it so much that it quietly slipped away. What better way to give yourself evidence that it wasn’t a worthwhile goal! What a self-fulfilling prophecy!
My Self Development Journey Starts Here
So I have decided this is the year of investing in me. I’ve got myself a coach. I’ve signed up to complete a coaching certification and I’m attending business strategy workshops. I’m going to have a line item in my budget for professional advice and personal development and I’m willing to spend. There will inevitably be a few false starts until I find a way of working that suits me and my business but better than sitting at home on my own wondering how to get from A to B.
Make your goal clear, decide what you want to do and make a commitment to invest in it. A goal is something you plan to achieve, and you can’t achieve it if you’re not prepared to wholeheartedly devote your efforts into it. And exposing yourself to people, courses and advice along the way opens up a realm of possibilities and may take you in a direction you never expected. You never know, it might be fun.