How to do Personal Development: Two Stories

Changing Careers

A long while ago, I had a life-changing insight at a training event. I realized that we could solve all the problems in the world if we listened to each other. I felt compelled to change my career from science to doing something about it!

1) Personal Development often starts with a trigger event. This can be an insight, or redundancy, bereavement, moving, having a baby, children leaving home, or anything that shakes us. 

The journey was challenging. I couldn’t have done it without help.

I wanted to prove to my employer that I was serious about making the change. I volunteered to work on a group looking at career development. I also worked in my own time as a Samaritan and later as a counselor for couples. I learned about myself and improved my listening.

2) Doing something different is a powerful way to learn and change. 

I applied for jobs in organization development and training and didn’t get one at once. I asked for feedback about what I needed to get better at.

3) Learn actively from experience. When you are doing something new, “failure” is inevitable. It will help next time.

I talked openly to my boss, Brian, and my friends about what was happening and what I was feeling. Brian was extraordinarily generous with his time and attention. I only realized much later how fortunate I was. I felt loved, supported, valued, and stretched. He saw more in me than I saw in myself.

4) Be vulnerable and ask for help. When you talk to someone present and listen, your thoughts get clearer. You also feel better and act more effectively.

Personal Development

It worked, though it took four years. I changed my career completely and now enjoy listening to people and helping them to work together better.

Turning around a project

My client J had a trigger event. He was known to be good with people. His company asked him to meet with 50 people working on a SAPS project. Everything that you can imagine was going wrong. He had less than a day to turn it around.

J talked to me openly and asked for help. I listened and encouraged and asked questions. We thought everyone was likely to be fed up. Eventually, he decided to ask the people in the meeting just one question, “How do you feel about the project?”

We didn’t know that this would work in advance. He would be doing something different and learning actively from experience.

When he asked people at the meeting how they felt, initially there was a stunned silence. Then one person said she was fed up and frustrated. Eventually, everyone had said how they felt, 

including angry, scared, frustrated, bored, sad, embarrassed. J then asked, “Do you want to go on feeling that way?”. There was a resounding “No”. 

The project was saved.

How do we help people find personal and professional development ideas?

I have been helped most by people, like Brian, being attentive, listening, and genuinely caring for me. It only works when you know you matter.

 I do my best to love the people I work with. Love not in a sentimental sense, but wishing them well, taking risks, seeing their possibilities, and being truly present. It’s costly but immensely rewarding.

There are no good words to describe this work. “Coaching” sounds as though the coach knows how to do it. “Counselling” has a stigma associated with it. You have it when there is something wrong with you.

Appreciative Coaching” has some merit. “Appreciative” is about understanding and finding and using strengths.“Developmental Counselling” may work. “Developmental” is about moving from good to great, which is more fun than fixing problems.

Finally, please contact me if you would like to talk about your own personal or professional development. Anyone can have a free half-hour session on Zoom or Skype. If you want to think about how you can help people with their development, please also contact me.

There are over 300 articles and developmental resources and tools on my Practical Developmental Ideas site. They are all free for anyone to access, use, and adapt. Please help yourself.

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