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Tips on How to Start your Professional Development Journey

Stepping into college and being surrounded by all these resources and opportunities can sometimes be overwhelming. The thought of having to be professional in professional environments without much prior experience can seem daunting. Here are a few tips I would recommend for anyone starting their professional development journey!

Start exploring yourself and your interests

To really begin your professional development journey, you need to dive into learning about yourself and what you are passionate about. Take time alone to reflect on skills and characteristics that make you, you. This reflection will allow you to be more self-aware of what you bring to the table as an individual in the workplace. The more time and energy you spend understanding and learning about yourself, the more you will continue to excel. We are all uniquely amazing in our own ways and really being aware of what you are capable of will only translate to confidence that will help fuel your successes in the long run. It is also helpful to have conversations with the people around you who know you well and ask them what skills or fields they can see you prosper in. This can be family, friends, peers, professors, TAs, etc. When I first came to UF (University of Florida), I knew I was going to be pursuing business and was going to be passionate in whatever area I chose, but I had no idea what area of specialization it would be. One day I was out to lunch with my parents, and I asked them to share their thoughts on what they could see me enjoying and pursuing in the future. As we were discussing different fields and avenues in business, trying to gauge what I may enjoy and excel in, they both mentioned how they felt I could absolutely love and thrive in marketing due to my creative nature. After that conversation, I began a series of actions that led me to where I am today. I started to do research about marketing in general and the job opportunities that came with it. I then took my first marketing course: ‘Principles of Marketing’ and I joined AMA where I could meet many peers who were passionate about marketing and the different avenues it offers. That conversation significantly changed my college path and potentially the rest of my life. It was a steppingstone that allowed me to take a shot in the dark and discover a field I never thought I would be dedicated to, until I tried, which now leads me to my next tip!

Begin branching out and taking yourself out of your comfort zone

We all know that in order for ourselves to grow, we need to put ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable or different from our usual routines. We need this because familiarity breeds comfort but discomfort breeds adaptation. By putting yourself in more professional and formal environments, you will naturally begin to pick up on more of the mannerisms you should have in these settings. You will also learn the areas that you can improve within yourself when it comes to these environments. Maybe you will learn that you prefer to be early to events because it makes you feel more relaxed. Or you realize that you feel most comfortable when researching prior to the event or companies that will be in attendance. The University of Florida has a plethora of available resources that need to be appreciated and used because they can be extremely helpful. Do not be afraid to go to any events or workshops that even minorly spark your interest. Bring a friend if you feel more comfortable, but also remember you will be able to meet new people there as well!

Start building your own personal network

Your personal network begins by reaching out to peers, recruiters, people in your field, employees from companies you are interested in, etc. More than likely, people are excited to share guidance and information about themselves and their experiences, if you are willing to ask and show interest! A conversation with one individual can go a very long way. By connecting with people and maintaining a relationship with them, there can lead to many positive outcomes in the future. It is also important to remember that as individuals and professionals, especially in the business field, we are constantly expected to network and expand our professional and personal circles. It is critical to be kind and genuine to all those you meet, as you never know who you can or will be in business with, in the future. Maintaining these relationships is just as important as starting them. Be personable by remembering their names, personal details about them, any interactions you have had with them, similarities between yourselves, etc. An investment in your network is an investment in your net worth.

Meet with mentors or people who can hold you accountable

It is critical to understand that you are always a student in this life, and everyone is your teacher. There is so much to learn from those who have already done what you are hoping to do. Reach out to potential mentors or people that are willing to meet with you whether it is weekly or monthly, as long as there is a relationship that is built so you are able to consume as much information from them. There are so many professionals that would love to share their experiences and expertise with anyone who is willing to listen and learn, but it all begins with reaching out! It can be a one-time interaction or an ongoing relationship, regardless, it will be beneficial to you and your career. By reaching out to mentors you will be able to gain valuable knowledge and save yourself from potential mistakes.

Use every experience as an avenue for growth

Remember that everything you do is an opportunity for growth. Starting out on your professional journey can seem daunting and intimidating at first, but it is important to realize that everything being new and fresh is an opportunity to get that much closer to where you want to be, it is not a disadvantage. Using every experience, workshop, interview, professional conversation, new connection, etc., as a way to learn and grow, is the most efficient and effective way to lead you to success. Having Zen beginners mind, which is having an open and eager mind to learning about a topic, without preconceived notions, is also very essential to the process. It is the ability to remove ego and apply humility in the best form, as an entry way for new information to be learned and applied. Having a growth mindset is the best perspective to have for unlimited success and excellence. A very useful quote that I regularly refer to from Henry Ford is, “Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” It is so imperative for us as students especially, to want to continue learning about as much as we can.

While it can be easy to compare your own journey and path to others, remember that everyone starts somewhere. You should and will always continue learning throughout your professional career. The professional development journey is never ending. Start small, learn as you go, and never stop improving!

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