A big part of being a professional is ensuring that you don’t become complacent and are able to keep your practice fresh and relevant. A great way to do this is to be your own life coach. A great introduction to this is a free introductory coaching course. This will give you the basics of coaching which will not only help you work with clients but will also give you tools you can use for yourself to achieve goals and grow as a professional. My initial advice for professional development:
1 – Have a personal development plan: you can get templates for these online and keep them either electronically or print them so you can put them up for yourself to see everyday.
2 – Don’t be afraid to move around and explore in your organization: there is nothing wrong with taking on extra duties which will help you develop new skills. I actively advocate for applying for promotion opportunities once you have gained a significant amount of experience (this would be defined by the opportunity). *In preparation for this, if you know what kind of job you want you can look at classifieds/job adverts and see what kind of experience the job you want requires. Then you can use your time building that experience through training and work.*
3 – Keep up to date with changing legislation, different practice techniques and different social work interventions
4 – Join and participate in Social Work membership organizations: This will help expand your professional network, it will give you access to member’s only professional training, specialist training and expose you to changes happening within the profession. You may also have the opportunity to help in the development of changes.
5 – Have a varied professional support network: I think it is important to have friends within the same profession but I also think having friends from other professions expands your knowledge base which will invariable contribute to your growth and learning. You will also have people with whom you can consult should you need. You have people who can promote your experience as you could also be someone with whom they can consult.
6 – Have a life outside of work: An essential part of living is having a life, which also means having a life outside of work. Make sure you build into your professional self a way to wind down and disconnect from the happenings of the day. Part of your life outside of work may include profession related activities (blogging, volunteering, consulting) but it is important that you can step away from the everyday to do something different. It allows your mind to recharge and can also allow you to come back with a fresh perspective, showing you things you may not have noticed if you stayed entrenched in the problem.
7 – Know who you are and what works for you: I advocate for learning from every experience that is, finding something in every working experience that you can take with you throughout your career both good and bad. The good will help you build your own practice, the bad will help you identify what doesn’t work for you as a professional. The good will provide you with a firm professional foundation. The bad will help you begin to establish a baseline for what you can and cannot accept in a professional environment and from superiors and colleagues. Don’t discount your experiences however negative they may seem; use them by reflecting on what made them negative for you and ensure you take this with you so and learn how to manage it.
8 – Remember why you’re in Social Work: This will refocus you in those moments that feel more like trials than the reason you went into the profession. Remember that there is nothing wrong with moving on when or if you find that a place you are working or the tasks you are being asked to undertake in a particular position are not what you want to be doing. In those moments when you cannot afford to move or you haven’t found anything you want more, do your best to make the best of a bad situation, so to speak. Use reflective diaries to keep escalating emotions in check and to pick out those things you are actually learning from the position. Read these over and do them regularly, it will help you focus more on the positive.
9 – Don’t be afraid to take a break: Social Work is about helping other people with their problems, all day, every day. This can be mentally and emotionally draining. I recommend taking regular vacations/holidays. I recommend, if you find that you need it, that you take a break; try doing something other than Social Work for a while. There is nothing wrong with this. There is also nothing wrong with seeking help for yourself, having a counsellor or therapist with whom you can discuss the issues that arise from your day to day work. Personally, my passion is working with children and families but when I’ve felt like I’ve needed a break I’ve gone to working with adults in hospitals/nursing homes etc. You may not need a break from Social Work completely; it may be that you work in a different kind of Social Work. Consider all your options.
As with anything, you need to take care of yourself to be of the best possible to service to your clients. If you’re burnt or burning out, if you’re mentally or emotionally exhausted, if you’re physically just tired, you’re not going to be at your best and you’re not going to be able to give your all. There is nothing wrong with taking a break.
Also, remember that being a professional, isn’t just about what you do for others, it’s also about making your professional opportunities work for you so you can become the professional that you want to be. It’s about achieving your own goals and markers for success.