10 Ideas for Your Professional Development

When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park.

But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a COLLEGE student. I was practically an ADULT.

(Did I also mention I chose an out-of-state school and I knew no one in the state. I was awash in new relationships and trying to be cool enough to make friends and the humidity was killing me.)

That picnic is one of my vivid memories. I can remember the covering of the picnic area. I remember how I felt. I remember the cute boy I hoped I’d get to know. But what I remember most is the message the campus minister gave.

He quoted Luke 2:52. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God. As freshman, Mike encouraged us to be like Jesus who valued growing intellectually, physically, and relationally—with people and God. The seed of intentionality was planted in me.

Fast-forward about ten years when I was in my mid-to-late twenties. I had started my career as a teacher and was on a professional track when I moved overseas for a two-year commitment.

It was assumed (by me, I admit) that just going overseas to teach was professionally enhancing. It was a different era, so I don’t say this with any blame, but the idea of professional development wasn’t a major focus.

But then two years turned into three and five and eight and even I had to admit it looked like a “career.” (Though the free spirit in me resisted this label like I was being chased by an ax murderer.)

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

I am so grateful for A Life Overseas and the articles and comments related to:

  • Taking care of our bodies—the role and importance of food, sleep, exercise, and physical self-care.
  • Taking care of our relationships—with spouses, local friends, children, teammates, and family back home.
  • Taking care of our relationship—with God and tending to our souls.

Here’s the pitfall we can inadvertently create: just by being overseas we are working in “interesting locations” that will professionally enhance us. For a season it is true, but what happens when it turns into a, um, career.

Three points I want to make before moving on:

1. Every adult on the field is a professional. A profession is what you invest the lion’s share of your “work” time and effort into. Let’s not confuse location (inside versus outside of the home) with professional/non-professional in this post and where I want this discussion to go.

2. Many organizations will invest in the professional development of those in public leadership.

3. Every adult on the field needs professional development.

///

Because I had started off in a professional environment that built professional development into the system, I was used to taking professional development cues from the system. But most agencies or those serving independently do not have a strong professional development track for non-senior level leaders. This is said, not with blame, but neutrally like “the sky is above us.” So what are we to do?

Here are three principles when it comes to professional development:

1. We are to value professional development for ourselves, not expect our organization to provide it for us. How much do you budget per month or annually for professional development? If the answer is “zero,” start to budget a small amount. Be willing to spend time, money, and effort.

2. We need to broaden the idea of professional development. Most of us who live, work, and serve overseas are multi-professional people. We might have our main profession, be that mothering, educating, translating, book keeping, ITing, or any other ways we work. But we also have to be able to communicate our work, improve our people skills, and grow in our understanding of how to use technology.

3. We can view professional development as life-long. You may be with your organization for two years, twenty, or forty, but you are going to be with yourself longer than that. Keep growing.

I was telling a friend yesterday about this post and she asked me, “What about millenials?” Her question confused me. She clarified, “Do you really think millenials will be willing to invest money in this area?”

Hello millenials, I know you’re reading this! I love millenials and without hesitation, I answered, “I do. From my experience, they are hungry to grow. They are open to input.”

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

Professional development is not about a stage of life but a mindset, a willingness to grow, and can take on many faces. Here are ten ideas to professionally develop on the field:

  1. Attend a professional conference.
  2. Read a book a month, a quarter, or a year with an eye for professional development. Yesterday I bought a book about mentoring.
  3. Invest in tools to support your work—cooking is not my part of my profession, it is part of my survival. If you compared my kitchen to others, you could easily see who is professional and who isn’t.
  4. Invest in skills to support your work. Need better photos for your blog or newsletters? Take an online course. Need to improve on public speaking? You can work on that too. Global Trellis offers a new workshop on the first of every month. See this month’s here.
  5. Listen to podcasts. Moms this one is for you. Leader, I love this one. Want to communicate your message better? Listen to this series.
  6. Join or form a private Facebook group — and then participate!
  7. Write down five areas you want to grow in. Find someone you admire for each area and learn from them.
  8. Watch a movie—in part for entertainment—but with an eye for a specific area such as fostering a team, leadership, character development, or perseverance.
  9. Do research—search google, look on pinterest, watch TED talks
  10. View yourself as a multi-professional person.

Lest this post sounds like one big “Work harder, work faster, work is awesome!!!” post, let’s remember where it started. At a picnic. With friends. Having fun.

I write to you what I wish had been said to me many years ago: “You can be responsible for your professional development. Living overseas doesn’t mean this is an area you have to count as part of the cost. Like Jesus, you can grow in wisdom and stature and find favor with man and God. Keep growing. Life is hard. Invest in people. Invest in your profession. Have fun. Jesus delights in you. His delight will never wane. Never. ”

Share in the comments what you do for professional development. Which one of these ideas are you going to try this week?

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The “Ministry 7 Year Itch” and What To Do About It

“Amy, what resources do you have for this question?” A friend forwarded an email she received from a co-worker in her organization:

I have noticed patterns in workers and myself who have been overseas roughly 5-10 years. I have asked our member care folks about this as well. The bulk of resources for cross-cultural workers are related to cultural adjustment or stress stuff that is focused on beginning or re-entry—not the “in between” or “middle space” where you are supposedly thriving and rockin’ it! I am beginning to see people leave after 7+ years of service, but not related to any of the issues that are normally talked about…and I think I am beginning to understand why. But I don’t want to be in that category!

Like the questioner, in year two or three, I was thriving and “rocking it” and declared that I would never leave my city; and even added punch “and certainly never move to Beijing.” You probably have your own Beijing, the place that is too loud, crowded, or boring. Guess where I moved after five years in my original city?

At the time I chalked it up to angelic laughter and the hubris of youth. Looking back with a broader range of history to reflect on, it was more than angelic laughter going on. 

Part of the broader context is that in my third year, due to my “I will never move” sentiments, I was allowed to stay in my city while taking on additional responsibilities for my organization. I became in charge of training all incoming teachers how to teach in Asia. 

So, when I moved to Beijing several years later, I was ready for the new challenge of working with others on the national staff. Additionally, I thought the relocation would scratch my growing boredom itch. In part it did. 

But my first year in Beijing, my sixth year on the field, I was surprised to find a hint of boredom creep in again.

How could I be bored?

I was using my training on a scale I never imagined when I earned my MA, I was working with fascinating and capable people, and hello, I was living in CHINA. China! How could I be bored?

I don’t think any of my teammates knew how deep this growing restlessness was. Truth be told, I don’t think I knew how deep it went. The head of member care had asked me to visit a couple of our teams and, much to my surprise, I loved working with them. When the head of member care announced that he and his wife were returning to the States, the organization posted the job.

With prayer and discernment I applied, knowing that if I got the job God was opening the door for me to stay in China and if I didn’t get the job the following year (year seven) would be my last. I got the job. But, no surprise, it wasn’t my “final” job in the organization. Every couple of years what I did morphed or changed in some way that reengaged me.

Lots has been written about missionaries and burnout, and rightly so. But what about the other extreme: rusting out? As the questioner above mused, after getting over the initial transition and adjusted to life on the field, shouldn’t you be set up to thrive? What about still wanting to be a part of God’s call, yet finding boredom creeping in?

What to do about the 7 year itch (really the 5-10 year itch)?

1. Acknowledge rusting out can happen.Wouldn’t it be great if organizations are as preventative oriented about personnel rusting out as they are about burnout? They can be and discussions like this help. Bottom line, know that in year five or so people are ready for a new challenge. 

2. Plan for it. Life is not going to be all thrillsville and sometimes God asks us to do something that though necessary, becomes “meh” to us. But throughout the Bible we see the development of people—Joseph, David, Moses, Hannah, Paul, or John. Each of them experienced a change in their work as they grew, experienced suffering, made mistakes, and felt abandoned. For you, take an online course or a Global Trellis workshop. Learn a new skill. Find ways to serve others. (Consider facilitating a Velvet Ashes Connection Group or The Retreat this spring.) If your organization does not have “rust avoidance” plans, be proactive and invest in your own growth and development.

3. Get creative. You might be too close to see what could work in your town or organization or stage of life. If you find yourself thinking, “That would never work here,” talk to others in your organization or consider meeting with a life coach with missionary experience. He or she is trained to help you think through what could work where you are. Sometimes God uses boredom as a sign to move on. But sometimes boredom is an invitation to become more involved. (Check out the “coaches” listed in these resources.)

4. Budget for it. While this might seem to be a part of plan to avoid rusting out, “plan for it” is more in your head, and “budget for it” is more in your wallet and calendar. You will not drift into growth and development . . . as we can see from the number of people leaving the field because they are not as challenged as they used to be. 

5. Pray and Trust God’s Heart. My biggest concern in writing this post is to avoid the message that “You need to be fulfilled at all times.” Sometimes you are in a season that feels claustrophobic or boring and God is using it for your good and growth. But sometimes you have more freedom to explore ways to mitigate boredom or feeling less engaged than you might realize. 

What about you? If you have been on the field for a while, have you experienced a “7 year ministry itch?” What has been instrumental in continuing to grow?

Photo by Bailey Gullo on Unsplash

10 Ideas for Professional Development on the Field

Luke 252

When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park.

But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a COLLEGE student. I was practically an ADULT.

(Did I also mention I chose an out-of-state school and I knew no one in the state. I was awash in new relationships and trying to be cool enough to make friends and the humidity was killing me.)

That picnic is one of my vivid memories. I can remember the covering of the picnic area. I remember how I felt. I remember the cute boy I hoped I’d get to know. But what I remember most is the message the campus minister gave.

He quoted Luke 2:52. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God. As freshman, Mike encouraged us to be like Jesus who valued growing intellectually, physically, and relationally—with people and God. The seed of intentionality was planted in me.

Fast-forward about ten years when I was in my mid-to-late twenties. I had started my career as a teacher and was on a professional track when I moved overseas for a two-year commitment.

It was assumed (by me, I admit) that just going overseas to teach was professionally enhancing. It was a different era, so I don’t say this with any blame, but the idea of professional development wasn’t a major focus.

But then two years turned into three and five and eight and even I had to admit it looked like a “career.” (Though the free spirit in me resisted this label like I was being chased by an ax murderer.)

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

I am so grateful for A Life Overseas and the articles and comments related to:

  • Taking care of our bodies—the role and importance of food, sleep, exercise, and physical self-care.
  • Taking care of our relationships—with spouses, local friends, children, teammates, and family back home.
  • Taking care of our relationship—with God and tending to our souls.

Here’s the pitfall we can inadvertently create: just by being overseas we are working in “interesting locations” that will professionally enhance us. For a season it is true, but what happens when it turns into a, um, career.

Three points I want to make before moving on:

  1. Every adult on the field is a professional. A profession is what you invest the lion’s share of your “work” time and effort into. Let’s not confuse location (inside versus outside of the home) with professional/non-professional in this post and where I want this discussion to go.

  2. Many organizations will invest in the professional development of those in public leadership.

  3. Every adult on the field needs professional development.

///

Because I had started off in a professional environment that built professional development into the system, I was used to taking professional development cues from the system. But most agencies or those serving independently do not have a strong professional development track for non-senior level leaders. This is said, not with blame, but neutrally like “the sky is above us.” So what are we to do?

Here are three principles when it comes to professional development:

1. We are to value professional development for ourselves, not expect our organization to provide it for us. How much do you budget per month or annually for professional development? If the answer is “zero,” start to budget a small amount. Be willing to spend time, money, and effort.

2. We need to broaden the idea of professional development. Most of us who live, work, and serve overseas are multi-professional people. We might have our main profession, be that mothering, educating, translating, book keeping, ITing, or any other ways we work. But we also have to be able to communicate our work, improve our people skills, and grow in our understanding of how to use technology.

3. We can view professional development as life-long. You may be with your organization for two years, twenty, or forty, but you are going to be with yourself longer than that. Keep growing.

I was telling a friend yesterday about this post and she asked me, “What about millenials?” Her question confused me. She clarified, “Do you really think millenials will be willing to invest money in this area?”

Hello millenials, I know you’re reading this! I love millenials and without hesitation, I answered, “I do. From my experience, they are hungry to grow. They are open to input.”

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

Professional development is not about a stage of life but a mindset, a willingness to grow, and can take on many faces. Here are ten ideas to professionally develop on the field:

  1. Attend a professional conference.
  2. Read a book a month, a quarter, or a year with an eye for professional development. Yesterday I bought a book about mentoring.
  3. Invest in tools to support your work—cooking is not my part of my profession, it is part of my survival. If you compared my kitchen to others, you could easily see who is professional and who isn’t.
  4. Invest in skills to support your work. Need better photos for your blog or newsletters? Take an online course. Need to improve on public speaking? You can work on that too.
  5. Listen to podcasts. Moms this one is for you. Leader, I love this one. Want to communicate your message better? Listen to this series.
  6. Join or form a private Facebook group — and then participate!
  7. Write down five areas you want to grow in. Find someone you admire for each area and learn from them.
  8. Watch a movie—in part for entertainment—but with an eye for a specific area such as fostering a team, leadership, character development, or perseverance.
  9. Do research—search google, look on pinterest, watch TED talks
  10. View yourself as a multi-professional person.

Lest this post sounds like one big “Work harder, work faster, work is awesome!!!” post, let’s remember where it started. At a picnic. With friends. Having fun.

I write to you what I wish had been said to me many years ago: “You can be responsible for your professional development. Living overseas doesn’t mean this is an area you have to count as part of the cost. Like Jesus, you can grow in wisdom and stature and find favor with man and God. Keep growing. Life is hard. Invest in people. Invest in your profession. Have fun. Jesus delights in you. His delight will never wane. Never. ”

Share in the comments what you do for professional development. Which one of these ideas are you going to try this week?

This post first appeared here at ALOS.