Professional Development & The Case For "Falling Into Fall"

“Wow, actually nothing has changed since I last saw you.”

I hadn’t seen “Sarah” for two years so I was pleasantly surprised when our host sat us next to each other at a dinner party this weekend. When I asked her what was new, Sarah jumped right into where our last conversation about her work life had left off: “I’ve just been so immersed in what I’m doing that I haven’t had a chance to pull up and evaluate what I actually want and need. I’ve been so busy doing work that I haven’t set goals.” 

Sarah is smart, talented, and successful but it was clear she wanted a change. She just hadn’t carved out the “think time” or created the structure she needed to make it happen.

We typically wait for New Years to make a resolution but, with the “back to school” rush and the changing of the leaves, everything about fall signals a season of change. As the Halloween displays go up at CVS and pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks, autumn is the perfect time to take stock of your personal and professional goals: enough the year has passed to make an effective assessment of your progress towards your goals and, with 100 days left, there is still time to actualize change. Here are five tips for “falling into fall” for your professional development: 

  1. Take time to audit. One client told me last week, “I’m sad because I thought I’d get a new job by the end of the summer.” Another told me, “I’m burnt out. I really thought I’d have a chance to get some downtime over the summer and I didn’t.” It’s okay to feel disappointed and frustrated about things. Take this time to pause and look back: what didn’t happen? What surprised you? Is this where you thought you’d be by now? 

  2. Set new goals. In looking back it’s only natural to also look forward. When setting new goals are there “quick wins” you can check off the list? What are some smaller goals you can achieve (nail that presentation with the client) to help achieve the larger ones (get that promotion)? On the flip side, do you need to recalibrate your bigger goals because your priorities or circumstances have shifted? Even if you’re recommitting to goals you already had, it’s important to reassess what you want, why you want it, and how you plan to get there.

  3. Celebrate the things you did well. It’s easy to focus on the things that went wrong, but can you reframe to celebrate success where you had it? This past summer was a wild one for me: two family weddings on two coasts, my grandmother’s passing and funeral, five stitches on my daughter’s face, and a water mitigation emergency in our kitchen dashed any hopes I had of a “relaxing summer.” Looking back, my biggest win was keeping my stress in check to get through what I needed to do, both at work and at home. Instead of saying “thank god that’s over,” I’m actively thinking about new ways I can scale the problem solving and logistics management skills I relied on to keep my head above water (literally).

  4. Embrace the things you look forward to Are there things you love about fall? For me it’s foliage and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). For one of my clients, it’s an annual conference she attends. Embrace the things you’re excited about and make a concrete plan to enjoy them fully.

  5. Replace worry with action. While our expectations can help us embrace the things we look forward to, some of our expectations can also make us feel anxious. Throughout my career, the last 100 days of the year from Labor Day to New Years have always been the busiest and the most stressful. It’s tempting to stress about how stressed you’re going to be. In fact, it’s so common that clinical psychologists actually have a term for it called “anticipatory anxiety.” Rather than stress about how stressed I’m going to be, I acknowledge that the next few months are going to be busy and let the worry part go. Instead, I make a strategic plan for my week every Sunday, I’ve committed to taking a weekly yoga class, and I’m planning a vacation for January (woohoo!). I’m not ignoring the reality of what’s in store but I’m replacing time spent worrying about a problem with time spent architecting a solution. 

You don’t have to wait for a yearly performance review or a New Year’s resolution to make small scale changes that can have large scale professional development impacts: grab that pumpkin spice latte, think strategically, and activate accordingly.

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Randi Braun is the Founder of Something Major. A business development executive by day and career coach by night, Randi lives in Washington, DC. To learn more visit www.somethingmajorcoaching.com. (c) Randi Braun 2019.