We all look for opportunities to become wiser, more skilled, and more respected in our professional roles. Whether we pursue continuing education coursework, complete advanced degree programs, obtain professional certifications, or ask for cross-training or shadowing opportunities to advance our clinical or oncology skills, we are engaging in Professional Development. This type of development is career-focused, specialized around the oncology navigator role, and is often centered around discussions with our leader in the workplace. Traditional Professional Development, however, is only one part of the equation.
Personal Development, a lifelong process of assessing and challenging your growth and goals, is an essential part of Professional Development. Personal Development opportunities exist in every single interaction we have in life, at work and outside of work. Ultimately, Personal Development focuses on defining who we are and strategizing how to strengthen ourselves from the inside, out. It requires asking questions and being honest with ourselves. It teaches us to show ourselves grace and recognize what makes us special, but also to challenge ourselves when we self-sabotage or stand in the way of our own growth. Personal Development is the practice of becoming a better, happier, more productive person—a true cornerstone of Professional Development. Below are some tips for starting or expanding your own Personal Development!
Introspection Is Required
If there’s one element critical to Personal Development, it’s the ability to assess, analyze and understand one’s own behaviors, emotions, communication styles, and stressors, but doing this is no easy task. It can be quite uncomfortable to delve into your personal motivations, biases, and insecurities. You are likely familiar with the term self-awareness, which describes utilizing your self-knowledge to improve interactions with others; however, achieving self-awareness is not possible without the hard work of introspection. My experience has taught me 2 absolutes about human nature that are worth keeping in mind prior to beginning introspection:
- Every person has unique strengths, and you must be willing to recognize and honor your strengths and commit to continued growth
- Like it or not, each one of us has been the villain in someone else’s story—and we deserve to be.
Once we accept these ideas as truths, we are ready to begin assessment of our strengths, not just in the skills associated with our job, but also our strength of character. When we analyze character and personality, descriptors such as Non-judgmental, Empathetic, Strategic-Minded, People-Oriented, Data-Driven, and Task Master tend to appear. If you’ve never completed a personality assessment, that’s a great place to start your journey. There are numerous assessments out there, from traditional personality assessments to enneagram study, and they each offer invaluable feedback and can be fantastic tools to assist in your Personal Development.
After working on our strengths, we can then begin the work of unpacking those elements about ourselves that may not be perceived as positive traits. During this journey, determine your unconscious biases—we all have them—and see if you can determine where that bias originated. Let’s consider this example:
- Navigator Jane begins her honest introspection and admits to herself that homeless people make her uncomfortable. She is certain she takes great care of her homeless patients, not letting this discomfort creep into her care, yet when she encounters homeless people on the streets or outside her work facility, she avoids interaction. She is also willing to admit that she previously assumed all homeless people were drug addicts until she became a navigator and had a patient lose his home and move into a shelter due to financial toxicity. She also recognizes that when she feels uncomfortable or nervous, she tries to remove herself from the situation as quickly as possible. Upon looking back at her interactions with her homeless patients, she realizes that they all received great care, but she also begins to see that she never interacted on a personal level with those patients the same way she did with her other patients; instead, she did her job and moved on as quickly as she could. Navigator Jane is still unsure where this discomfort with homeless people originated, but now that she recognizes it, she’s determined to change her behavior.
So, is Navigator Jane a bad person? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary—she is now becoming a self-aware person who will be a better oncology navigator and better person for her hard work. Again, we all have unconscious biases and emotional responses that make us react differently. We may be passive-aggressive, withdrawn, impatient, self-doubting, or overly critical. Once we recognize these patterns in our behavior, we can begin to recognize them and change them mid-interaction. That level of emotional intelligence elevates your Personal and Professional Development to a new stratosphere.
Observe Yourself and Others
You may be surprised what you learn just by watching and listening. Pay attention to the conversations and interactions around you—How do people speak? What is their tone? How do others respond? What works well? What doesn’t work well? Also, pay closer attention during your conversations. Watch others’ facial and body language more clearly. How do they respond to you? To what you’re saying? To how you say it? Ask a trusted friend to give you feedback. You can’t see your face when you’re talking, so having someone give you honest tips for improvement or pointing out potential issues can be helpful. For example, I once had a direct report who was beloved by everyone in the organization for her bubbly, approachable personality; however, whenever she appeared on a virtual meeting, her face was like stone—she never smiled or showed any of that personality. To outsiders, she looked bored or angry, neither of which presented a positive image. I provided feedback, which she took graciously, and she began working on her facial awareness. Within a short time, others began engaging with her more and including her in conversations during virtual meetings. Why? Because she now looked engaged and interested in what they were saying.
Study and Share
There are hundreds of books and podcasts out there on self-improvement, self-discovery, Personal Development and Professional Development. Read or listen to them and talk with your friends or peers. Create a Personal Development book club or podcast club and meet up once a month in person or via virtual meeting to talk about what you’ve learned. There’s nothing better than having the opportunity to be vulnerable with others.
As with all development, make a plan and set goals. Once you have defined 1 or 2 strengths and 1 or 2 areas of opportunity, make a plan of action for how you will continue to grow, develop and share your strengths and begin working on improving your areas of opportunity. Don’t choose too many things to work on at one time; instead, focus your attention on a few items and set specific goals for yourself. Is your strength motivating others? Perhaps your year-end goal should be to write a blog, to present at conference, or to teach a workshop? Do you need to work on how you respond to criticism? Perhaps your initial goal is to read a book on emotional intelligence or communication, work on understanding why you respond negatively to feedback you perceive as critical, and based on your reading, begin development of techniques for responding to criticism that you can try out when appropriate.
Advance your role by becoming certified through AONN+ Foundations for Learning! Learn more about the unique certifications targeted specifically toward the skill set of oncology navigators by visiting www.aonnffl.org.