There are no shortage of seminars and workshops to teach you skills that will help you in your professional life, but if you take a second and look at your interests, hobbies, and surroundings, you may find a treasure trove of helpful tidbits. These can be little things that can make you more productive and efficient, fun new tools, esthetic treatments. Or they can be bigger, more influential challenges that effect your core philosophies or how you interact with people. Growth.
The line between my personal and professional lives has always been paper thin. Not in the bad, always-working-no time-for-fun or sorry, family-gotta-get-this-report-done sort of way. But rather in a love-what-I do-and-everything-that-surrounds-it sort of way. I’ve been nestled comfortably at the intersection of technology and creativity since high school, and feel lucky that I’ve been able to parlay it into a solid career. Because of this thin line, I find all sorts of professionally useful information while cruising my Google reader or flicking through articles in Zite. But technical skills only get you so far in the world. You need to sell those skills by being an enjoyable person to be around, and you need to do it with authenticity. One of my favorite quotes/philosophies is “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” (Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People.)
Coaching an All Star-level roller derby team has likely been my most challenging endeavor (aside from fatherhood, but we’ve all heard that story). Roller derby quickly surpassed the label of “hobby” with all of the time, energy, and money I invested in it. Starting as referee of sport that no one grew up playing had it’s own challenges, but it allowed me the opportunity to grow with the sport. To learn the game with the players and develop strategies. After a season as a home team ref with the Brewcity Bruisers, I started coaching the All Stars, and have ever since.
I’ve always been a look-at-it-from-both-angles kind of guy, but now coaching 20 strong-willed and diverse women, I had to look at very tough situations from many different sides. I didn’t always make the right decisions and I had to deal with the consequences and learn from my mistakes. As seasons progressed, so did the competition; more was at stake, winning mattered more, rankings mattered, regionals mattered. The passion and drive was higher, and with that losses hurt more. It was having to address the team at our lowest points that was truly challenging. It’s easy when you win –“Good Job” speeches write themselves. It is after a heartbreaking loss or two that the growth comes. As a leader, you don’t have the luxury/curse of just sulking in silence. Something has to be said, and you’re the one that has to say it. Cliches grow old, so you need to speak honestly and from the heart in those situations. I took one speech class in college, but I don’t think 100 speech classes could match what I learned after some of our hardest loses.
Keep your eyes open — you never know where your next growth opportunity may come from. Mine came from a random MySpace post in 2005 looking for roller derby referees, no skills needed.