As professionals, it’s important that we don’t see obtaining our professional qualifications as the end of our development journey, especially as we are still likely to have many decades of work ahead of us after obtaining the letters after our names. Because of this, our professions strongly emphasise that we continue developing beyond qualification, with increasing encouragement for learning over our lifetimes (‘lifelong learning’). A critical component of effective learning is identifying the goals of your desired development, which offer a reference point to compare your introspection, action and progress against.
As we race towards the end of the year, the time for performance appraisals is rapidly approaching again. They offer us the opportunity to reflect on our performance and development, as well as consider what we’d like to do differently in future. In this vein, this article explores the value of professional reflection, drawing from approaches followed across a number of professions. It considers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and possible activities, and the shift from rules to principles and the increased flexibility for and responsibility on professionals to manage their professional development. Read more to explore different models of ‘reflective practice’, possible drawbacks, and practical frameworks to use for reflecting in a CPD context.
Our follow-on article on the topic of professional reflection ("Getting Value from Reflective Practice Discussions") then delves into feedback and discussion with others about our development, including examples of possible questions in a reflective practice discussion (or diffraction discussion, as at least one professional body calls it).
In this article, we return to the topic of specialising versus generalising as a career strategy, and expand on Protagion’s previous writing to share the views of Scott Adams, Tim Ferriss, and Erik Torenberg with our readers.
Scott Adams is most famous as the creator of Dilbert*, the renowned cartoon starring an engineer in a business setting. Scott’s own career includes majoring in economics, picking up an MBA, and working at a bank and a phone company before becoming a cartoonist. He’s naturally a fan of MBAs, advising: “...Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.”
Tim Ferriss is also likely to need little introduction. He’s a multiple-bestselling author and popular podcast host of The Tim Ferriss Show. His books include: The 4-Hour Workweek*, The 4-Hour Body*, The 4-Hour Chef*, Tools of Titans* and Tribe of Mentors*. He’s been referred as a polymath and believes “it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year”.
Erik Torenberg is a venture capitalist and co-founder of Village Global and On Deck, “where top tech talent goes to explore what’s next”.
Read more to dive into the worlds of specialists, generalists and specialised generalists, including Scott, Tim and Erik’s thoughts on the advantages and dangers, and tips for combining skills. We briefly revisit our previous article (In Pursuit of Knowledge: Specialising vs Generalising as a Career Strategy) and conclude with a 6-minute video of Tim.
Given our focus on professionals and their career goals, Protagion’s members tend to share a common experience during their lives: the challenge of studying and working simultaneously. Many professionals attest to the personal effort, dedication and diligence required in tackling their professional exams, particularly at board or fellowship level. While this pressure often arises during the earlier years of their careers, it can arise later too, if for example, they study further or write additional exams to change specialism or profession. And, once complete, the sense of accomplishment (and relief) is well-earned – every qualification is a substantial achievement to be celebrated! I know of an actuary who vowed to celebrate every week for a full year once she was done...
Two specific difficult areas which professionals reference are:
The global contagion and national lockdown responses this year are adding significantly to the stress involved in writing professional exams, including:
Even under normal circumstances the nature of your role affects your possible study schedule. For example:
Vacancies or unplanned absence of your teammates can also contribute to additional work pressures. And, especially now given the possibilities of people falling ill, study leave may be cancelled at short notice in order to deliver on corporate priorities. Some roles will also be facing additional work at present, like those in risk management or business continuity areas.
All of this work pressure is compounded with the team working from different home locations, possibly with less reliable access to the software and systems needed to operate optimally. Communication within the team and with seniors can also be more challenging.
Some suggestions for how to manage work and studying while working from home:
Do you agree? Any other suggestions to achieve both passes and promotions? Which techniques have helped you study for professional qualifications while simultaneously delivering above expectations at work? Please also share further ideas to manage the particular challenges of doing this while working from home.
A final thought: given the significant personal and professional stresses we’re all facing at the moment, one of Protagion’s coaches in South Africa has very kindly offered to support our professionals with their current worries by offering a free confidential coaching session per person. Her intention is to be of service and support others through this difficult time, including sharing what she personally practises to remain calm in stressful situations. Please contact us if you’d like to take up Gretha’s offer of a space for those in need to unpack, offload and lessen some of the emotional stress.