Learning New Ways to Develop Your Career

I had a bubble change earlier this year. I am no longer in the 30-something bucket, and I’ve started to hear the phrase, “As you get older…” quite a bit. I have to say, I don’t like it, but I’m getting used to it. To adjust to the change, I will have to retrain my #2 pencil to search for a new home. Once that is done, I’ll need to reexamine the way that I prepare for the future.

As you get older you build less muscle mass and repairs to muscles and joints go at a slower pace. Hormone levels change resulting in the movement of hair masses. Fat deposits occur in unsightly places, and people begin to address you differently.

Recently, I was at the gym working with one of my favorite trainers, at least she used to be. As I was trying to complete yet another torturous exercise, she said “You’ve got to go for the burn if you want those buns of steel”, and I though buns of silicone might be more appropriate. They would provide more cushioning during long meetings, they are installed more easily and they have a lot less angst associated with them.

There was a bit of truth in what she was saying that applies to life in general. She said that muscle growth and reparation plateaus if you do the same routine each time. To stimulate growth and development, you have to try something different learning new ways to grow.

The same can be said of our professional development. As we grow older, we generally become more complacent and we lose our edge in the job market. It is easy to get comfortable with what we are doing, and there are many different ways to occupy our time. Work has become more demanding in the last few years. Kids need to be transported from event to event. Dogs must be groomed and lawns must be mowed. So how can we find time to try something new?

Even with all of these diversions, it is important to remember to set aside time for new modes of professional development. If you normally learn about new trends in chemistry by reading journals or books, try attending a short course or ProSpectives conference. Try joining an online community or listserv. Consider attending a local section meeting, or other technical meeting. The key thing is to try something new. Stretch your mind and use a new muscle that you have neglected for years. The exercise will make you stronger, more versatile and more balanced in your approaches to solving problems.

My role model in these efforts is my Dad. At twice my age, you might assume that he knows it all, or at least that he knows as much as he cares to know. But that is not correct. He emails his friends, has become active in his community, and he is learning new things by taking courses at his community college. When I complained to him about my bubble change this year, he said, “Try moving your pencil over to the right-hand column. A lot of forms don’t even have a place for someone my age. That’s why I always respond to surveys online; so that I can type in any year I want.” He also added that “At your age, you should be doing a bit more exercise and trying something new. You’re starting to get a bit soft.” —Thanks Dad.

This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.  Article originally published in the chemistry.org newsletter on Nov. 27, 2006.

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