staying fresh in your career

There’s an old expression that seasoned college professors like to invoke about teaching: “The first year you get it wrong. The second year you fix it. And the third year you’re bored.”

As I settle into my third year running my communications consultancy, that comment came back to me. While it applies beautifully to teaching, it applies to everything else as well.

Because I love my job, I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure that I never get bored. Here are three ways I keep my job fresh, and you can too.

Keep Adding New Content

I have a lot of colleagues who love to deliver the same material year in, year out. Whether it’s a lecture for students, a sales pitch or a topic for a column or essay, having some pre-set, go-to content frees them up to do other things with their time.

But if you’re someone like me, who needs constant change in order to feel alive, the worst thing you can do is to settle into a routine. So even though I frequently give workshops I’ve done before, I always make sure that I’m creating new content alongside them.

Just this past week, for example, I developed a new workshop on “virtual presence” – i.e., how to maximize your personal impact in an online meeting or presentation.

Preparing that workshop took several days to pull together. But it was also exhilarating. Even with workshops I’ve honed to the point where I’m happy with them, I’ll still change an exercise or an example. It keeps me on my toes.

Learn New Tools

When the Coronavirus first hit – and like every other workshop facilitator I know – I jumped into the digital workshop space with two feet. We had to. It was a classic case of “adapt or die.”

Back then, the learning was mostly around how to get the most out of platforms like Zoom and MS Teams. I still remember practicing “break out rooms” the day before my very first online workshop back in April. My daughter and two of my nieces stepped in as fake participants.

But as time goes on, I’ve gotten more adventurous and have expanded my digital toolkit. This past week, for example, I incorporated Mural – the visual collaboration app – into a brainstorming exercise for a workshop on project management.

In preparing for that workshop, I spent way more time practicing the app than I did refreshing myself on the workshop content. But it was worth it.

I went into the classroom with that tingling feeling of being slightly nervous about how that exercise would pan out. And that’s a good thing. I leaned into the material just that little bit more. The students loved the app, and I had another tool under my belt to take forward into other workshops.

Experiment with Your Portfolio

I’ve talked a lot here about how having a portfolio career suits my personality. But one of the things the pandemic has done is to force me to experiment with the balance within that portfolio.

When the pandemic first hit last spring, nearly all of my work was one-to-one writing coaching. Universities – a huge part of my client base – were too busy sorting out online learning in their core courses to think about the sort of soft skills workshops I offer.

And corporate clients were focused on keeping their staff. They didn’t have any extra money – or headspace – to spend on professional skills development. Fortunately, PhD students – in particular – still needed help writing their dissertations.

But this autumn, that breakdown reversed. Nearly all of my work since September has been group workshops of various sizes. I’m only seeing writing coaching clients occasionally.

Although I didn’t engineer that experiment, I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve decided that I prefer the current set up. It’s much more cost effective vis a vis my time. And when I do shift to one-to-one coaching – which is far more labor-intensive than running a workshop – it’s an absolute joy.

The lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that for my life as an entrepreneur to work, I need to constantly mix things up.

How about you? How do you stay fresh in your career? What new tools have you added to your toolbox? How have they helped you advance or balance your portfolio? Please share with the community.