Advancing your profession

If you examine your own efforts and those of your close colleagues, how are you helping move your profession forward? What legacy is your business or association creating for those who will follow you?

Advancing one’s profession is part of what it means to be a good professional, isn’t it? We all should do it by how we practice our craft, but we must also do it in other ways, by: presenting sessions at conferences, posting ideas and insights on web site discussion boards, mentoring younger professionals, sharing our knowledge in newsletter and magazine articles, engaging in informal dialogue with peers, sharing content online, engaging in relevant research

My roots as a professional are in higher education student affairs. My formative years were spent toiling away in residential life, fraternity and sorority affairs, and student leadership development. Working in higher education, one is surrounded by the “publish or perish” mentality. Without publishing or in other ways sharing what we are learning from our practice, the growth of our profession, those we serve, and ultimately ourselves as professionals, will perish.

So many gifted individuals dutifully practice their craft each day, but their knowledge and insights remain accessible to only those in close contact with them. I often wish I could get daily downloads from the minds of the best and the brightest delivered into my brain each morning just as headlines from various newspapers and periodicals are electronically delivered into my email in box before I awaken. Imagine the ability to access real-time lessons of what your colleagues are learning. That's one Vulcan mind-meld I'd be willing to consider. I know I would be a better professional and our profession would be more robust if more of my colleagues saw contributing to our profession as a greater obligation than they currently do.

It’s not that I blame them. I’m not sure we do enough in most professions to access the insight of our peers who see themselves almost exclusively as practitioners. A close friend who is far wiser than me on most subjects has never presented a session at a conference and never written for publication. It’s just not something she sees herself as being equipped to do though many of us regularly try to convince her otherwise. But we are letting down the profession by seeing this as a dead-end situation. Instead we should be working with her to identify more acceptable ways to get her gifts out into the open where they can benefit more people.

Baryshnikov’s observation, by the way, was about the new dance center he is helped build in New York City. He envisioned it to be a “laboratory in which artists will work with mentors from the worlds of dance, theater, film and lighting and costume design.” Not just content to be one of the best practitioners in the history of the dance profession, he is helping create the infrastructure through which those who follow in the profession can engage in spirited artistic collaboration.

John Allston once said, “The only thing you take when you’re gone is what you leave behind.” We can do so much more so that the professions we will leave one day are better off than we found them. 

So commit to helping grow your profession or your community. Write a newsletter blurb or blog post. Make some listserv postings. Join a conference panel discussion. Comment on online discussions and blog posts.  Tweet out takeaways from a conference.  Make sure important information is archived and preserved.  Reach out to the next generation of leaders and support their contributions.

Better yet … work with a few colleagues to build some piece of infrastructure that will support others’ efforts to contribute to the growth and development of your profession. That is something well worth leaving behind.

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