Professional Development as an Act of Self Care

  “You’re glowing,” my boss said as I walked into the office the day after attending a daylong race equity training. Any other time, I’d feel drained, but she was right. I was glowing. I smiled. “I got to be around my people,” I responded.

In full transparency, I didn’t always look forward to going to trainings and conferences as part of my professional development because it always felt like a decision forced upon me rather than participating in something I was actually interested in. Throw the words “race and equity” in front of it, and it felt even more daunting.  In my experience, trainings and conferences about race, equity, and inclusion have been extremely draining, especially as a black person. The excitement I’d have about attending would immediately dwindle when I’d walk into the room to a sea of white faces.  On the outside I’d smile, but on the inside I’d prepare myself to do emotional labor the entire day, cringing at the good intentions of white people and their attempts to be better humans and craving another black or brown person in the room whom I knew could relate to how I was feeling.

More recently, though, I’ve decided to take a different approach to professional development by seeking opportunities that fill my soul and make me feel energized instead of drained. In the past month, I’ve had a few that helped me rethink what I want to get out of these times out of the office.

The first was a race equity training I took with Race Forward in Raleigh, NC.  It was one of the first times I participated in this type of training where the room was comprised mostly of people of color, particularly black women. The second was the 2nd annual Black in Communities Conference in Durham, North Carolina where I was both a presenter and participant. As I began to reflect about why I felt and seemed different after these two experiences, the reason was abundantly clear: both gave me the opportunity to be around my people. Black people brought together because we believed we were entitled to feel a sense of belonging that was often denied to us on a regular basis.

Professional development is certainly about gaining formal and technical experience that allows one to become better at their job, but there is also something so much more valuable that can be gained. When I think about developing myself professionally, I believe it is important to challenge and push myself to learn new things and ideas, but I also believe that doing so means putting myself in an environment when I feel encouraged and seen. In fact, I think this amplifies the learning. It takes away the anxiety I sometimes feel being in a room where I am the only person of color or the only woman. Instead, I get to learn and challenge myself in a space that centers and recognizes my blackness.

Out of the many things that I took away from these two experiences, there is one that moved me most and that was session about self love and self care: The presenter, Paris Adkins-Jackson, defined self-care as, “the development and maintenance of consciousness that informs us to restore health and balance.” Applying this definition to my professional development means making sure the opportunities I seek are in fact healthy and balanced, and doing more good than harm. Having this means I can show up to my job and do my best work because I feel restored instead of bogged down.

As you are working with your staff to design and implement professional development plans, it is important to ask them about their short and long terms goals to make sure they are building the skills they need to be successful at their jobs.  But, balance is key, so it is also important to allow them to take advantage of opportunities that feed their souls and spirits, because at the end of the day, this is what leads to us to be healthy, productive, and whole human beings that can remain committed to our work.