Expertise is highly valuable, but extremely narrow scopes leave professionals vulnerable, precariously teetering on the edge of success or failure. Financial advisors tout diversification to safeguard against utter financial devastation in ever changing economic climates. This happens to also be sound career advice. Experience is our professional capital. Highly specialized workers are essential but suffer disproportionately during market collapses in evolving industries. Diversity of experience speeds recovery in the event of professional disaster.
Diversifying does not require abandoning focus or striving for something less-than-expert status. It is about networking and being open to new experiences, professional and personal. We all know networking is important, but most of us fail to make it a priority. I admit I am among the worst offenders. Finding time to get out of the office can seem overwhelming, but taking breaks actually boosts creativity and productivity, as anyone who has ever given up on an impossible puzzle to realize the answer at next glance knows. Networking is as essential to professional development as formal training. Some manner of networking should be scheduled at least once a week, and not just penciled in as a possibility that can be easily erased. It should be an actual event on the calendar, involving other attendees.
The subject of events should vary from one occasion to the next. Joining a trade organization is great, but this should not be your sole networking source. Simply joining a trade organization is akin to trying to diversify your financial portfolio by investing all of your assets in different oil companies. While you are mitigating the impact of any one company’s failure, you have done little to cushion yourself for a decline in oil prices. Joining more broadly defined groups like the local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to branch out. While I’ve found the Fife Milton Edgewood Chamber of Commerce to be a fountain of resources, group environments may greatly exceed the comfort preferences of some. Coffee chats are a good and inexpensive way to connect with fellow professionals in a more intimate setting.
Never keep it strictly business. Mix work and play by developing hobbies. Meet ups and clubs are perfect for developing connections outside of your field. Shared enthusiasm for whatever hobby you choose provides a built in catalyst for bonding, reducing time spent awkwardly manufacturing similarities. This new diverse social system will provide opportunities and support but will require commitment to flourish.
Professional development tends to occur in conjunction with personal growth. To maximize the benefits of a healthy network, be willing to take on new roles and tasks. I’ve long since forgotten the specific diversion but somewhere along my meandering career path, I learned the best answer to most questions is a resounding “yes.” It isn’t enough to be willing to meet new people. Networking is about engaging with people. Whatever the opportunity is, accept it. This often means doing something new, and perhaps outside your comfort zone. Each new experience will foster new interpretations of your skills and expand your marketability.