Invest in Your Professional Growth

By Kendra E. Davenport, Chief Development Officer, Operation Smile

When I was growing up, one of the many things my parents would say to me was that I was no better than anyone else and no one else was better than me.

I can remember being irritated when I was upset, or my feelings were hurt, that they weren’t more compassionate or conciliatory. I wanted them to take my side and reassure me that I was a shining star in their eyes, not tell me that I was no better than anyone else or that nobody was better than me. Their response always fell short of making me feel better.

Years later, as one of my own children relayed a story about an exchange she had with one of her coaches who had inferred, not so subtly, that she was not as good as she thought, I heard the same words my parents had said so many times to me, coming out of my own mouth. I was trying, as they likely had, to bolster my daughter’s confidence while cautioning her at the same time not to get too carried away.

These lessons learned in childhood stay with us throughout our lives and help shape our self-worth, our self-confidence and our self-image. But as we mature and start working, and begin to build our careers, we realize how harsh the working world can be at times. Although everyone’s experience is unique, it is not uncommon at a certain point to come to the realization that we must nourish and cultivate our confidence and self-worth ourselves.

Taking Responsibility for Your Own Growth

Other than our significant others, few people are going to nurture our egos and confidence as consistently, enthusiastically and unconditionally, as our parents did when we were growing up. Why does it matter though? Because life is hard and it’s harder still without a healthy appreciation for our own expertise, skill sets and professional acumen.

It’s easy to get sucked into the maelstrom of politics, agendas and egos that pervade every workplace — no matter how culturally sensitive, inclusive, and positive it might be. That can weaken us. Our confidence in our own abilities, and a strong sense of self-worth, help give us clarity and the strength to stand our ground when we feel unsure of ourselves, when we are at odds with a colleague or when we strongly disagree with a supervisor or someone in a position of power.

As the song goes, people are people and they all have their moods. Self-confidence is critical to holding your own and more importantly, to advancing and growing professionally. At a certain point in life, everyone realizes that what and how we invest in ourselves directly correlates to the health and consistency of our self-esteem.

Reaping Positive Professional Dividends

Don’t wait for your employer to provide you with additional professional training and education. Seek it out on your own and take advantage of the wealth of self-improvement and professional training that is readily available and affordable online. If you’re considering pursuing a master’s degree, make the time and put forth the effort to investigate programs you’re interested in, focusing on obtaining the best possible educational experience you can find. If time and financial constraints prevent you from enrolling in a program, make the most of what you can do with limited time and resources.

Read and listen as much as you can to enlightening books, podcasts, blogs, peer reviewed publications and documentaries. Nourish your interests and passions and you will find ways of incorporating what you’re able to soak up in your day to day professional life. Accessing good tools has never been easier because so much is so readily available online, but don’t neglect the delightful experiences your local library holds within or online.

Surrounding yourself with interesting people and joining clubs or social or civic groups, will also widen your aperture for learning. Seek out mentors and strive to spend some one on one time with them. If you can’t gain that kind of access to someone you respect and want to emulate, try paying closer attention to the things they say and do and how they say and do them — imitation is the highest form of flattery. It’s also fundamental to the learning process.

Keep an open mind to new learning experiences and differing opinions. When we’re closed to ideas or concepts we don’t agree or align with, we limit ourselves.

Understanding and appreciating the opposite side of almost any topic or issue stretches your intellect and can help you be more accepting of new concepts and more flexible in your thinking about things. It also sharpens your ability to adapt to new situations and add value, even when you don’t feel one hundred percent confident or comfortable.

The more you put into your intellectual, professional and creative development, the stronger your self-confidence will grow. As it does, so will your belief in yourself and your appreciation for your personal and professional worth.

When in doubt remember: You’re no better than anyone else, but no one is better than you.

Kendra Davenport is the Chief Development Officer for Operation Smile and manages global development strategy, brand, marketing and public relations. She previously served as the president of the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, the vice president of institutional advancement and external affairs at Africare. Kendra has also supported development at Project HOPE, the Population Reference Bureau, International SeaKeepers Society, First Candle and the SIDS Alliance, and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications from Chestnut Hill College and is currently working towards an Executive Master of Policy Leadership from Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy . Additionally, she is CFRE International certified as a fundraising executive, and volunteers her skills and expertise to assist the Loudoun County government, Leadership Roundtable and Georgetown University.

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