Professional Development is Key
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Lambson, wore her graying hair in a thick bun snug at the nape of her neck. She was a bit of a scowler, the kind of teacher you could imagine shaking a ruler at you to make a point.
I remember walking to her desk one day to ask her how to spell a certain word. “Look it up in the dictionary,” she told me without making eye contact. She did not explain how one looks up a word one does not know how to spell. So, I went back to my desk, and I did not attempt to figure it out.
Mrs. Lambson could have suggested that I come up with my best guess at spelling the word in question and look that creative spelling up in the dictionary. She could have suggested that I continue to refine my guess until I found the correct spelling.
Instead, I guessed at word spellings for many more years, until I eventually learned the technique on my own; it made perfect sense. The process of guessing, searching and refining was also a good practice to weave into my study habits, and it served as an excellent framework for looking words up in the AP Stylebook when I became a journalist after college.
Most reporters I worked with at local newspapers didn’t take an interest in the stylebook or much care if their copy was what we would call “clean”—free of grammatical and style errors—when they submitted it to an editor. I, on the other hand, rather obsessed over it. I wanted to stand out, and I was interested in newspaper style as well. I considered hunting through the stylebook for answers a bit of a game.
Eventually, my curiosity and persistence paid off; I memorized all the key style points over time and now only rarely have to consult the guide book. Now that I am using The Chicago Manual of Style more, though, as I develop and edit books for clients like Jim Ricci and Tom Zink. I find I must go back to my former discipline of looking things up. This is tedious, but important if I want to do my best work.
I have also recently been inspired to reread The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. This “little” book, as Strunk called it when he first published it in 1946, is full of good learnings and reminders on the craft of writing.
Reading, and refreshing my knowledge, is one way that I do professional development. It continually expands my brain in a way that is easy to manage, timewise. It’s also good for my clients, and so it is good for me and also good for my colleagues in The Creative, whom I work with a good deal.
We should all look for the ways in which we need reminders in our industry, and practice the things we might have grown fuzzy on, seeking out those areas that represent new territory.
What is your growth challenge? Figure it out, and eagerly study up!