Approaching professional development when feeling isolated at work

A friend recently reached out to me who felt isolated in their role. They were new to it when they started, and reached a point where they felt they had: 

  • Used all the resources available to them internally
  • Management/ colleges were not in a position (for varying reasons) to help
  • Engaged in a load of self-study
  • Reached a level where they felt stuck on how to progress further

I can relate to this. I’ve been there and it’s a pretty lonely place to be.

The easy advice is to find a new job, but this isn’t always the right answer and no guarantee you’ll get the development or network you desire.

My friend and I chatted through the following steps (in no particular order), as well as where they wanted to be – direction is important as it provides focus – focussing your development around a purpose instead of just aimlessly doing stuff related to your job is strangely a lot more fulfilling.

Have a goal: start small if you need to, but without knowing where you want to be, how can you get there?

Assess yourself: there are a number of assessment tools out there across many industries – do some reading, understand what it takes to be excellent at where you want to get to. Be honest/ critical.

Take ownership: if you feel isolated then don’t expect an amazing development plan from your current employer. You know yourself better, so create your own plan and go to them with it. Start small, you don’t need to get to where you want to be today, take the first steps, inspect the outcome, adapt the next steps if required.

Join a community: I am currently part of 3 communities outside of work. The advice and experience I can gain from the experts is invaluable. You must get involved though, you can’t support or be supported if you’re silent.

Grow a network of people you can relate to: if you can’t relate to someone it’s hard to take their advice. Determine who that is, go to events, find their blogs, follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter etc.. maybe these people will even be part of the communities you join!

Find a mentor: this is valuable especially if you have no support at work, they can almost take the place of your existing manager and speak from a place of experience which you want to gain. It’s likely this could come from either a community or network – although there are places online that provide mentors too.

Finally, please talk to someone, even if it’s a random friend… no one will want you to feel isolated or alone and talking about it is the first step.