There has been much made of phenomena like The Great Resignation—the Covid-era worker exodus from subpar working environments—the surge of interest in mental health both in sport and other domains, and here in Australia, health and safety regulations that require employers to prioritize psychological safety alongside physical safety.
All of this suggests that we as individuals as well as organisations are starting to see that high performance and objective success require attention to our personal well-being and health in addition to our physical or external circumstances.
Having said that, talk is cheap. Putting our money where our mouth is and actually taking impactful care of ourselves? That’s still hard. Here’s why.
We don’t rate ourselves as performers. I have a program called High Performance from the Inside Out which showcases this very idea - that for sustainable performance to happen, we must cultivate our inner resources such as energy, sleep, interpersonal connection, and awareness early and often. And yet. Until I connect these dots with folks, many people seem impervious to this truth. Here’s how the conversation goes:
Q: So, tell me how you define high performance in your world. A: This is the easy part for most of us. For an athlete, it might be winning the gold medal. For a real estate salesperson, it might be the number of houses sold per month. For an operating room doctor, it’s about successful procedures and no deaths.
Q: Okay. What comes first, the performer or the performance?
A: [several-second pause, then, softly] The performer?
Q: Okay. So are YOU a performer?
A: [softly] Yes?
Q: Are you sure?
A: [slightly more loudly] Yes?
By now the audience is laughing and nodding as if they knew these answers all the time.
Mind you, some conversations in this space are easier than others. Athletes, musicians, dancers, even doctors and lawyers get this. The craft that is delivered through our hands and voices is easy to see as a performance and we as the performers. But really, we are all performing, all the time.
When it comes to professional development requirements, organizations are more likely to fund (and we are more likely to engage in, because it's paid for) knowledge acquisition over personal behavior change. Real estate professional development, for example, focuses on process, procedure, and the law. Even as a psychologist—a profession that you think would know better—continuing education credits are limited to nuts and bolts topics like how to deal with anxiety in our clients or integrating cultural diversity into our practice.
But even as we start to “own” our performer selves, the idea of investing in ourselves is so often not on par with investing in the skills of our craft.
Because knowledge is just easier to define and qualify, and frankly, tick off as "done."
I’m not dinging knowledge, but you can see the disparity, right?
As performers, aren’t we, in fact, as important a tool? If not more important? I can be the most skilled athlete on the planet, but if I have not taken care of my mental and physical well-being, my technical skills are less effective, if not useless. I could be a talented doctor, but if I am burned out and exhausted, I put my patients at risk.
So here it is. Personal development IS professional development.
Admittedly it can be more difficult to directly see the benefit of personal development. How do you measure it? Even as we can acknowledge the falseness of an objective measure, post-workshop, that tells us that we know 46% more about resilience than before we completed the program, it is at least data. That’s the tick-box trap at work.
Let’s step beyond statistics and reflect on the value of, say, more energy, resolve, happiness, contentment, and kindness. What I hear from folks who do this kind of personal development are stories like this:
I used to leave exercise til the end of the day, which was code for “maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, and if it doesn’t, I always have a great excuse.” Moving it to the morning—making it a priority—has meant I feel justifiably sanctimonious cuz it gets done, brighter, and I have way more energy to start my day.
I’m an introvert, so just the idea of working on speaking and saying what I think was enough to make me vomit. But taking the time to practice at home and getting coaching from you helped me to feel like I could do it at work. I am still nervous about phone calls, but instead of avoiding them and hating myself, I do make some of them.
When I first heard of the idea of being nicer to myself, it sounded exactly like what I needed, but I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to do it. I did the homework and read some of the book you recommended. At first, it was really hard to catch myself when I was tearing myself down…but when I did, I could feel how different it was. I reckon this will be a great thing to teach my daughter, who I know is as hard on herself as I am.
It's about knowledge AND behavior change.
Personal development is a performance enhancer.
What do you think? How do you quantify the effect of these qualities on your professional outputs?
I’d love to hear your story.