I was recently confronted with a new reality:
I am entirely responsible for my learning. Whether personal or professional development, the topics I pursue are dependent on my whims. Or goals. Goals are probably a better structure.

I discovered this reality through feeling that I was being constantly confronted with situations for which I had little training. Having specifically cultivated my education to prepare for my current job, this was an incredibly frustrating experience. I was feeling stagnant, stifled.

A colleague, with endless patience and the gift of mentorship, advised that I should view these situations as “professional development opportunities”. I appreciated her willingness to help, but I was puzzled at her suggestion. How could I interpret these series of events as professional development opportunities if there was no one to develop me professionally?

Multiple times a week, she offered this advice in response to my frustration. And multiple times a week I received her advice, digested it, and then dismissed it as unattainable.

Finally, I had a lightbulb moment: I am able to develop myself.

To some of you, this statement is a truism. However, for me it was a revelation. I am no longer in an environment where I am being told what to learn, how to learn it, and why it matters. I am instead in a place where I can choose the areas in my life – personal or professional – that I feel require work. That I feel could be developed. That I feel.

I’m starting to understand that recognizing the importance of what I feel is crucial to this process. Being in tune with my feelings is the key to knowing why certain situations make me feel inadequate, or why certain rituals provide balance. For the first time since I was a child, my feelings are a legitimate frame through which to view my world.

Of course, balance is still required. For example, just because I feel frustrated by a situation at work is not a reason to write off a professional relationship. However, recognizing that I feel frustrated by said working relationship because I would benefit from learning some management techniques is a first step to resolving what could evolve into an intractable situation.

In an environment that places a premium on the ability to apply objective models to subjective situations, understanding that my feelings are a legitimate point of departure has altered the way I view my daily interactions. Perhaps, instead of blaming “that perspective” or “the system” for my ails, I can instead examine the emotions that are causing me to feel mentally constrained and emotionally stagnant. Through identifying the situations that ignite these feelings, I can determine the root causes, and address whether I need to develop personally or professionally to better meet these challenges.

Ultimately, my lightbulb moment confirmed a lesson I was taught long ago: the only person I can hope to control is myself. So do it.

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