7 Unconventional Professional Development Ideas

You are a hard worker. Someone who puts in the time, meets deadlines with quality and high standards.

But maybe you haven’t seen as much career traction as you want or need to support your family. Maybe you see others leapfrogging over you in the professional world.

You’re probably looking around and wondering Why is this happening?

This was happening to me for a long time too. I was having a hard time standing out from the crowd, and therefore wasn’t being recognized in the same way as some of my co-workers.

During the first several years of my career, I did the same professional development everyone else did. I attended industry conferences, attended soft skill classes at work (like communication and conflict management), and did online training. I also took tests for industry related certification to build up my resume.

These were all useful things to do, but nothing was happening in my career! I was doing what everyone else was doing and getting the same result as everyone else.

This stagnation wasn’t all about my professional development approach. I know it was also about how I saw myself, how I approached meetings, and my general aversion to risk taking. However, one thing I changed in order to stand out and differentiate myself was how I approached my professional development days and dollars.

The Turning Point

A mentor told me if I wanted to accelerate my path to a leadership position, I needed to do things right then that were uncomfortable and felt like a risk.

A lot of people get this advice, and subsequently ignore it. Because it is not comfortable to do things that are uncomfortable.

However, for whatever reason, I just decided if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll say yes to scary opportunities, do things that are uncomfortable, and take some (calculated) risks.

I started with changing up my professional development routine. The initial uncomfortable part was just asking my boss and getting the company to approve some of these development opportunities because they were different that what other employees were doing.

I’ve always worked at companies that value learning & development, so nearly everything I’ve asked for has been supported and paid for by the companies I’ve worked for.

7 Unconventional Professional Development Ideas

Are you tired of being stuck behind a long line of talented people waiting to get promoted to that next level? Find ways to stand out. Start with this baby step of challenging your professional development routine.

1. Join a Mastermind Group

If you haven’t heard of masterminding, it is a very powerful tool for building relationships, problem solving, encouraging each other and building motivation.

The basic idea is you have a small group of people (typically 5-7) that meet on a recurring basis (typically every other week or monthly) with a stated goal of developing in some area. For example, the goal could be leadership development, developing as an entrepreneur, or developing young professionals.

Each person shares ideas, thoughts, information, feedback, and resources. The group helps each other overcome issues and see opportunities where they may be blocked. An effective group will help you get where you’re going faster and with less effort.

To get started, you can either find or create a Mastermind group.

To find a group, simply ask friends and colleagues if they are aware of any, look online for groups in your community or for online Facebook groups that suit your interests. Once you start looking, you’ll realize there are a lot of free and paid options for joining groups. If this is your first Mastermind group, I recommend starting out with a free group to understand how they operate and to get a feel for the benefits of a group.

If you decide to create one, consider the following:

  • Consider people from different industries and with different backgrounds and circumstances than your own to get the broadest perspective.
  • Invite people to join the group who you have respect for and who perform at the levels you strive for. Even invite those that are well ahead of where you are in your development area.
  • Confidentiality is an absolute must for building trust and being able to be open within the group.
  • Ask members to be committed to the group and prioritize attending the meetings.
  • Ensure each member has an opportunity to share struggles and successes, and that each member is getting what they need from the group.



2. Do a Productivity Challenge

There are many productivity challenges you could try, but one popular one is the 100 days of productivity challenge.

The basic idea is that you commit to doing one productive task every day for 100 days. You can hold yourself accountable by telling a friend or co-worker about your progress each day or week, posting about it on social media, or keeping a journal.

Create your own rules with this challenge – the only real requirement is that you do something productive each day, such as:

  • Decluttering or organizing something at your home or office
  • Writing a certain number of words for your book or blog
  • Reading a chapter from a non-fiction book
  • Developing a detailed to-do list at the end of each day

You will be amazed at what you’ve accomplished after 100 days of productivity.

Kick off your 100 days with our free 30 days of productivity challenge.


3. Hire a Coach for Professional Development

Want to get out of your comfort zone? A coach will push you out, even if you’re kicking and screaming! That’s their job.

Coaching is so important in clarifying your goals, overcoming fears, staying focused, and identifying behaviors or believes that may be blocking your path to success. They will provide you with uncomfortable feedback you may not be able to get anywhere else. Coaches can accelerate your development and success at a pace you didn’t think was possible.

A coach is also right there to support you through failures and hold you accountable to the action plan you work together to develop. You have a partner in achieving your goals.

Coaching can be expensive, but think of it as an investment. A good coach can work with you to find ways to make more money, free up more time, and live a richer life.

4. Volunteer to Lead a Project

I know what you’re thinking – you are already busy, so how are you going to find time to voluntarily lead a new project?

The secret is if you volunteer to run a new project, you will also have to do the following and this is also part of building a killer skill set:

  1. Evaluate how you spend your day and ruthlessly eliminate any tasks you are doing that are low or no value.
  2. Delegate some of the work you do now. You may have to get creative here. Maybe you engage people outside your department or hand things over to people before they are 100% ready, therefore stretching their skill set as well. I’m always stunned by how others rise to the challenge.
  3. Find ways to learn faster, ask better questions, and absorb more information in less time. When you lose the luxury of time, you find ways to get to all the important information quickly and effectively.
  4. Hold those around you to higher standards of communication. They need to be concise and to the point – there is no time for sloppy communication that you have to wade through to get to the main message.

These are some of the things you will have to do to make adequate time for leading a new project, and if those were the only skills, it would be well worth it! However, actually leading a project teaches you so much more.

You learn how to evaluate skill sets of others, hold people accountable to deadlines, manage conflict on a team, the art of escalating issues, and managing scope and budget, among other things. You may also experience what amazing teamwork looks and feels like, and the joy and pride of delivering a successful project.

Leading a project is a quick way to make leaps in your professional development.

5. Start a Side Gig

I know what you are thinking – who has time for that? While I generally agree that spending even more time working isn’t typically a good thing, if there is something you’ve always wanted to do that’s different than your normal day job, it might be a good chance to build some killer skills in a short amount of time.

For example, I started this blog in my spare time. At the time I started it, I felt like I needed something just for me. I spend so much time working and taking care of my family, I felt like all my time was absorbed by things I didn’t have much control over.

In addition to wanting to have my own thing, after nearly 2 decades of working my way up in a corporate job, I have some things to share with others who are trying to do the same thing.

The difficult thing is it does take time, and I already have an overly busy life, but I decided that I would try it for 6 months. I give up my TV time and my Facebook scrolling time, and I do this. I also don’t produce many blog posts since I am pretty time restricted. But it’s fun and interesting and I love it. And, I’m learning so much that’s relevant to my day job.

Examples of improvements I am working on on through this blog:

  • Writing skills
  • Story telling skills
  • Graphic design skills
  • Technical skills
  • Marketing Skills
  • Knowledge of subjects covered by this blog

If you want to ramp up your professional development, a well thought out side gig can give you an enormous boost in your skills.

6. Teach a class at a local (or online) college

This one is WAY out of most people’s comfort zone, but it could pay off big time. There’s no better way to learn something inside and out than to teach it. And now that many colleges have fully online classes, there are more options than ever to teach your skills to others.

Not only do you learn about the subject matter you’re teaching, but you learn a million other skills as well. Think public speaking skills, developing presence in front of an audience, confidence in being about to handle questions and avoid boredom from a group, learning to evaluate other people and give actionable feedback.

One way to ease into this is to find a local college and agree to be a guest speaker for one class or session. You can speak on a topic that you are already an expert in and build your confidence slowly.

The skills you will learn can translate into so many areas of both your professional and personal life.

7. Join a community leadership group

Lastly, look around for a community sponsored leadership group. Many communities have leadership development programs or groups to bring professionals together to enrich the community, build networks, and develop important skills.

Check out your city’s Chamber of Commerce, local universities and local government groups. Many cities are interested in growing and retaining leadership talent, and they set up programs to ensure they are doing just that.

Time For Action and Real Professional Development

Enough with the boring classes that don’t actually push you out of your comfort zone and develop your skills!

There are a million more ideas to develop yourself and advance your skills. The point is to take a risk and do something different. Pick one and try it. And next year, pick another one and try it.

I strongly believe in courageously trying to live your best and most adventurous life. Maybe you will be motivated to take another risk, and then another. Maybe it will make all the difference in advancing your career.

About the author

Nina Sheridan is a seasoned author at Latterly.org, a blog renowned for its insightful exploration of the increasingly interconnected worlds of business, technology, and lifestyle. With a keen eye for the dynamic interplay between these sectors, Nina brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her writing. Her expertise lies in dissecting complex topics and presenting them in an accessible, engaging manner that resonates with a diverse audience.