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Professional Development During a Pandemic (and Beyond)

Sep 30, 2022

by Shelley O’Brien, MBA, Chief Marketing Officer at AWIS

In 2021 for our What’s Next webinars series, we hosted networking expert Diane Darling, whose insights are still relevant today. She is author of The Networking Survival Guide, a member of the Chief Executive Club of Boston, and past president of the Association for Talent Development. Darling shared how she moved a lot as a child, a challenging experience that forced her to find a way to make connections and to interact with strangers. She believes, “Networking is opening your heart.” Simply being open to new ideas, being kind, and sometimes just being willing to start a conversation with someone, that’s what effective networking is all about.

Many people find starting a conversation with a stranger to be intimidating. Maybe our reluctance is because our parents taught us not to talk to strangers! Darling believes that anyone can learn how to make connections and to expand their network with these tips:

  1. Before you go, spend a few minutes thinking about possible topics you could bring up.

    Headshot of Diane Darling

    Diane Darling, author of The Networking Survival Guide

  2. Set a goal for the event, like: “Learn one new thing” or “Meet two new people.”
  3. Attend an event that has nothing to do with your industry, just to practice networking.
  4. Arrive early, even for online meetings.
  5. Make a cameo appearance. You don’t have to stay for the whole event.
  6. Ask questions to get others talking, for example: “How did you find out about this event?”
  7. Bring a buddy or mentee whom you can introduce to others.
  8. Avoid uptalk (ending a sentence on a higher pitch). It makes you seem younger and unsure.
  9. Reach out to past contacts: “I thought of you while listening to this workshop.”
  10. Use LinkedIn to reconnect and stay connected. (Keep all social media professional.)

It may feel awkward at first, but you will become more confident the more that you practice. For additional dos and don’ts, tips about keeping in touch after an event, and ways to ask for help, watch the webinar replay. Darling’s second book, Networking for Career Success, teaches the basics of networking in twenty- four short lessons. She writes a blog on LinkedIn, has appeared on the NBC Nightly News, and she has been quoted and written about in The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Boston Globe. You can also connect with Darling on LinkedIn. She loves networking!

Headshot of Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan, founder and CEO of Market Insights, Inc.

We also hosted Joe Sullivan for a What’s Next webinar on  “Finding Purpose and Passion for Your Post-COVID Life.” Sullivan is the CEO and Founder of Market Insights, Inc. He is also a consultant, author, professional speaker, and psychotherapist, with over thirty years of experience.

Sullivan kicked off the conversation with this perspective: “The way toward living happier is resilience. And you are already resilient!” Resilience, he explained, is defined as the ability to withstand, adapt, and recover from adversity and stress. We all just endured a global pandemic! We dealt with a lot of uncertainty, found new ways of doing things, and we learned how interconnected we all are.

Some people have asked, “When will life return to normal?” Sullivan suggests that regardless of what the future brings, you can live your best life. The Irish poet John O’Donohue said, “In order to inherit your freedom, you need to go towards it. You have to claim your own freedom before it becomes yours.” Sullivan emphasizes that you can take the first step in living your best life by claiming your purpose and your passion(s).

What’s the difference between purpose and passion? And how do you determine what they are? Sullivan explains that your purpose is something you declare. What difference do you want to make in your corner of the world? You can have more than one purpose, and you can also change it at any time. There is no right answer as to what your purpose should or could be. You decide! It does not require outside validation.

Your passions, he notes, are what you get excited about. What do you enjoy doing? Where do you lose time? You can also have multiple passions at once, and they can change over time.

Once you determine your purpose and passion, don’t let things like denial, regret, comparison, “ought to” and “should” get in your way. Sullivan offers these tips for growing your resilience:

  • Self-awareness, to help you get in touch with what you need, what you don’t need, and when it’s time for you to reach out for some help. Ways to grow self-awareness include keeping a journal, asking trusted friends to describe you, or practicing mindfulness and/or meditation. For just five minutes a day, give yourself space to think. Pay attention to the thoughts that are there.
  • Your capacity for empathy, a skill you can increase throughout your life by cultivating curiosity about strangers, challenging your own biases, sharing a story, and/or listening for understanding. Sullivan believes, “One of the greatest gifts we can give to another human being is to let them know they’ve been heard or seen.”
  • Your optimism. Sullivan notes that you can increase your optimism by letting go of the past. Ask yourself, “Which parts of my current story are permanent, and which parts can change?” Acknowledge change and what you can and cannot control. Monitor your self-talk. Be thankful and be kind.

For more information on different types of resilience, what gets in the way of passion and purpose, and other insights, watch the full webinar replay.

An earlier version of this article was published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.