Road to the top – Why does personal development matter?

Tom Brady is arguably one of the best athletes of our time. One of my favorite Brady quotes is: “I’m not a person who defends myself very often. I kind of let my actions speak for me.” Let that sink in for a second. He isn’t concerned with your opinion of him. He isn’t going to tell you what he is going to do, or why he did or didn’t do something. All he is going to do is show you greatness. Rodney Harrison, an NFL hall of famer, tells the story about Brady’s work ethic and explains that they had a bit of teammate rivalry where they would see who would get to the gym first. They both started at 6 am, then would one-up each other and the next day one would get there at 5:30 to workout before the other. Finally after a few days of getting there earlier every day, Rodney got there at 2am and Brady was leaving the gym. He told him to have a nice workout. This is a testament to Brady’s personal brand and work ethic which has earned him the title of one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time. He didn’t expect his coach, the NFL or his teammates to get him up to work, to get him to the weight room or to get to practice. He did it himself, in silence, to show for it in public. 

How does greatness show up in your life? How do you “one-up” yourself every day to show not only yourself, but also your teammates what being great looks like? It is very common for people nowadays to expect their employer, their boss, their team, their friends or whatever external force it is to give them the tools in order to be successful. What people don’t see is that none of the growth that happens in someone’s life is given to them with specific steps or accomplished by others doing the work for them.

I have been in HR for 11 years and hear this on a weekly basis. Managers asking how they can help “Bob” on their team that wants to be promoted to manager. Or I hear Suzy venting about her manager not handing her all the training that is needed in order to become a manager. Now, don’t get me wrong – I 100% believe in training and development at work. I absolutely love facilitating training and believe your employer owes you training not only to make you better, but also to make the organization better. However, that isn’t all it is going to take. Brady going to every single practice and bootcamp put on by the Patriots doesn’t make him the GOAT. All the personal work he does outside of those practices, in ADDITION to all that is provided to him is what does. Every individual needs to do their part and invest in themselves by putting in the work in addition to the resources given to them. 

Not to toot my own horn, but I have to tell you something else that comes up frequently. In addition to being in, arguably, one of the loneliest careers in corporate America (yes, HR people are lonely sometimes), my career has consistently been on a trajectory where I am typically the youngest in the room. Let me tell you – that spot is even LONELIER! I tend to work with higher level professionals and senior executives, advising them on different topics and sometimes telling them the hard, uncomfortable truth. And despite the loneliness, guess what? I am constantly asked by peers or how I made it to where I am. How do I get to work with higher level executives? How did I become a manager at age 24 and advise on serious confidential issues. How do I consistently get promoted, not just in title but in responsibility. My answer to that is: amongst a combination of factors of formal training, amazing mentors, great work environments and others, a huge part of my continued career growth is the amount of time I invest in myself, on my own time, in silence. Many people expect that they will get all the tools that they need for work, at work and that is far from the truth. Or they expect that they will just be able to run a 5k without training or start a business without being educated on basic financial principles.

Point being: if you aren’t spending time on your personal development, you are falling behind. If you are currently working, or want to work for a growing, thriving company (or even build a growing company), you can’t expect to remain stagnant if your company is growing exponentially. You must also grow exponentially to scale with it. How can a stagnant person scale with a growing company? They can’t, right? Imagine you are 18 years old still trying to wear your clothes from when you were 9. Not going to fit, right? You need to be growing at least at the same pace, if not even faster to be able to prepare for what is next. Growing up, your mom likely bought you a ½ or a full size bigger in shoes because she knew you were going to grow out of them quickly. That is how personal and professional growth is. You need to be ½ or 1 full size further ahead than where your company, career or any other desired goal is going. And guess what? Nobody else can do it for you, except yourself.

Worst comes to worst, say  you don’t get what you want in your current role, job, fitness goal, or whatever it is.. it prepares you for the next one. You are a student of life. Just because one thing didn’t work in one area, doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to a ton of other areas in your life. The amount of mental, physical and emotional strength you will get from personal development applies to all areas of your life.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Read. Listen to a Podcast. Watch a YouTube video. Watch a Ted talk. Talk to smart people. Talk to strangers. Do things that scare you. Run. Hike. Sign up for that race. Raise your hand in the meeting. Have the tough conversation. Push yourself to a limit where you are continuing to learn and grow and aren’t stagnant. Because if you don’t do it, nobody else will. Take ownership and you will see your life evolve! 

If you are looking for somewhere to start, here are a few of my favorite tools:

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