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Recently told a friend about one of the easiest-but-important things I did for personal professional development, and based on her reaction, thought maybe other people would benefit from it.

A few months ago, I noticed how much I appreciated a certain person in my professional community, and thought I should try to emulate his actions. That led me to making a short list of the professional acquaintances I look up to, and my reasons for looking up to them, so that I could be very concrete about the traits I want to emulate. This exercise was pretty low-effort, but also inspiring (it feels really good to reflect on the people you appreciate!) and very quickly actionable. Examples:

  • Person A goes out of their way to introduce people, or to send notice of opportunities to people, which makes me feel valued and recognized. It generally doesn't occur to me to make introductions--I should do that more often, and say good things about people's work when I think of it!
  • Person B is so welcoming toward my questions and I really appreciate how they make time to help other people understand their field. I should be very clear that I appreciate people's interest when they ask questions about my work, and make plenty of time for them.
  • Person C is a very direct speaker, and is very good at translating their field across different audiences with different levels of expertise. They have a good understanding of what details are interesting to different audiences, and I should carefully consider my audience's priorities when I write or speak, not just the expected format.
  • Person D is very expressive and shows a lot of interest in what each person is saying, which makes interlocutors feel really good. I could stand to work on demonstrating more attentiveness and less guardedness.
  • Person E has extremely audacious ideas, and improves them by being unafraid to discuss them with people while they're still half-baked. This quality is harder than the others for me to emulate, because that Big Idea™ chutzpah is really not me (and Person E has a much longer track record to draw on), but I can at least notice that it works for Person E to share their ideas liberally, and they're not losing face, so maybe I should be less self-conscious about working through project ideas with others.

This exercise was especially useful for me because I don't have long professional experience--since I don't have detailed insight to lots of people's work styles, I have to be more thoughtful about the work I have seen. It's not common to have it explicitly pointed out, "This person is great to work with because of this habit or trait," but once I started this exercise, it felt like an important piece of professional development snapped into focus for me.

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