Growing Outside the Box: Unexpected Opportunities for Professional Development

Conceptual image of vision and teamwork

Professional development: it isn’t just leadership conferences and networking happy hours. Anything that improves the skills that help you perform better in your career is valuable. When looking for professional development opportunities, don’t limit yourself to the usual prospects. Here are some ways to look outside the box for chances to grow in your career. 

The Nontraditional Professional Development Path 

The first step in finding effective out-of-the-box professional development is assessing your goals. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and try to identify the skill or trait attached to them. For example, if you have trouble speaking up in meetings, you might need to boost your confidence. If you constantly find yourself falling behind in answering emails, perhaps you would benefit from learning how to build better routines.  

Once you’ve identified the core area you wish to improve, you can think about creative opportunities for development. If you want to improve your networking skills, think of activities where you will naturally talk to people. Volunteering as a docent in a local museum may give you as much small-talk practice as attending a local chamber mixer. Joining a book club to build the habit of reading for 20 minutes a night can teach you the skills to create more productive routines in the office.  

Examples of Nontraditional Professional Development 

Hit the Road- Traveling is an excellent avenue for professional and personal development. Exploring a new destination can sharpen your research skills and help improve your flexibility, while new experiences will increase your comfort with the unfamiliar. You can even plan a trip based on a professional opportunity, like connecting with a long-distance colleague or visiting clients. 

Take a Class- This one sounds obvious, but a commitment to lifelong learning is at the heart of professional development. Don’t limit your scope when looking for classes to advance your career. An art class, a plant identification workshop, or a course in film editing, for example. Go wherever your interests lie and use it as an opportunity to boost skills you can transfer to your workplace.  

Build a Habit- Creating healthy habits is itself a habit. To achieve your goals, you must know how to motivate yourself and stick to your intentions. This takes commitment, and the good news is that you can practice it in lots of ways. From downloading a tracking app to help you stick to a consistent bedtime to joining a running group in preparation for a 5k, there are many ways to create the accountability you need to learn how to build better habits in all aspects of your life.  

Challenge Yourself– When it comes to development, if it isn’t at least a little scary, it probably isn’t worth doing. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the only path to growth. With that in mind, look for something that is a bit of a challenge. Programs like Chicago’s Fear Experiment challenge participants to commit to performing improv or dance live to face their fears and improve their confidence. A project like StorySLAM can help improve your storytelling skills. Even something like skydiving can remind you that you’re braver than you think. And you’ll have a great icebreaker at your next lunch and learn! 


When it comes to engaging in professional development, there are many benefits to thinking outside the box. The most successful professionals are the ones who understand how to take the skills and lessons from each life experience and apply them to their careers. By thinking creatively about development opportunities, you will not only keep monotony at bay, but you will also become a more well-rounded professional.