CoolData blog

3 June 2010

Buy your own books, walk your own path

Filed under: Training / Professional Development — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 5:33 am

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Not long ago I heard tell of a person earning a better-than-average salary (not in fundraising) who turned down an opportunity to attend a good professional development session in her field. Why? Because her employer wouldn’t cover the thirty or forty bucks it cost to get in.

That is pathetic. And I’m not talking about the employer.

Consider how much of your life you spend at work. It IS your life. None of us has so much of life that we can afford to just put in the time at the office, and hope to do all our “real” living outside of work.

Consider how much of your work is not congruent with your talents, your interests, or sometimes even your moral sense. Is there not some small step you could take to move in a different direction? Maybe you can get a little better at doing your job, to become more engaged. Or maybe you can redefine the job itself. Or it might be time to move on. In any case, don’t you owe it to yourself to do something?

Every so often I run into people who have a very passive attitude about work, like the person who thinks her development is entirely her employer’s responsibility. These are the people who complain that they never get to go to a conference — yet they have never put together a proposal to sell their employer on the idea, outlining which sessions they want to attend and how it will address their employer’s needs while enhancing their own growth.

I’ve got no time for that.

Start small. Buy your own books. Be selective, of course, but don’t resent having to use a little of your disposable income on small, work-related expenses that can be considered an investment in your future career. I’ve always worked for employers who readily footed the bill for books, but if the book is really good, I’ll buy a personal copy even if there’s already an office copy available at work. (My latest example being “The Phonathon Manager’s Planning Handbook,” by Jason Fisher and Anthony Arrington, available from CASE. It joins Josh Birkholz and Peter Wylie on data mining and fundraising, Garr Reynolds on giving presentations, and a few of the best stats books I could find.)

Your investment need not be financial. Conferences and travel are expensive, but is there not some night that you can turn off that damned television and spend some of your own time getting your ideas down on paper about why your employer ought to send you? Would it kill you to crack that stats book over the weekend? Can you not play with building predictive modeling outside of your cubicle? Work-life balance is all well and good — until the half of your life that you call “work” just plain sucks. Then it’s time to recognize that work and life are part of a whole, and none of it should suck.

Just leaving your job or agitating for promotion are not solutions in themselves; there are people who change their environments regularly and never find happiness. I’m talking about being happy where you are. You may need to change your environment, but more likely you will need to change your self (or at least discover your self). The ability to discern which is required, internal or external change, is one definition of wisdom. This blog won’t help you, I’m afraid. You’ll have to go to your still centre for that.



  1. This is so true! I’ve often found that poor grad students will pay for consulting help or workshops they need, but their professors won’t if they don’t have grants or departmental funds to cover it.

    You have to figure out how much is your time worth if you have to spend a week figuring something out that you could have bought the $50 book or workshop to explain?

    That said, now that I’m self employed, it’s easier for me to justify spending time or money investing in professional development than when I was employed. There is a mental barrier to cross…

    Comment by Karen Grace-Martin — 3 June 2010 @ 11:28 am

    • “When I have money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” — Erasmus. Your reference to poor grad students reminded me of that quote.

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 3 June 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  2. Couldn’t agree more. But heck, I’ll go one better–don’t forget about borrowing books from your local library. If the non-profit you happen to work for is a univerity, then avail yourself of their library too.

    I’ve got Stephen Few’s “Show Me the Numbers” checked out right at this very moment. (It’s great!)


    Comment by Jeff Jetton — 4 June 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    • Good point. There’s a great library just next door to me, which I’ll be checking out soon. I used to write my papers there as a student 20 years ago — now it has a coffee shop. Bonus!

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 5 June 2010 @ 9:43 am

  3. Do not limit yourself to books. There are great free resources on the internet such as blogs, free tutorials etc. And what about classes at your commute college or adult education centers. There are so many possibilities, I say go and get them, do something about your work/life. Life is just too short to not to enjoy all the time we spend at the office.

    Comment by Burcu — 13 June 2010 @ 5:43 am

  4. […] in June I urged readers to buy their own books, as part of taking responsibility for their own professional development. You might also consider […]

    Pingback by What I’m reading, and how « CoolData blog — 20 December 2010 @ 6:30 am

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