When I was a kid, my great-aunt gave my brothers and me piano lessons.
We would arrive at her apartment in Ogden, Utah, and pound on the keys until it was time to go home.
None of us became pianists…or even pseudo experts, but we did learn the value of practice.
If you messed up halfway through the song, she would make you start all over again.
With her, it wasn’t “practice makes perfect,” but…
Perfect practice makes perfect.
You can bet we all learned very quickly to practice so we weren’t stuck there playing the same song’s beginning over and over and over again.
(Well, two of the three or us learned that very quickly. I have one brother who refused to give in to that mantra.)
We ended up moving to California shortly after our piano lessons began, but I’ll never forget her “perfect practice makes perfect” saying.
The Greatest Showman is Perfect
My small one and I are obsessed with The Greatest Showman. I’m willing to bet we’ve seen it 50 times and we know every word to every song and the choerography to every one, as well.
Sometimes she lets me be the Greatest Showman and sometimes she is him. It depends on if he’s dancing with his wife or not (she likes to be the wife).
And, even though I’ve seen it a gazillion times, I am still astounded with how great Hugh Jackman is in it (and, let’s be real, totally smoking hot).
He did an interview where he was asked how long it took to get it perfect. He said it was 10 hours every, single day for 10 weeks.
It took him 700 hours to get it right.
Seven. Hundred. Hours.
I’m willing to bet, as he perfected his craft, he also lived by the “perfect practice makes perfect” mantra.
This is something I repeat it to my team (who roll their eyes) when we talk about professional development.
Create the Opportunity for Professional Development
You probably can guess we’re big about professional development around here.
Laura Petrolino has spent some time writing about it the past few Mondays.
And the vision of Spin Sucks is to change the perception people have of the PR industry through education and professional development.
We believe very strongly in continuing to grow, to learn, and to better your mind (and your body, but that’s a different story for another time).
That’s why I am struck when I think about how many people believe the ability to continuously learn is genetic and not something, well, learned.
As it turns out, it’s not genetic. It’s simply a case of making it a priority.
You can create the opportunity for professional development—and make it a priority—or you can choose not to.
My hope is that you do, and that you take advantage of the slower summer months to focus on you.
Here are some ways to do that—and to practice perfect practice.
Organize Your Goals
Professional development is no different than the kinds of project management you do all day long.
You have to set goals, break the learning into easy-to-achieve goals, and get to work.
A great example of this is our Modern Blogging Masterclass.
If your goal is to get better at integrating earned and owned media, we’ve done the hard part with breaking down the learning for you.
It’s a four-week program and, every week, you receive an email with that week’s module. Each module has four lessons that last no more than 14 minutes each.
That means you can effectively set aside 15 minutes every weekday to watch a lesson, and then an hour on the fifth weekday to do the homework.
If you organize your goals and break it into manageable chunks like this, you will have success.
There is overwhelming research that shows people with clear goals outperform those with vague aspirations.
“Do a good job” or “exercise every day” or “take the Spin Sucks masterclass” are not goals.
“Learn how to effectively integrate earned and owned media so my company will consistently show up on page one of Google results” is a goal. And adding “in four weeks” makes it measurable.
By organizing your goals in this way, you will not only be able to achieve success, you’ll begin to be one of those people who has experienced perfect practice.
Be Able to Teach it
Once you feel that you have mastered your area of professional development, it’s time to put it to the test.
Can you teach what you have learned?
If not, you have more work to do. If you can, you have achieved metacognition, which is crucial to how you learn.
Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking.”
It is about being more inspective about how you know what you know.
If you can explain it to a friend or you can teach it to other professionals, then you know you’ve achieved perfection.
The challenge with being able to teach it—or in thinking about thinking—is that we often try to find someone else who has done it and mimic them.
This will not work.
When we rely on best practices, teachers, or industry leaders, it means we have missed metacognition.
As you work on getting your perfect practice down, continually ask yourself, “Do I understand this well enough to teach it?”
If the answer is yes, you’ve achieved what you need to in this particular instance.
If the answer is no, you need to dwell on what you’ve learned. Continue to learn it until it’s perfect.
Reflect on Your Professional Development
I often tell the story of how, in a new business meeting, I gifted the CEO a signed copy of Spin Sucks. He handed it back to me and said:
I don’t read books so you may as well keep this.
I mumbled, “Oh, OK. Thanks” was all that came out of my mouth. And then I got out of there as quickly as I could.
It wasn’t until later that I thought of several different retorts—some appropriate and some not.
That’s because I had time to reflect on the conversation and realize how crazy it was that he did that.
(And also our biggest red flag in turning down the business.)
This goes for professional development, as well.
After you finish a lesson, finish a book, or complete your coursework, you have time to think instead of just learn.
And, in that, comes reflection, which allows you to consider possibilities you didn’t while you were in the middle of learning.
This is why it’s so important to get away from your desk if you have writer’s block or are stuck on a client challenge.
Go for a walk. Think. Reflect. Let the calmness fill your mind.
It’s in that reflection that your professional development becomes cognitive and habit.
So, once you’ve had perfect practice and you’ve learned something so well you can teach it, spend time reflecting on what you’ve learned.
Work on it Every Day
If you perfectly practice these three things, you’ll find that learning has become a learned behavior.
It’s not something only a few are blessed with genetically. It’s something you can work on each and every day.
So choose your goals and get to work.
Once you’ve completed your professional development, make sure you take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned. And ask yourself if you know it well enough to teach it.
If you do that this summer with one thing—just one thing–you’ll be a different person come August 31.
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash