Elevating your professional development even in a pandemic

The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives since it began a year ago. We don’t need to go into the details of each area of our lives and how it’s shifted since last March, but I know, you know, we all know – things are quite different than we could have ever imagined. With Oxford’s Hilary Term coming to a close, and my own graduation rapidly approaching across the pond in the US, the anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of our futures is real.

Although it might feel like all hope is lost – and believe me, there’s days where I’ve felt it too – this time we have right now is actually our golden window of opportunity to take a deep dive into our passions, invest in our professional development and relationships, and find out what makes us tick.

Here’s a roundup of my top three tips and tricks to getting on your way:

Attend and speak at virtual events

If there’s any silver linings to the past year, it’s the accessibility to events (that is, if you’re willing to tweak your idea of what makes an event an event). Pre-pandemic if you couldn’t be somewhere in person, you were out of luck. But overnight things changed and IRL events everywhere shifted to virtual platforms where everyone could join from anywhere in the world.

No longer hindered by geographical distance, I could attend a digital event put on by a London based brand in the morning and sit on a virtual panel with a New York based brand at lunchtime, all from my apartment in Miami.

Once only open to London based twenty-somethings, Ok Mentor’s programming could accommodate 10 mentees, but once the Programme was moved to a virtual setting we were able to help 300+ women. If you’re looking to break into the creative industry, be sure to check out our Spring Programme (dates to be announced soon), where you’ll learn loads of practical skills like how to write an effective CV, build your personal brand, and pitch yourself to prospective employers.

Most recently I’ve been tuning into personal and professional development conversations on Clubhouse, an audio only networking app where you can join different ‘rooms’ as a speaker or listen in as an audience member. It’s informal enough where anyone can start a room on any topic at any given time, casually pitch business ideas to some of the most successful venture capitalists on a Monday afternoon, or network with creatives around the world. If you’re more of a planner, the app also has the capabilities to schedule or RSVP to co-hosted conversations, panels, or networking sessions in advance.

Network horizontally

For as long as many of us can remember, we’ve been taught that networking is all about reaching out to and connecting with people older, further along, and more successful in their careers. While of course these are the people who might offer you a position at their company or spill some amazing lessons they’ve learned over the years, they also might not understand exactly what you’re going through as a recent graduate. Plus what worked twenty years ago to land an entry level role might not work today. However, your peers who are right along with you trying to figure things out are the perfect people to reach out to, connect with, and swap wisdom with each other.

Horizontal networking is exactly what it sounds like – networking with those to your left and to your right, not just those above you. Maybe it even sounds obvious, but I don’t think we’re reaping the benefits as effectively as we could be.

Your peers get what you’re going through, especially right now, and they may have insight about what junior roles look like at companies you want to work for or be a great sounding board for advice. Chatting with people your own age also keeps you from getting ahead of yourself and rather than comparing yourself to industry executives twenty years in the making, you’ll realize you’re right on track with your peers to getting where you want to be.

Lastly, the most important reason to network with your peers is because in the near future you might be working together, so you might as well get a head start and connect with each other now. What’s more, one day you’ll be the industry experts younger people look up to!

Invest in your mental health

Burnout has worn down the pleasure of school and work for many people this past year. We’ve become obsessed with maximizing our productivity. Commutes to work or school are a thing of the past unless of course you’re walking from your bedroom to your dining table (which in my apartment is approximately 15 steps).

I can’t sit here and tell you this shift has been easy for me, but after I realized a few months ago that I was the only one out of my friends not getting fresh air on some days (oops), I’ve made a distinctive effort to disconnect from my screens for at least an hour each day and do something for my mental health. Everyday looks different and depending on how I’m feeling some days I’ll go for a long walk, other days I’ll journal and meditate, and on especially hard days I’ll take a mid-afternoon nap – shifting guilt of what I ‘should’ be doing to acceptance of what I truly need.

It’s been a difficult year and it’s an especially difficult time to be a student and navigate the uncertainty of our futures. The best thing we can do right now is take time to explore our passions and connect with those above us and around us. By doing so, we’ll actually be able to show up for our professional development and reach our future goals.


Author: Emma Chozick

Founder of This is Twenty – a digital platform dedicated to empowering twenty-somethings to take control of their personal and professional goals through interviews with influential women.

About OK Mentor

Ok Mentor provides free, real world training and mentorship for young women looking to break into the creative industries. Established and managed by a group of industry leaders, it aims to inspire confidence in others to succeed from an early age.

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