Building Your Professional Library

“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

In any line of work, everyone enters the field on relatively the same level. We all performed our 4, 6, or 8 years of schooling, completed at least one internship, and performed countless observation hours before landing our first official job. Compared to every other new graduate hired in to our field that year, we were relatively similar in our skillset, background and experience up to this point. Not only are our skillsets the same, but we all have similar goals as well: work hard, achieve promotions, achieve raises, and eventually make a name for ourselves. The question is, how does one achieve such success and surpass their peers? In the approximately 40 years of work how will one perform what will allow him or her to reach their goals and climb that ladder? I would claim that one’s professional library has a lot to say about future success that they are going to have.

In a previous post I spoke specifically to young professionals about steps to take to help jump-start and be successful in their careers. I went over the little things that so many people over look as they try to work their way up in their professions. One of the topics I hit on was continuing education. This is the idea of prompting yourself to learn about and improve your own skillset. However, this can be challenging with the wealth of information that is out there today. You have resources at your disposal that include blogs, subject matter articles, research articles, peer-reviewed journals, podcasts, magazines, and books. How do you know the information you are absorbing is any good? What kind of information should you be looking for?

As I look at it, there is not one area I would classify as the gold standard, or another that I would completely discredit. I believe each avenue has a time and place and that no one can assign specific time proportions to spend in each. On a personal level, I value each area of knowledge. During any given week I will spend time in every area of study. However, the most beneficial way that I can spend my time learning and absorbing knowledge is through reading books. I believe books have an advantage over other resources for a few reasons. First of all, in books the author has no limit to the amount of information they can entail. Whereas with blogs and articles you are limited in your content volume in order to maintain the audience’s attention. Also, books tend to be written over a period of months and years allowing the author to fully convey the idea they have in mind instead of trying to put something together over a period of weeks as so many blogs and articles do. Finally, I rely more often on books than any other resource due to the author’s applicable experience. More often than not the author of a book is writing from experience. In the profession of strength and conditioning, and even therapy, there is a battle between evidence-based and application-based programming. I believe both are very important. However, when it comes to spending a great deal of time studying an area I will usually rely more heavily on the application-based approach which is typically the basis for the author’s writings that I select.

When you are building a professional library there are a few things you want to keep in mind. These include the area of professional weakness, subject matter specialization, and new idea exploration. It is human nature for us to want to migrate toward topics that we enjoy or flourish in. However, if we are truly building our professional libraries to grow ourselves, doesn’t it make more sense to fill it with topics that we are unfamiliar with or just bad at? For this reason I try to select books in areas that I am unfamiliar with. For example, I not do like reading about nutrition. For me, eating healthy is boring let alone reading about eating healthy. However, it would be a disservice to my athletes to not be well versed in this area when they have questions. In order to get the most out of each reading experience I will seek advice from my peers who specialize in that certain area. I will commonly ask a fellow nutritionist or colleague what books they would recommend for my level or for the specific topic I am researching.

The second area that I recommend building your library is the area in which you would like to specialize. This could be an area that you currently excel in or know nothing about. As important as it is to have knowledge and experience in every area of your field, it is also important to be an expert or master in one particular area. When you try to be the best and brightest in every subject you usually end up being a little better than mediocre at everything. This also allows others to see you as a dominant figure in a specific aspect of the field. I have never heard someone introduced to me as the expert in all things strength and conditioning or nutrition or rehabilitation. It’s unrealistic.

Finally, spend time exploring new ideas, topics, and authors. Recently, I picked up a book with the oddest title which went through human physiological adaptations over time. A point made in this book got me thinking about the ways in which I perform athletic conditioning. My point is, different approaches to an old topic help you see things in a different light. This is also the perfect time to help develop other areas of your life. It is good to have balance. Use this opportunity to fill your library with subjects like finance, interpersonal skills, or even presenting and speaking. As much as you want to be great at what you do for a living, it is also very important to have balance in your life to prevent burn out on that topic. For my coaches reading this article here are a few items I try to maintain at least one resource on: Programming, Nutrition, Speed Development, Anatomy/Physiology, Motor Learning, Energy System Development, Presenting, Writing, and Coaching.

Our professional library should be one of our most prized professional possessions. These books help us create and develop the tools that we use on a daily basis. I think about it like this: my schooling helped to get me my first job, but it is all the continuing education that I do on my own time that will carry me forward from there.