The Real Lessons of Lifelong Learning

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As the saying goes: Life comes at you fast. Days turn into weeks turn into years, and before you know it you’re 15 years into a career that wasn’t anything you could have imagined, one that included pivots to new industries and maybe even side hustles. At this point, it’s normal to feel stuck in a rut, or like you need fuel so that you can keep moving toward the next point on the horizon. The remedy in both cases is to develop a mindset of continual personal and professional growth, through a commitment to lifelong learning.

The past eight years have been a period of tremendous growth for me. I had been working long hours in a stable career and gradually moving up the leadership chain when it dawned on me that I was craving more. I didn’t quite know what that meant for me or how to find fulfillment, so I jumped into an evening MBA program to challenge myself and learn something different. While the program was often tough to juggle with my full-time job, my dedication and willingness to embrace the experience gave me confidence in unfamiliar situations — every course, professor, team, and group project was completely new. 

This reminder that I could still learn and adapt has proven invaluable to my career ever since. Fast forward to 2021, and I continue to learn and challenge myself a year into my role at Fringe PD. That familiar sense of new-ness and a genuine curiosity to learn may also have been exactly what I needed to keep me going when things got tough last year, with a 3-year-old and in quarantine. Read on to see what I’ve learned in my journey and how to commit to your own quest for knowledge. 

Start Somewhere, Anywhere

The business case for lifelong learning is hard to ignore. The hypersonic pace of change today means that innovations are frequent and technology changes overnight. If you’re not continuing to adapt your knowledge and skills to meet emerging needs, then you risk getting surpassed by other people in your field … or by robots

Also, settling too deeply into the cozy crevices of your current role can stunt your ability to overcome life’s broader challenges. You may become rigid in your thinking and approach, and start to fear change. A key element to growth is embracing discomfort, where pain leads to gain, and you’ve strengthened your resilience and expanded your limits for the better. 

This is why lifelong learning is both powerful and self-reinforcing — because once you prove to yourself that you can still learn new skills, then you realize you can handle pretty much anything else thrown your way too. You start to trust yourself in the present moment and feel comfortable loosening the reins on your future plans, which eases anxiety and frees your mind for greater creativity and insight. You start to think, “I might not know the solution now, but I’m confident I’ll be able to figure it out when the time comes.” So when the messiness of life happens despite our best-laid, Type A plans, we can just roll with the punches and still come out strong.

Made To Last

Of course, a growth-oriented mindset is only valuable so far as it’s put into action. This part can be tricky for the overachievers among us (ahem, including yours truly), because opening ourselves up to the possibility of mistakes feels unnatural and because our calendars and plates tend to be quite full already. Here are three steps you can take to make sure that your learning commitments actually stick around for the long haul:

  • Find your “why.” Determine what motivates you at work (e.g., mentoring colleagues, increasing your team’s efficiency), and connect it to the specifics of your professional growth plan on an emotional level. You’re much more likely to commit to an idea if you arrive at it on your own versus receiving it as an assignment by others, like at the end of a team meeting. You’re also more likely to be excited about these types of learning opportunities — and to find the energy to see them through. 
  • Get creative with your “how.” Find the best training method for your schedule, budget, and learning style. Perhaps you prefer live instruction with a small group to keep yourself accountable. Or maybe watching LinkedIn Learning on your own time works best. Many on-demand programs today also use a blended approach of lecture and hands-on practice. Keep in mind that this decision may require trial and error with different tools, and that’s OK. A rare silver lining of 2020 was the uptick in distance learning options, so you can likely at least start your exploration with just a laptop and WiFi access.
  • Commit to your “when.” No matter how thoughtful you are in your choices above, your success as a lifelong learner will hinge on you actually showing up. Just as you would for any goal, you must carve out the time you need to focus on it. You can’t let it fall off when things get busy. If you run out of time one day, you must find the time elsewhere in your schedule. Especially with our hectic modern lives, we need to adjust our view of professional development from being a nice-to-have bonus to an essential requirement of our success. This mental shift allows us to build positive habits that improve the chances of making a meaningful difference in our own lives.

So take a leap, whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s grad school, or maybe it’s just a new weekly podcast or audiobook on your way to and from daycare pickup. The important thing is to exercise your mind in a consistent way. I believe this lifelong commitment makes us not only better professionals and colleagues, but also just better (and more interesting) people, capable of finding a moment of intentionality in the blur of modern life.  

Are you looking for ways to start your lifelong learning journey? Visit our services page to learn more about our versatile training programs, including on-demand e-learning modules.

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