Lifelong learning is an insurance policy for success

May 8 2013 - 8:56pm

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Did you know that there has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5,000? A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime during 17th-century England. The information supply available to us today doubles every five years.

Today's business world takes no pity on the person who gets lazy about learning. Either you take personal responsibility for continuing your education, or you end up without the knowledge you need to protect your career or your business.

It doesn't take long for skills and knowledge to get outdated in a fast-changing world. College graduates can find even their most advanced technical skills outdated in a matter of years. Craftsmen must constantly adapt to new products and techniques. Some careers don't even get a chance to change before they simply disappear. We must constantly retool ourselves, become perpetual students, or we risk becoming obsolete.

Continuous learning is the only way to remain competitive in the job market. You should invest in your own growth, development and self-renewal. Do this the way a company invests in research and development and come up with "a new and better you" to offer.

Your employer may help out with this, but ultimately the responsibility is yours. Your future "employability" and "success" depends on having a relentless drive to update credentials, acquire new skills and stay abreast of what's happening in your field.

Following are several strategies to drive your development and establish a cycle of continuous learning:

* Limit your focus. It is important to focus on development goals that matter to both you and your organization. Focusing on one or two goals will help you concentrate your efforts so you can see real progress.

* Implement something every day. Approach each day with the same sense of discovery that you had as a child. Developing yourself needs to be translated into daily action to make change a reality. Put your action step for your development goals on your daily "to-do" list and make it the No.1 priority.

* Stretch your comfort zone. Do something new every day. Take more risks. Confront problems instead of avoiding them. Learn to lean into your areas of discomfort to improve your skills and knowledge.

* Seek out learning opportunities. This should become a regular part of your daily routine. Read, attend workshops and seminars, take courses and volunteer for understudy or apprentice assignments that let you learn from experts. Accept lateral moves that will broaden you. Ask for learning opportunities and then milk them dry.

* Extract maximum learning from your experiences. Without pausing to reflect on your learning, your lessons may go to waste. You need to determine what worked well, what went awry, and what you plan to do differently next time. When you make a mistake, learn from it.

* Learn from others' ideas and perspectives. Be more willing to take personal criticism without showing defensiveness. With the feedback and support of others, you can gather relevant information about your progress, sustain your motivation and stay the course.

* Adapt and plan for continued learning. Periodically evaluating your progress, updating your learning plan and leveraging what you have learned are effective ways to maintain strong momentum and keep learning alive.

It doesn't matter anymore whether you are in business, teach, farm or doctor people. You need specialized knowledge. You also need to know how your field or profession is changing. Keep learning. Be sure to develop transferable skills too, as this gives "portability" to your career. Give yourself options.

The more you know how to do, and the better you do it, the more valuable you become. The better positioned you are to market yourself, the greater your job security. Learning is like an insurance policy for success, insuring your survival in today's unsteady world of work.

Brad Larsen is a life coach and corporate consultant from Northern Utah. He can be reached at bradlarsen@dailymasterpieces.com.

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