Never. Stop. Learning. A sure path to success!

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This post is part one of a series about factors I have found best enable success in the workplace. Click here to see the others in the series.

One of the most important lessons that I have continually returned to in my own life is to never stop learning. In fact, it is the foundation of one of the pillars in my “how to succeed in the workplace” approach that I’ve mentioned before. In short, my experience has demonstrated that the keys to enabling success are: never stop learning, align yourself with great mentors, embrace change, work hard, and leverage your strengths. To these you can add good fortune / luck, since like it or not, it has a role to play.

If you’re not growing, you’re standing still – that’s how I think about it. It is my assertion that there is huge benefit from always seeking opportunities to build upon our knowledge and experience we have gained to date. Sometimes we have both the bandwidth and motivation to do this in big ways, while other times we have to be more modest in our approach. But nonetheless, seeking ways to learn, improve, and build skills is always going to pay off as far as I have seen.

Many people know about the concept of 10,000 hours  of “deliberate practice” being required to become world-class in any field. This concept was popularized by the great author and podcaster (please listen to Revisionist History!) Malcolm Gladwell in his very enjoyable and informative book, Outliers: The Story of Success (highly recommended! he narrates the audiobook as well)). I do believe there is merit to this idea – though many have poo-pooed it, but the story doesn’t end there. I’m completely convinced that building breadth is as much, if not more important than focused expertise in your field or pursuit of choice.

Admittedly I wasn’t always so deliberate about this practice of advancing personal breadth, particularly in the workplace. Thankfully, at some point I realized that my jumping around between jobs every couple of years early in my career was absolutely about this! (Though such moves always help with salary and title advancement as well!) In reflection, I realized how much I was growing simply by broadening my exposure . True, all of those early jobs were broadly in the area of molecular biology (my primary field) research and development. However, I went from my position at a biotech start up to an enormous multi-national, tens of billions of dollars in revenue pharmaceutical company. I went from technology development to high throughput process optimization – and back again. I went from a lab position to a desk jockey job in bioinformatics. I went from being an individual contributor to a people leader. Those are just some simple examples of transitions I made. Once I realized that it was building this breadth of experience was the true driver of personal growth, I became much more deliberate in practice. I left my successful career in R&D leadership and went into Product Management, then on to Service and Support, repeated that cycle, and finally concluded in process optimization and continuous improvement. In the last five years of employment, I also left a career built almost entirely around biotech research tools to one in diagnostics – a highly regulated field unlike any other role I had been before. Importantly, with every move I grew: my skills, my knowledge, my network, my ability to succeed in different roles and fields, as well as my understanding of different kinds of people and cultures – truly in every way.

I have always tried to follow the same approach in my non-work life. Sometimes this is in more time-consumptive ways, like taking college coursework to learn a new programming language. Other times it is as small an effort as ensuring I am taking time to read a book about an unfamiliar topic – even if it takes weeks and weeks because everything else is just too busy, or spending time exploring a new hobby. Our lifestyle dictates how much time we have available for these pursuits of course, along with our available energy and our general wherewithal! Anyone who is a parent knows all about this fact, right?

A perfect example of personal development opportunity is writing this little blog. When considering how to kick it off, I knew I was very familiar with sites like Wix and others that are far more “out of the box” / What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) approaches, having used a number of them in the past. However, I also knew that WordPress was one of the most commonly used solutions for personal & small business website development at the present time – though far from the most intuitive. I decided learning WP was probably a great idea, as if not for this blog, doing some website work as a side hustle is one of my (many) ideas for income generation. It wasn’t the simple solution, but I was sure that any struggles that followed would only advance my knowledge and skills.

Aaaaaaaas it turns out, WordPress is far from the most intuitive toolkit out there, even for someone with good computer experience, including web development. So I’ve been kludging around for a couple of days now in between other tasks (Did I mention I’m an early riser? That helps) finding my way around WP. As some of you know, this journey has already led me to move the site from a free blog to a self-hosted site. I learned a lot quickly, unfortunately this included realizing that my idea to start on the former platform wasn’t as prudent as I had initially thought. Let’s just say given how crappy of a process site migration was, I’m really happy I came to this decision now instead of months down the road! Thankfully, the web hosting side was much easier to deal with! I’ve been really happy with BlueHost and their prices are surprisingly low. A nice benefit of them is that your first year domain registration is free of charge.

OK I’ve wandered around a bit here and I think it’s time to wind up. To summarize, I would advocate that we must never stop learning. We all may differ in our innate drive to learn and grow, as well as the “free time” we have available for such pursuits, but the lesson is just as important irrespective of that fact. By being passionate about learning we create more opportunities, understand our world and our possibilities better, uncover many ideas for continuous self-improvement, and hopefully have fun along the way. Life is a balance of course, and work-life and family-life keeps us all incredibly busy! But I assert that any time taken in the pursuit of education – in your work and in your personal life, will pay off in great excess versus the effort spent. What ways have you found lately to advance your own learning? I hope to hear from some of you in the comments!

photo credit: “Information” by heathbrandon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

6 Replies to “Never. Stop. Learning. A sure path to success!”

  1. I’d be interested to hear about any free/low cost online courses you come across. I’ve taken a few through Coursera and Udemy but I’m always looking for others, especially during this zombie apocalypse! ?‍♀️

    1. That’s a great question! The most recent course I started – full disclosure: I’m about halfway done – that I absolutely love is Angela Yu’s iOS 13 & Swift 5 – The Complete iOS App Development Bootcamp. I highly recommend it. Her approach is great, the pace is good, and you absolutely learn what you need to know to develop iOS apps! This course is a bit of a commitment given its length. If you’d like a shorter course to see if iOS development is for you, I’d also recommend Nick Walter’s The 10 Day iPhone App Bootcamp – NEW iOS 12 and Xcode 10. This is much shorter and pretty fast-paced, but for me it was a great test to see how interested I was, and also to see how easy iOS development with Swift could be! I don’t think he’s updated it for iOS 13 yet but it should still be fine. As always, remember that Udemy has great sales all the time!

  2. I’ve been lucky that work from home has necessitated some on the job learning. I’m moving from writing/directing into writing/directing/voice over, and I have a good group of colleagues as well as a husband who is more than willing to invest in recording gear and teach me how to use it. The upshot of all this is that I’m being paid to expand my qualifications, and once I’ve mastered all the tricky bits about speaking into a microphone and managing to sound somewhat natural, I’ll be able to do my job anywhere, anytime.

    1. Thanks for posting this, Nikki. This is such a great reply. First, it reminds us that there can be upside even in these very difficult (and scary) times. I’ve seen a number of posts from people who have similarly – out of necessity or choice have taken time in this new working mode to build skills that will absolutely be useful going forward. You also hit on the key concept of aligning yourself with supportive and strong people. That’s everything, isn’t it? I’m really glad to learn that this will afford you newfound ability to work from anywhere, anytime going forward! That’s a powerful thing indeed. Flexibility is vastly underrated, I think. I really appreciate your comment, thank you!

  3. I see that we have similar attitudes and experiences, Jason. Like you, I was feeling stifled at that same multinational pharmaceutical firm, so I jumped ship into management consulting, and from there to IT, clinical trial innovation, a CRO lab partner, and now I’m back at a multinational pharma. I can say with 100% certainty that these changes fueled my growth, forced comfort with ambiguity, not to mention, expanded my network exponentially. A book I highly recommend – and what I give to me my teams – is “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. It posits that the jobs of the future will rely on those with liberal arts degrees (breadth) vs those with technical degrees (depth), as many of the tech roles may be replaced by AI algorithms. Personally, I believe it’s depth followed by breadth, but I may be biased as that’s the path my own career took. We also share the the same attituded on learning – as in, ‘never stop’. I specifically look for a ‘growth mindset’ in the people I hire, as I’m a firm believer that if you like to learn, you can do pretty much any job.

    1. Thanks, Brenda! I appreciate the comment and your perspective. I was actually referring to a different multinational though I have a good story about that transition as well 🙂 it was hard to choose! I think that your advice on hiring is spot on as well.

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