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

information sign

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 WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress.org 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

The first six weeks after “retiring”

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I’ve since written a piece about my first three months after leaving the workplace. You can find it and other retirement milestones posts at this link or in the menu above.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s been about six weeks since I exited the workplace. Much of that time has been spent preparing for, carrying out, and following up on the big move south. That said, I haven’t exactly been sitting idle otherwise, now finding myself with this newfound freedom. I definitely have had plenty of slack time in there too – though I finally stopped playing Animal Crossing! But from a more productive standpoint, in no particular order I’ve:

  • gotten a new library card
  • installed a home security system – I will likely do a post on this but if you’re interested I went with a Ring alarm system and think it’s a great option!
  • learned and started using the wonderful Notion all-in-one workspace tool
  • kept up my daily AM one hour walks – and settled on a nice route!
  • helped Lorri refinish a bookcase (one down, one to go)
  • fixed a bunch of fiddly things around the house – SO many Lowe’s runs…
  • checked out a few more local wineries & re-organized our wine stash
  • binge-watched “You’re the Worst” (and they are; it’s on Hulu and is wonderful)
  • got my new REAL ID-compliant driver’s license
  • re-read Wells’ “The Invisible Man” and now am engrossed in “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Dumas. I’m enjoying audiobooks of classics during my daily walks – check them out on Spotify or via Overdrive.
  • built a study plan and resources for the next level BJCP beer judging exam
  • brought a ton of cardboard boxes to the recycling center
  • taught myself FITS imaging processing for astronomical imaging
  • cooked a lot! I’ve been negligent in the “actual cooking” department for years…
  • made a number of nice trips to the shore with the fam to escape the heat
  • learned to make corn tortillas (so easy and so tasty! add a little salt…)
  • started preparations to make the legendary Rick Bayless Oaxacan mole negro! I have wanted to make this dish for 20 years! If you haven’t read his Mexican Kitchen cookbook, I highly recommend it!
  • kicked off this blog

This may not be the most exciting list and I’ve assuredly left off some important things (I’ve promised myself I won’t agonize over such things nor will I over-edit). But the time has positively flown by and I’ve never (ever) felt bored. On the contrary, the list of things I want to do is much longer. Thanks to Notion, I’ve got a great list of planned tasks (i.e. due dates assigned) as well as an “idea funnel” (things I want to do but have not yet committed to do). And most of this isn’t even pertaining to “whatever I do next” – or is it? Who can tell at this point. I do have plans to get back to tasks more aimed at personal skills development, and I’m sure I’ll write about those before too long.

Suffice it to say, I have confirmed what I believed for many years: I do not need a corporate job to feel challenged, fulfilled, and productive. The best part is what so many others have written about far better than I have here – for the most part I don’t have deadlines. I choose what to do on a given day (barring things that Lorri may rightfully suggest!). There are natural priorities and those help provide order. But otherwise it’s up to me how I spend my time. That’s incredibly freeing to say the very least. Some days I don’t “accomplish” much at all. We all need those days and for much of our adult lives, we don’t get them. I feel very privileged that I am able to have this experience, to be sure.

Excelsior (the best state motto, but I am biased)! Carpe diem! Mahalo. ?