Continued learning is something that is paramount in the development of our personal lives and professional careers. Many companies offer stipends toward continued learning, enabling employees to learn or broaden a skill set that can help you drive your career forward. In your personal life, hobbies, books, documentaries, etc. can help you become a better, wiser, more interesting human being. Like your arms or legs, the brain is a muscle that needs to be worked and there is no better way to exercise your hippocampus than to feed it more knowledge.
We live in a world where information is omnipresent and accessible, making the acquisition of a new skill easier than ever. Want to learn how to code? Google it. I’ll bet you’ll find dozens of helpful resources to get you on your way. Want to learn how to exercise more efficiently? Scour amazon for the most popular books on kinesiology. Though the information we are looking for can be found in literally a couple of mouse clicks, abundant information presents many problems:
How can I find reliable sources?
I am interested in so many things – where do I start?
I am not knowledgeable or advanced enough to learn this. Why bother?
Information overload can create reticence and hesitancy when getting started. This is something I struggle with all of the time – how do I best spend the limited amount of time that I have? Below, I will walk through my thought process in helping filter through my options and focus on what’s important.
Growth Venn Diagram
When it comes to growth, I look at my journey through two lenses, personal and professional.
Professionally, is there is a skill that I need to hone or learn to perform better at my job? Will it help me get a promotion? Do I find this interesting? What is the expected outcome of taking this course? Will I be better for it?
On the personal side, the narrative is similar. Do I find this interesting? Will I find this hobby or topic more interesting if learn more about it? Could it lead to new career opportunities (worth the ask if you’re passionate about it!)? With the limited amount of free time I have, will I enjoy spending it this way.
These are the types of questions I often ask myself when determining where to start. At the macro level, these questions can help us shuffle through a pile of shiny objects and begin to understand what is important and why. Though it sounds simple, putting the remaining subjects in a Venn Diagram – split between personal and professional categorizations – can help you better understand where your interests overlap and provide you with more direction in terms of where to start. For example, I love learning about the brain. I have always been fascinated by psychology, the “why” behind what we do, and the way our brains function in a pragmatic sense. Though I find this enjoyable on a personal level, it is also very applicable to my professional career and as such, falls in the middle of my Venn Diagram. I took this feedback and enrolled in a course that helps people ‘build their memory muscle’ and a few lessons in, I’ve seen improvement in both aspects of my life. If you can find interesting topics that can help you become a better person and a better professional, take advantage of it. It’s a great place to start!
Mentorship and Credibility
The other consequence of information overload is inaccuracy and false truth. Unfortunately, we live during a time where “fake news” has watered down the pool of credible resources, making it much more difficult to determine what information is truthful, valid, and can be relied upon as an asset.
If I am looking for credible material that will lead me down my intended path, I start by looking offline for my references. Friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, mentors, etc. If you can find someone you trust who has credible, first-hand experience working with the type of material you’re hoping to find, leverage their experience and recommendations to help silence the noise. Navigating a murky resource pool takes time and time is valuable. Rely on the people you trust to guide you in the right direction.
The third and final thought on continued learning I’d like to mention is to periodically check in on what you’ve previously learned and how you’ve applied it. If we are looking to change our lives by learning a new skill, we need to ensure we are integrating this knowledge into our lives and not just reading words on the page. When I read a book, I tab (or usually fold in a corner, ruining the pages) the most actionable points that I can revisit days, weeks, or months down the road. If for nothing else, it serves as a reminder of what we have learned and helps us gauge the success of implementing a new strategy. If we forget where we’ve been, we won’t know how far we’ve come.
Learning is a process that starts at birth and continues until we die. The amount of information available to us today would been seen as unfathomable to previous generations and will only continue to evolve with the next. Ensuring that we learn with purpose and interest, through credible sources, and integrating our learnings into our lives for the better, will help fuel your thirst for knowledge and lead you down a road to a fulfilling life.
Ryan Moline is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Solutions Consultant with DialogTech.