Every successful person that I’ve ever met has a passion for learning. It doesn’t matter what age they are, what level of education they’ve achieved or what field they’re in, successful people are endlessly curious and on a constant quest to expand their knowledge. So when I mentor others, I always give them the same advice: if you want to succeed, don’t wait to be taught. Teach yourself.
Of course that advice is especially relevant in a time when the landscape is changing so rapidly that the knowledge you gain today will be obsolete tomorrow. These days you practically have to become a human micro-processing chip to stay current. Since you can’t possibly stay on top of all the information out there, you have to become a lifelong learner. The ability to continue learning is an important skill that organizations such as mine look for when we hire new talent. You may possess the skills to crush it now, but if you don’t know how to acquire new ones, you’ll send the message that you lack interest in learning or are unable to develop the expertise you’ll need to stay relevant tomorrow.
I’ve had to master new areas of expertise throughout my career. In fact, the story of my career has been the story of one long, never-ending process of self-education. When I first joined the marketing department, I basically became a human sponge. I dug out my notes from the university courses I’d taken in advertising and devoured books on the subject so I could master industry jargon and speak with authority in meetings. When I became a manager, I made a beeline for the bookstore (this was pre-Amazon days) and gave myself a crash course in Management 101. If reading couldn’t provide all the answers, it could at least point me in the direction of the questions I needed to ask. The day I was appointed VP sales, I headed for the bookstore section on sales strategies and negotiating skills and stripped the shelves. Then I went home, made dinner, put the kids to bed, and started reading. On the advice of one of my mentors I also made it a regular practice to stay up-to-date on global industry trends, not just to expand my knowledge base but also to use my knowledge as a networking tool: if I crossed paths with a superior, having the facts and figures in my back pocket allowed me to opine with authority on matters outside of Canada.
Acquiring knowledge fulfills another important function in my life: it calms me. The more I have, the more in control I feel. If there’s a better cure for anxiety, I’ve never found it. When my husband fell ill, researching his medical conditions every night was the only place I found any release. I read medical journals, tracked down relevant studies on heart attacks and brain trauma, read the abstracts, printed out relevant papers, highlighted key sections and made copious notes. When I found the medical jargon confusing, which I often did, I googled words I didn’t understand. Sometimes I had to read the studies a dozen times to grasp their meaning. Eventually I became so conversant with the terminology that the cardiologist at the hospital asked me if I had a medical background. The more I read, the more questions I had about my husband’s treatment, so I compiled a list of queries and started asking the staff tough questions. I always made sure I was well armed with evidence before I asked.
You never know when life is going to present you with a situation or opportunity that requires you to be informed. You don’t have to be a brainiac to educate yourself. You just have to be willing to learn and to put in the time. Some people think the learning part of their lives is over when they complete their formal education. But that’s when it truly begins.