One of the key characteristics of people who master a craft, who are frequently promoted and/or have longevity in their careers is their commitment to learning. Most graduates leave the university environment hoping to put the books and classrooms behind them; expressing their unwillingness to ever return to studying if they can avoid it.
As you move into the workplace, you will hear many managers talk about having a growth mindset, believing that your talents can be developed. Development takes on many forms and can range from official training sessions to asking insightful questions of elder staff members who informally act as guides and mentors. People with a growth mindset tend to achieve more, and organisations that encourage this mindset tend to be more collaborative and innovative.
Unfortunately, modern education tends to discourage a learning mindset, enforcing the idea that one’s talents are fixed or innate. “I’m just not good at math,” is a common refrain among young people who have struggled with maths for one reason or another. In reality, their struggle is usually due to a gap in their understanding, or a re-enforced fear of failure, or (too often) both. It usually takes several years before young graduates realise that although their school and university academic education has given them the skills and the pedigree necessary to become employed, it has not wholly prepared them to succeed.
A commitment to learning and developing your talents as you progress in your career requires you to be a life-long learner. If you are one of those who made a statement by quickly selling your textbooks and burning your notes at the end of your studies, then this might seem daunting. However, there are things that you can do to make learning a habit.
- Fail. Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? Every step is usually couched between falls, or as your primary school teacher would have called them, failures. Instead of berating the child for falling, excited parents and onlookers cheer for every wobbly step the child completes. The failures are quickly dismissed, and the child is encouraged to carry on. It will be many years before that child will learn to be ashamed of failures and eventually afraid to fail. Much of what holds us back from learning and growing is a fear of failure. Instead of being afraid of looking foolish if you ask “too many questions” or embarrassed to admit that you don’t know how to do something, embrace and learn from the failure. Remember you have nothing to lose but your ignorance. Truly smart people are more concerned about being smart than looking smart.
- Read. Every day millions of children return home from school with instructions from their teachers to read for twenty minutes a day. This practice is to encourage literacy and proficiency in reading. While you no longer struggle with basic grammar, the habit of reading for twenty or thirty minutes each day is one you shouldn’t abandon. Picking up books and trade magazines will help to keep your skills current. Reading up on subjects outside of your expertise facilitates cross-pollination - drawing insights from other perspectives. Even a good novel can help you unwind and find a new way of looking at a problem.
- Grit. Genius isn’t something that just happens. Great writers, artists and musicians spend hours each and every day practicing and developing their skills. Some days something amazing happens whilst others are less than productive. Regardless, the next day they return to their work and continue with their efforts. This kind of grit is necessary when trying to master new things or perfect skills that we already have. People who are labeled as an overnight success typically spent a decade honing their craft before being recognised. Rather than seek recognition for their work, they became their own taskmasters. They didn’t want the “grade” they wanted the knowledge. Rather than seeking shortcuts and opportunities to look good in front of others, they worked at mastering your craft. Don’t stop until you are satisfied that the quality of your work represents what you are capable of achieving. This takes grit, and that extra sprinkle of determination.
- Goals. Every time you cross a goal off your list set a new one. This mindset of having more to learn and finding greater ways to improve self will keep you learning and growing. Not all goals have to be work related. Learning a new language or taking up fencing will also enrich your life and help you expand your horizons. More importantly, it will keep you in “learning mode” and help to maintain your mental plasticity.
The best innovators and world-renowned experts are life-long learners. They are excited by the prospect of learning something new. Perhaps you aren’t there yet. Perhaps your experience of “learning” has been negative or disconnected from your lived reality. Finding ways to make learning relevant to your experience and a part of your everyday life is the key to developing a growth mindset and greater career success.