In many fields, a college degree is all you need to get your foot in the door. In some arenas, that diploma, the one that represents your 4+ years of college experience (minus all the Jack in the Box tacos), is even enough to propel you to management or executive positions.
And if all you’re looking for is a 9 to 5 job that will pay your bills (and still buy you the occasional taco), then that’s great. Earning a degree is no small task, and you should be proud about earning it and applying it. You worked for it, and now it’s working for you.
But let’s be honest: everything you learned in college can only take you so far. Once you get into the real workplace, the game changes. You are working for a boss that is demanding results; your coworkers aren’t necessarily your friends, roommates, or drinking buddies; and you’re doing what may feel like the same task over and over, with no spring break or end of the semester in sight. You’ll have to learn from experiences rather than textbooks and professors. You’ll have to adjust; you’ll have to change.
That’s changing your behaviors and habits. And that’ll help you – to just keep up. If you want to get ahead, you’re going to have to do more. You’re going to have to change more. You’ll have to change your attitude along with your behavior. This is where continuing education comes in.
Continuing education can benefit professionals at all levels, but it is especially useful to entrepreneurs, those working in continuously developing fields (e.g. technical fields), and anyone who holds (or wants to hold) an upper-level or management position. It is often the difference between the mediocre and the spectacular. It is showing your boss, your clients, or even just yourself, that you are committed to your own personal progress and growth in the workplace, and as a human being. And that says more than you might think.
So how can you continue your own education? Well, that will depend on what field you work in, what your interests are, and what your weaknesses are. Every person’s plan will be different, but there are some things that anyone who wants to develop a continuing education plan can and should do. Take them into consideration as you think about how continuing education could help you get where you want to be.
- Determine your weaknesses. Figure out what it is you need to work on, whether it be leadership or management skills, people skills in general (to help you with a sales job or even just being more likable in the workplace), or the actual daily tasks you have on your plate (do they take you too long, frustrate you, or confuse you?). Be brutal and honest; you need to know what to learn before you can start learning it!
- Recognize informal learning as a valuable education source. You don’t have to be enrolled at a college or university to continue your education. Seminars, webinars, conferences, podcasts, and books are all excellent sources of knowledge, and the best part is that they often come from people like you – working professionals – who have figured out a better way of doing something and want to share it.
- Find a mentor or coach. Find someone who is very good at what you want to be good at, and designate him or her as your “mentor.” If it’s someone you know, you could talk to that person about their thoughts on the subject. If it’s someone more out of reach, read their books, speeches, blog posts, and articles, or watch or attend any of their appearances.
- Put what you learn into practice. Find ways to implement your new found knowledge into your routine. As you read or listen to something new, focus on how any examples apply to your situation, and write down ways that you could make that skill or idea work for you. Practicing what you are learning will help you make your education even more valuable, and will reinforce your plan to continue your education.
- Be patient. Recognize that you’re not going to become an expert on a topic in a day or two. Set realistic goals for yourself that will help you get where you need to be, and track your progress as you complete those smaller goals. Keep your spirits up, and keep the end goal in sight. Realize also that bettering yourself is a continuing process; there’s always more to learn!
Here at Skyhook, we continue our education by staying up to date on the latest design, development, and marketing techniques, and finding ways to make them work for our clients. We certainly recognize the importance of continuing education in our fields, and we are committed to providing our customers with products and services that are relevant to and optimal for their specific needs.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve worked hard to continue my own education as I try to be a strong, creative leader and a professional, competent businessman. Here are some of the sources I’ve found that have helped me continue my professional education:
Stanford ETL seminar series
Good to Great
Selling the Invisible
Advanced Selling Podcast
Don’t sell me bro
Plug one of these phrases into Google and you’ll be well on your way.
What are you doing now to continue your education? What could you do to learn more?