Back-to-School

Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be.

This quote by Judith Groch resonates strongly with me because the classrooms of my youth required memorization and lots of it: students at desks high school 50s history, geography, trig functions, English prepositions, Latin root words, etc. The Dominican sisters who taught at St. Mary’s made sure of that!

We did memorize the world as it was then: and the boundaries were pretty sound. The literal “word view” was stable, defined by wars, separated by oceans and social or economic milestones. Even with the mind-numbing memorization, I liked learning.

Back-to-school time brings up wonderful memories, mostly because of new school supplies, a new book bag, and new teachers. Even in college, there was something enticing about new notebooks and pens and beginning again: the start of a new opportunity. Learning things that adds to or makes sense of stuff already in my brain.

I may be fortunate in that “Learning” is one of my talents (or ‘themes’ according to Gallup author Tom Rath), and I’ve developed it into a strength. I use that strength in my current work and leverage it so that I am able to look at new situations as challenges and view “change”–so scary for many–as just another puzzle to tackle.

How do you look at learning?

It’s not just for kids!

While our kids are heading back to school, I’m wondering if you are heading back as well. You may have a high school diploma, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, an MBA or a PhD. Whatever education you have, much of it is out-of-date. Whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago, the world is changing quickly enough that whatever content you have is, literally, so last year.

The phrase “lifelong learning” is one we hear bandied about, and often when we hear it we think, “Oh, I have a degree;” “No more back-to-school for me…don’t have the time!” Or, “I can’t afford it.” But ernestinelearning is no longer contained: in a classroom, or during certain ages, or even within a degree program. The truth is that whatever your age, you must continue to learn to avoid becoming a throw-back that employers see as outdated and provincial, unwilling to keep up with business reality.


What will you choose to learn before year’s end?

The beauty of being adults is that we can choose how we’ll learn: it may be in a classroom or it may not! When you consider options, make sure you include these:

*continuing education: computer programs, communication programs, or specific skills through local colleges or community learning programs;
*degree programs: through universities across the world; e-learning programs are available through hundreds of colleges and may be 2 or 4 year programs, even MBA work;
*mentoring and workplace options: what can you learn by asking someone more experienced to teach you? Or by shadowing them for a few days or weeks; Or by volunteering for a project as an observer or extra pair of hands?
*design-your-own professional development program by working with a coach: career coaches can guide you in figuring out what new directions and/or learning will best help you stay relevant or move in your desired direction.

Now, take action.

Whatever direction you decide to investigate, start small. Define one person you can talk to, or one program you can investigate and write it on your to-do list for this week. Don’t put it off, or wait until you get around to it. Better yet, find an Accountability Partner who will support your investigation and ask that person to check-in with you in a week to see how you accomplished the first step. In fact, if you’ll drop me a note with your first task, I’ll hold you accountable for completing it within a week. This is how you’ll most easily move forward: take small steps and be accountable to someone for doing so.

While you’re at it, why not buy a few school supplies to have on hand while you figure out your learning direction? It may be more motivating than you think!

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12 Responses

  1. Great reflections on back-to-school. The school year is so ingrained in us. I know a few people who do their annual strategic plan in late August so they are ready for the “school” year.

    The journey of learning, culminating sometimes in that eureka moment when the person really “gets” it is so exciting. I guess that’s why I chose teaching as the fundamental thing that I do.

  2. Thanks, Jim. Once that chalk dust gets into your veins…!

  3. Right on target as always Janine! There are many ways to learn as I’ve well learned these past few months. For over 10 years I was busily working away in one particular industry – and I certainly was learning new things along the way but I was hugely unaware of what I didn’t know when I turned away from that industry and decided to shift my focus. There’s been a whole new world growing up around me during that time – terminology I was completely unaware of, job titles I’d never heard of, great shifts of focus within certain business sectors.

    I’ve learned so much in the past few months just from reading and talking with others – but primarily reading. One good article on the internet would lead me to another. I’d come upon terminology in an article for which I had no knowledge and then off I’d go figuring out what that was all about. Google is one of my best friends and I’ve bookmarked dozens of sites and articles, ran through dozens of print cartridges as well as I’ve printed down really long articles. Some led me off to books – of which I now have a whole new shelf stocked with some really great (and current) books on my field of interest.

    And of course you’ve been the catalyst for several inspiring learning leads. I often think of how that link to the IDEO video you sent me led me down a path I didn’t even know existed. Thanks for the continual reminders of the value of learning.

  4. You note an interesting idea, Marie, and that is ‘what we don’t know,’ often complicated by the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know! I wonder what things actually “tip” people toward learning once they can acknowledge that they don’t know what they don’t know. What actually compels someone to learn, especially if they aren’t an enthusiastic learner?

    As always, thanks for your so thought-full comments!

  5. You’re reading my mind now;-) I was thinking the same thing when I wrote my earlier comment – what makes people decide to learn something new? I “think” most people aren’t willing to learn anything new as long as they are comfortable where they are. Given your focus on ‘owning your career’ and taking responsibility for continuous learning to enhance value to self and career, I imagine you run into a lot of people who respond with a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression. What motivates anyone to expand their horizons? What percentage of the workforce has a ‘job’ rather than a ‘career’? My guess is that the vast majority of those who have a job don’t do much to expand their work related knowledge. The job is a means to an end – and that end may be where they choose to do their learning – a hobby, parenting, politics, or charity. Even those with a career may not be focused on taking responsibility for expanding their knowledge outside their very particular field. The focus is often narrow – angling for that next promotion keeps a lot of people really narrowly focused (insular is a better word). It’s easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day internal politics, firefights, projects and petty grievances and forget there’s a great big world outside that has lots of opportunities if you’d care to look. And, you’d make yourself a much better candidate for that promotion if you had a broader perspective on the business world. That’s what you do Janine – you give the kick in the butt to remind people that it’s their responsibility. People who seek you out for your immense talents already know they want/need to do something differently. I don’t know that you could make someone ‘tip’ before they felt compelled to do so on their own.

  6. Janine, As I dropped off my daughter to her first day of her sophmore year in high school this morning, I couldn’t help but to think back to when I was 15, starting my sophmore year and all the excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty that comes with it.

    But as you indicated, education is indeed a lifelong experience and no matter where one is on that path, there is always more to learn and better ways to do things.

    Society sometimes has done us a disfavor by not continually remindinding us that we “OWN” the responsibility for our careers and our learning. Just becuase we have earned a degree and obtained a job, doesn’t mean the learning ceases. If people can’t be accountable for that responsibility, then they should seek people out like yourself to assist them with the most important responsibility they will ever have, THEMSELVES !

    Thanks for your “Back to School” post and look forward to reading more in the weeks to come.

    Smokey

  7. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Smokey…I appreciate your thoughts. Seems that if society has put an outdated belief or expectation in our heads, that same society could update that belief in order to have fewer people who see themselves as victims in this tight job market. We need more help in getting this message out!

  8. I agree that people have to be ready, Marie…and one of the reasons that it takes people so long to get ready is that they have very limited sources of honest and direct feedback which is one of the great values of working with a coach. Most people would rather give up a day’s pay than to get direct, helpful information from their internal and external customers on how they could better do their work. In most work places, employees hide their heads to avoid being part of the next downsizing, and that ‘hiding’ is the very thing that prevents people from coming head-to-head with the reality of what’s happening in the business! It’s hard to be “ready” in a “see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil” modus operandi!

  9. That’s because change is so scary – it’s the old ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’. People stay in jobs and relationships in which they are miserable rather than venture out to the unknown. I’d venture to guess you have two types of clients – (1) very proactive, constant learning, seekers of knowledge and challenge, and (2) back against the wall, don’t know where to go because they’ve found themselves forced out and now are willing to do what they’ve known deep down for a long time they needed to do.

    I run into the same thing with companies. The majority will grind away at the same problems trying to solve them in the same unworkable ways until something forces them – in a really serious way – to do something differently. It’s the rare company that proactively seeks advice from an outside, objective coach/consultant/change agent to help them see all the possibilities that can be brought to light by an impartial perspective.

  10. Learning strategies for organizations and individuals are critical success factors in many aspects of life. Here are few info bites to use and share that have been part of my vocabulary.
    1. Training is an event… LEARNing is a behavior.
    2. “Our only competitive advantage is to LEARN faster than the other guy.” Royal Dutch Shell
    3. “If you think education is expensive … try ignorance.” Tim Kight
    4. “The way to fight terrorism … is to eliminate ignorance through education.” Greg Mortenstien (who will be on the OSU campus in Sept or Oct) Book: Three Cups of Tea…. building schools for girls in Pakastan and Afganastan. A book my daughter gave me two years ago.
    5. “If you do not put into practice what you learned … you did not learn.” Covey and a host of others I am sure. :>) Haze

  11. Excellent reminders, all, Bob…thanks for weighing in…especially # 5. I’ve seen the Mortenson book on the shelves, but haven’t picked it up; sounds like one I need to read.

  12. [...] it. You have no reason to “wait to be picked” by someone else. If the direction takes education, go after it. If it takes some new skills training, find it and take it online or at a local [...]

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