I’m having a distressing experience in my professional life these days. When I look around the room, I realize that I am often the oldest person there. Ughh. It seems like not that long ago I was usually the youngest… Time flies. Truth is, though, I love working with younger folks in the workforce. Their energy and enthusiasm is the stuff a trainer longs to see. Teaching is fun when you are in front of learners.
Too often, as we progress through our careers, we stop being intentional learners. You develop an expertise, you live through enough challenges that new ones begin to feel just like variations on the old ones and you settle in to a routine way of being at work. Nothing wrong with getting comfortable. Certainly nothing wrong with becoming skilled and experienced. But not great to stop being a learner.
I say we stop being intentional learners because I think that is the accurate way of stating it. We certainly (hopefully) keep learning from experiences. But we often stop putting ourselves in situations where we intentionally learn — where we work at learning.
Why is that?
One reason is the same reason I don’t exercise or don’t have lunch with friends as often as I should – inertia. Secondly, we’re busy and we justify learning complacency with that fact. After all, we are working too many hours as it is.
Perhaps the most important reason we stop being intentional learners, however, is something different. I think we stop working at learning because learning as an experienced person takes courage. Here’s why.
When we are newer in our careers, there is everything to learn. We need technical skills, organizational knowledge, political savvy, and soft skills. Once we are sufficiently experienced, the technical and organizational skills are well in hand. We must keep up with new discoveries or technologies, but overall we can honestly check off these development boxes.
On the other hand, while political savvy and soft skills are likely better with experience, these areas are ripe for continuous learning. Courage is necessary because the more experienced you become, the more the likely the pockets where growth is needed hit very close to home. That is, an experienced professional often needs to learn more about themselves than they do about the work. And sometimes the lessons we have to learn or the behaviors we need to change are intertwined into the fabric of who we have become.
Think about it. The experienced colleagues you know who are less effective than they could be are often so because their interactions or lack of self-awareness are getting in their way. The bad news is: if you don’t keep developing your skills in interactions and your ability to accurately assess your impact on others, you will become one of those ineffective colleagues.
We often think of young professionals as the ones who need mentors and coaches. They do need them. But so do those of us who are 20 years into our careers. In fact, we need them more.
Change is hard. Even knowing where we can and should change is hard. Having someone you trust walk with you as you take a good, hard look at where you can improve in areas that are pretty deeply ingrained, is not only helpful, it is necessary.
Do the best possible thing for your career in 2019 – find a mentor or coach and commit to being an intentional learner again.