‘Always have two (not more) things you want badly in life — really badly — and it will bring such focus, such hard work and such sacrifice that you never knew existed inside you.’
‘This is the secret sauce to success today and most days.’
A must-read excerpt from Ronnie Screwvala’s Skill It, Kill It: Up Your Game.
If you want to ‘future-proof’ your career — that is, guard it and protect it against unknown events — you have to be a lifelong learner. There’s no other choice.
First comes the realisation that you may not be at your best at your job, that things have changed, that different talent has come into the company, and you feel you need to know more, learn more.
Once you have realised this need, don’t think too much or wait for a crisis to hit you or formal feedback from your company to ‘up your game’. The world is your oyster.
Failure to Upgrade Skills Costs Far More in the End
Before we talk about the benefits and methods of lifelong learning and revamping one’s knowledge, I want to address one of the biggest reasons working professionals fail to learn on an ongoing basis.
Some people think to themselves, Look, I already went to school. I got my college degree(s). It cost a lot of money.
Plus, I hated studying all the time. So, this new wave of learning online, carrying on with my job while having access to the best courses, faculty, industry professionals and universities in the world doesn’t seem like it’s worth the financial cost.
Dividing my already limited money and time feels unnecessary.
That line of thinking, while understandable, completely misses the reality of what’s happening right now in the global workforce.
Redundancy will be high, and the need for specialisation, being sharper, more knowledgeable and updated in your job, and learning all the soft skills needed to up your game are here to stay.
Identifying ‘Trucks’ and Trends
How can you know what the next wave of upgraded skills are if you can’t see ahead beyond a year or more and constantly be aware of new trends, changing consumer desires and spends and the disruptive technology that will enable all of it?
The answer, of course, is that you learn firsthand from experts who know the emerging trends and dangers in your industry. That’s why lifelong learning is the heartbeat of career success.
To everyone who shares the same worry…, I would say one of the keys to professional success is learning how to identify the ‘trucks’ (dangers) speeding toward your industry.
You also want to learn how to spot the ‘trends’ (opportunities) that can take you and your company to the next level. And again, that’s why revamping your skills with the help of expert instructors is critical, because these people already know what trucks and trends to look out for!
Being well prepared for all eventualities, yet not letting that slow down your growth, is key.
The more time you spend to understand what crisis can come and hit you, while you simultaneously look for trends that will propel your growth and make you stand out, the more well prepared you are.
While there are no 100 per cent guarantees to know what lies around the corner, learning the newest methods, techniques and technologies in your industry will keep you on the cutting edge of innovation.
The only way to know what’s coming is to pay attention and stay plugged in to what’s going on.
And the only way to do that is to constantly gain new knowledge and skills.
Once you make this your mindset, exciting opportunities begin to open up.
For example, in my career I’ve moved sectors several times, from media to rural and social work to sports to education. Deep learning trains your brain to know what to look for when you enter a new and complex market or sector. It’s all about keeping your mind sharp through constant learning and upgrading skills and knowledge.
Consider this: By the time a person completes a college degree, many of the software applications and technological platforms they learnt as a first-year student are already old, or obsolete by the time they graduate. Now if that’s true while one is in college, it is equally true in the professional world. So what exactly does lifelong learning look like in practical terms?
Aim for Deep Learning
We’ve seen the necessity of gaining new skills throughout our career, as well as how upgrading our knowledge can help us spot the trucks and trends coming our way. So what should we actually do? Also, what’s the best process for busy professionals with a job?
Let’s say you are a digital marketer who specialises in social media. Simply reading books or watching YouTube videos about your area of expertise is not enough. For one, given how fast social media moves, by the time a book is published, much will already have changed. (Even as I am writing this, Instagram launched Reels to compete with Tik-Tok.) But beyond the speed of technological growth, there is a profound difference in reading about how something works and rolling up your sleeves and learning how to do it yourself.
So how does one do that, especially if you already work full-time or have a busy family life? Answer: Online training with experts who allow you to build ‘deep knowledge’ — learnings that stick because they came through hands-on experience.
At upGrad, the company I co-founded for both soft and hard skills — a lifelong partner to everyone from college-going kids to fifty-five-year-olds — we knew it wouldn’t be enough simply to hire a world-class faculty of experts. So we spent years developing and perfecting a curriculum and online learning environment that creates deep knowledge through hands-on interactive experiences.
Then, we gave students one-on-one time directly with their expert instructors to go even deeper. It’s a big part of the reason we are so highly rated by students and the companies that hire them.
This method is far superior to, say, just taking a short two- or three-month refresher course that scrapes the surface but doesn’t reach the depth of learning.
Growth Can Happen Horizontally, Too
Beyond building deep knowledge through online training, you can also learn and grow by sharpening skills in your current job position. Again, recall the example of the digital marketer who specialises in social media. If her core responsibilities involve buying and placing social media adverts on Instagram and Facebook, perhaps she will expand her skills by learning the tools and tactics for Twitter or YouTube advertising as well.
While her job still involves Instagram and Facebook advertising, she’s learning horizontally by acquiring additional social media advertising skills and strategies that will make her more valuable to her employer.
Step back and think from your company’s perspective. If Employee A knows how to perform three core skills but Employee B knows how to perform six, assuming they are equally talented at their job, Employee B adds twice the value simply because they took the time to develop twice as many skills.
So, look for horizontal opportunities to learn inside your current position.
Often, all it takes is being willing to learn something new. Give it a shot.
5 Core Takeaways
- It costs far more not to keep your skills current and up to date than it does to invest the time and resources in upgrading one’s knowledge.
- Lifelong learning is one of the best ways to spot trucks (dangers) and trends (opportunities).
- The best type of lifelong learning involves gaining deep knowledge through practical, hands-on training with expert guidance and instruction.
- Professional growth isn’t always vertical; you can improve your skills horizontally as well by learning new techniques and skills within your current position.
- Switching departments or developing a passion project at work can give you wide exposure to new knowledge.
Call to Action
1. ‘Today’ is a much more effective and powerful word for you than ‘tomorrow’.
Putting off things for tomorrow has never made a great manager or leader. That does not mean everything has to be done today.
Preplanning is critical, but in your planning and in your actions think ‘today’.
The world and consumers are changing too fast and so you have to ensure that your ‘tomorrow’ does not lead you to yesterday and irrelevance.
2. How badly do you want something?
If you want something badly enough, you’re going to give it your all.
Always have two (not more) things you want badly in life — really badly — and it will bring such focus, such hard work and such sacrifice that you never knew existed inside you.
This is the secret sauce to success today and most days. Start this now. Do not just ‘TRY’ this and stop but do it for the rest of your life.
Also, your age is never a factor for career success — it’s always how badly you want it.
This edited excerpt from Skill It, Kill It: Up Your Game by Ronnie Screwvala has been used with the kind permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India.
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