Don’t Get Left Behind: 5 Ways to Stay Relevant in Your Field

Last year, the auction house Christie’s quietly let go of two experts in old master paintings. The reason? Modern paintings are all the rage among collectors. The old masters command respect but may no longer be relevant.

If Leonardo da Vinci can no longer be considered relevant, it can happen to you. Or maybe it already has. Either way, a new year is always a good time to reassess and think about career goals. For those contemplating ways to become more relevant in your field this year, here are a few tips:

1. Define What Relevance Means to You: Relevance is a relative concept. What relevance means to you can vary based on your field, your industry and perhaps the stage of career. Begin by assessing the definition of relevance in your field and industry, as well as what relevance means to you personally. If you’re teaching Shakespeare at a university for example, the material is pretty much set in stone. And yet, while you might not be able to break new ground among your peers, you can adapt to new ways of teaching and absorbing the material. If you’re a developer or engineer, you may be at the point at which it’s no longer crucial to be on the bleeding edge of technology, but being knowledgeable about the latest management theories and business trends might make you relevant in a different way.

2. Find Ways to Quantify Relevance: While relevance can’t be measured like a salary or a Twitter following, there are ways to quantify it. How, though, varies by your field and industry, and that paradigm is constantly evolving. For example, social media following didn’t factor in as a marker for relevance 15 years ago in terms of social or professional influence, because that technology had not been widely adopted yet. Fast forward to today, and those markers are well understood.

In other cases, relevance is determined by a credible source. For example, the relevance of academic papers is based on the number of times they are referenced. (This model was the basis for Google’s search engine.) What is the best way to measure relevance in your field? It might be publishing X articles or booking Y speaking engagements or obtaining Z number of monthly visitors to your blog in 2017. A social media following can also be a marker of relevance, but here quality supplants quantity. It’s better to have 200 followers in your field who engage with your tweets than 1,000 who are mostly indifferent (and may mostly be bots as well).

3. Carve Out Time to Gain Knowledge in Your Field: Don’t fall into the trap of a lot of professionals by no longer reading the latest research and thinking in your field. Pay attention to what thought leaders are saying in print, online and even podcasts.

Like hitting the gym every week, this is something you have to put it in your schedule. It may be once a quarter or once a year, but you have to schedule time to gain substantive knowledge in your field. Whether it’s medical, marketing, the law or education, there are always new developments, discoveries and methodologies. It my sound obvious, but people get so consumed in their day-to-day that it’s easy to forget to carve out time to do this. I call it “Knowledge Maintenance”. For example, we can spend 15 minutes a day on Knowledge Maintenance by consuming credible industry articles on developments in our field. It’s very easy to set up alerts for this content, subscribe to it or receive it in a responsibly curated feed.

4. Find Ways to Highlight What Makes You Relevant: You have great knowledge, now how do you show it off? There’s no shortage of ways to disseminate your message in 2017. You can blog, podcast, make videos on YouTube or build a strong social media presence.

Not everyone takes this route, though. For example, financial novelist Michael Lewis, whose best-selling books include “The Big Short,” “Moneyball” and “Liar’s Poker,” isn’t on Twitter, because “ I don’t actually see the point of limiting communication to a haiku.” Lewis’ lack of Twitter presence certainly hasn’t made him less relevant, especially since he is often interviewed by the press, which helps spread his message. Whatever avenue you choose, make sure you are broadcasting your message, your knowledge and your relevance in a way that is most relevant to you and your intended audience.

5. Assess Your Public Persona: Ask the question, “What would you think of you if you weren’t you?” Consider your image online and whether any polishing needs to be done. Does your web site or LinkedIn bio need updating? Is the profile photo on your social media pages current? You can do small things periodically, or completely revamp over long periods of time. Haven’t we all seen a real estate ad with the agent’s picture obviously two decades younger than what they are in real life? Even something as simple as a headshot can quickly grow irrelevant if it’s not accurate, especially in this day and age when that kind of information is quickly and easily discoverable. Being relevant means regularly maintaining and updating your online presence to ensure accuracy and authenticity.

You can never be too relevant, so there’s always room for improvement. Thanks to the Internet, any area of expertise can be deconstructed. That makes resting on your laurels a dangerous proposition. Rather than look upon your skills as a stockpile that you need to guard, look at yourself as a lifelong student eager to understand the latest happenings in your field. The path to relevance starts with humility.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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