Learning What To Learn

Originally published @ http://www.samtalkers.com
“You will never follow your own inner voice until you clear up the doubts in your mind.” ― Roy T. Bennett

For many, the lack of motivation to learn keeps us far from our potential. We simply don’t know ‘how’ to create the desire and energy to learn. For others, we simply fail to identify ‘what’ to learn. We have so many interests that we cannot successfully pinpoint one area to focus on, or we are grasping for air by over-analyzing how to be credible in our field.

This is Analysis Paralysis. You Google the hell out of your profession to determine what might help you obtain a competitive advantage. You find one Quora post and dive deeper.

Eventually, you find yourself in a desperate pit of despair, uncovering 100 different opinions about what YOU should be doing with YOUR valuable time and energy.

The idea that we will focus on something and drive significant amounts of time and effort into that one thing is terrifying. We envision ourselves missing daylight after six months of study, and all we have is a piece of paper and 4 letter acronym (that few on LinkedIn even know) to show for it.

This fear prevents many from ever getting off the starting blocks. Those who do have a significant head start.

How can this fear be overcome?

1. Understand Yourself

The first step to acknowledging a shortcoming is understanding that you have one. While some can accept this with open arms, others stay awake at night thinking of ways to close the gap. Despite where you fall on the spectrum, just because others are going one direction doesn’t mean that you need to follow.

Everyone has different ideas of what they determine “worth it.” If you are content with your position in life, then perhaps you will gain all the learning you need through your day to day work experience. If you have never stuck with anything beyond 6 months, then it would be silly to pursue an MBA. Likewise, if you tend to jump from one interest to another, there are better means to fuel that type of mind as well.

2. (Honestly) Assess Your Motive

“The inner thought coming from the heart represents the real motives and desires. These are the cause of action.” ―Raymond Holliwell

What is it that you really expect to get from learning? Is it respect? A promotion? A fat paycheck? Personal enjoyment? Maybe you’re just bored.

We trick ourselves. We persuade ourselves that our true motives for action are X, when in fact, we are really after Z. The purpose is the driving factor, and until you properly identify your purpose, you’ll be swimming upstream. If you’re after any of the aforementioned, odds are that learning alone likely won’t achieve this outcome.

If personal, spiritual, and/or career growth aren’t your catalyst, you may need to reassess your motives. You cannot view learning as a feather in your cap, but must view it as a long term instrument to effect continuous improvement in your life.

If you view learning as vesicle for long term growth, your horizons will broaden. You will understand that you are piecing together a story. Each piece of the puzzle is another step toward building this positive trend towards your ultimate goal. You understand that the accolades aren’t guaranteed and you will inevitably have to put what you learned into action in order to achieve that end.

Even then, there is no promise that you will get whatever it is that you seek. Consider that each time I have learned out of genuine interest with no reward in mind, I have delivered incredible results. In the optimal scenario, it doesn’t feel like learning.

3. Commit To Investing in You

Many thought leaders claim the best investments are made in oneself. Unfortunately, this implies spending money. For those fortunate enough to have an employer pick up the tab, maxing out this budget should be a no-brainer. This is an often overlooked benefit. It is essentially free money you are passing up on each year.

For those who do not have this benefit (or the benefit is too low to do much with), then you may need to look into less expensive options. Most importantly, understand your budget not only fiscally, but also in terms of what you value. There are more practical mediums of education than ever before, and as a result, big price doesn’t always equate with quality. Nobody who has embraced independent learning will tell you differently.

4. Understand Your Options

Learning can take many forms. For example, one of my most beneficial learning experiences was a $60 video course I took online. You can learn through formal/informal education, experience, or both. You can study a course on Udemy, try Codeacademy, sign up for college courses, or pursue a reputable certification in your field. Ignore the skeptics and pursue your gut instincts.

Based on your unique self, true motives, and budget, one may make sense over the other. List all of your options out. Prioritize them in order of those which best fit your optimal method of learning.

The issue many of us face is determining which option is worth our valuable time. Education is a business in and of itself, so be vigilant when researching.

Google credible resources in your field:

While the internet isn’t the most trustworthy of all methods, careful use can uncover breaking trends and hot markets to explore. Find events, associations, and publications.

Connect with likeminded people at work:

Find others that are respected in your area of interest at work and pick their brain. They may have thoughts you have not yet considered.

Connect with likeminded people on LinkedIn:

LinkedIn has a new feature to seek out mentors. This is a great option to find ways to boost your credibility in your field or simply request career advice. Additionally, several groups provide a forum for discussion. For example, APICS, American Marketing Association, American Association of Finance and Accounting, CompTIA.

Reach out to former professors for input:

Our educators are well connected to the industry. Imagine what went through my head when my CPSM book I was reading featured one of my professors. They write in trade journals, publish text books, and contribute to leading research. Reach out to some former professors to see what is trending in your field.

Observe leaders in your industry. Read about their career path.

Nothing is better than emulating those who have been there, done that. Look up some biographies to see how those you admire achieved their purpose.

Effectively use Quora:

You may get to a point where you just want to throw it out there online in order to narrow your focus. This is a fine option, but make sure that you are reaching trustworthy, credible individuals for advice. If not, it may be worth a second opinion.

5. Dive in

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” — Zig Ziglar
Stop fantasizing. Start doing.

The NFL players hang up their pads after the last game of the season. They can either watch old tape and eat cheeseburgers every day, or get to the gym and train for the upcoming season. If they choose the former, they won’t be prepared for the upcoming season. They will be starting from a negative position in order to get back into the shape they need to be in order to perform at a high level.

For a business professional, learning is no different. You can either stay shape, or you will eventually be playing catchup in order to get into the correct frame of mind that learning requires.

Ultimately, you need to spend more time on learning than on planning what you want to achieve. Having the discipline to sit down and hone in on a subject is a positive step in the right direction. You will get more from getting into the rhythm of actual learning than you will from thinking over it.

Be proud that you started. It isn’t a death sentence, and provided you have followed the other steps in this article, there will be a great benefit from starting.

6. Keep learning & accept all outcomes

You must be willing to accept the potential outcomes. I once followed through with a certification only to find that the final test was taken online, as was the case study. This obviously meant that I had a credential with questionable value, considering that someone could cheat or get outside input if they felt inclined. Couple that with the fact that I determined this wasn’t a direction I wanted to take my career, and I immediately regretted having spent so many months on the course.

Now, I see it as a learning opportunity. I learned steps to take in order to ensure that you are pursuing something worthwhile. I proudly display the credential and realize how much I actually learned by obtaining it with integrity.

You have to be willing to accept that not everything will have a perfect ending. It’s all part of the journey.

In closing, I want to use an excerpt from Tim Ferris, from his post on being the Jack of All Trades. This really sums up what our long-term approach to learning should be for maximum impact:

“Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.” — Tim Ferris

Originally published at www.samtalkers.com.