By Jeff Beals
Days were growing longer and the flowering trees of late April were in full bloom across the campus. The spring semester was nearing its end, and even as a part-time, “adjunct” faculty member, who only taught one course, the end of the school year always brought a sense of excitement.
In the early 2000s, I taught juniors and seniors in the business college at my local university. I used to get a kick out of the things students would say in our after-class discussions especially as the spring semester waned.
“I can’t wait for graduation,” said one burned-out senior, “so I never have to study again.”
I chuckled a little to myself when I heard that comment. Not wanting to burst her bubble, I said nothing, allowing her to enjoy the excitement of her approaching graduation. It wasn’t the right time to tell her that her education was actually just beginning.
In order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, learning never ends. You must be a lifelong learner if you want to be a high-achiever or top producer.
Your continual learning is both formal and informal. If you have a deficiency in your formal education, now is the time to correct it. If you are no longer interested in pursuing degrees, you should still find yourself in a classroom periodically just to keep up with the fast-moving, hyper-competitive economy in which we work.
Lifelong learning prepares you for unanticipated happenings. We never know what business or career opportunity might come our way. By learning all you possibly can now, you set yourself up for unforeseen opportunities and increase the likelihood that you will respond appropriately to those opportunities.
If you are an entrepreneur, lifelong learning allows you to continually hone your craft. You will become better at operationalizing new innovations. You will be a better manager, more innovative and more likely to be on the cutting edge. You will learn more effective ways to sell your products and services.
Lifelong learning allows you to prepare for a polarized reality of today’s workplace. On one hand, you need to have a specialty – something that you do very well that few others can. On the other hand, you need to be a generalist – someone with a diversity of professional skills and experiences. Shape your educational and intellectual pursuits in such a way as to pursue both of these seemingly dichotomous realities.
Regardless of your line of work, it is healthy to assume that all your competitors are vigorously trying to improve themselves. You need to continue educating yourself just to keep up, let alone to get ahead. Carve out time for your own self development.
Continuing education is like investing. Just as you should set aside investment money before you pay bills and spend on entertainment, you need to set aside time “off the top” for learning. No matter how successful you already are or may someday become, you can always go further if you make a commitment to never stop learning.