A decade ago, I decided I wanted to become a better writer.
So I scoured stores and scanned Amazon until I had snapped up nearly every book that had the words “how to” and “write” in the title.
While I devoured several books on writing non-fiction, many of the books I read were about how to write a novel (an aspiration I harbored at the time, but have since put on ice while I focus on getting my first non-fiction book out the door).
What I learned through my extensive reading about the craft of writing — and through the extensive writing and editing I did in my daily work — had a transformative impact not only on the quality of my writing, but also on how I came to perceive my role at my firm, and the value I create through my work. It also changed how colleagues perceive my role, and the level of impact they believe I am capable of.
Since that intense period of self-education — which I liken to earning the equivalent of a master’s degree in writing, but without having to fork over $60–70,000 in tuition and give up two years of income on top of that — I learned a powerful lesson: acquiring new knowledge and skills can change the trajectory of my career, and my life.
Which brings me to the topic of this post.
Today, we’re at the tail end of what has been for me a personally and professionally challenging — but also deeply rewarding — year. 2015 was the year I launched my podcast about writing. I also kept up my weekly pace of publishing new posts on LinkedIn.
And I accomplished these goals on top of a busy full-time job and in-between orchestrating day-to-day priorities and events at home.
So what about 2016?
A year ago, I wrote a post in which I put forth my prediction that 2015 would be the “year of the podcast”. With a steady stream of new podcasts and the entry of big brands and celebrity names over the past 12 months, my “forecast” was not too far off the mark.
But rather than play the trendspotting game again, I’ve decided to be more prescriptive and inward-focused this time. I’ve determined that, for me at least, 2016 will be the “year of lifelong learning”.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by this.
I have set specific goals that I want to achieve by the end of 2016. Many of these goals — like learning how to create and deliver webinars so I can share my knowledge directly with people around the world, or making video an integral part of my content marketing mix — will require learning new skills.
And learning these skills will require that I invest my spare time outside of work to study materials — books, podcasts, videos, online courses.
I’ll also have to commit myself to actually putting my newfound knowledge into action. I’ll need to experiment and test different things until they work. And I’ll want to step back periodically to reflect on what I’ve learned so I can do better the next time.
Here’s a poorly kept secret: your employer (or school, for that matter) is unlikely to offer exactly what you’re looking for by way of professional development.
But you should not use this as an excuse for not seeking out learning resources elsewhere, and then investing your own time and, in many cases, money, to acquire the knowledge and develop the skills you need.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have more resources for learning new skills than ever before. On top of an abundance of free learning resources which you can find with a quick Google search, the quantity and quality of paid resources available today is astounding.
With a relatively small investment, you can get from “point A” to “point B” in your learning journey more quickly, with better results, and more cost effectively than ever before.
And best of all, you don’t have to be tethered to a chair in an ivy-covered classroom to learn new things. Just about anything you want to learn you can learn in the comfort of your own home. Or your favorite coffee shop. Or wherever.
So my advice is this: identify a new skill that you’re passionate about and focus on learning everything you can about it over the next 12 months so you can master it. And, of course, don’t forget to actually make use of what you learn.
Join me in making 2016 the year of lifelong learning.
What new skills are you planning to learn in 2016? How do you prefer to acquire new skills? Please share your thoughts in the comments.