By Tim Hildreth
If today’s students are anything like the ones I graduated with 20 years ago, then many of those graduating this year think of graduation as an ending -- to papers, to exams, and to studying. But what so many think of as an end, is really a beginning.
Graduation – or commencement – is the time when many of us begin our professional lives. And while it may be the end of formal study, if we’re lucky, it is the beginning of a new kind of learning, outside the classroom; learning that will help us to continue to grow professionally and personally.
With that in mind, for all the new graduates out there, I want to share some thoughts on great ways I have found to continue learning. In no particular order:
Find a mentor – A good mentor can be an invaluable resource. Learning from someone who’s already “been there” is a great way to learn from experience. And a really great mentor can help you to see things in new ways and focus on the most important aspects of a new task or challenge.
Practice, practice, practice – Not every new thing you learn will be of value to you. But when you do learn something new, particularly when it is a new way of doing things that could help you be better at your job, try it out. Putting new skills into practice is the best way to incorporate the ones that work into your routine.
Teach others – When you find something new that really works, you can increase your mastery of it . . . and help others benefit from it . . . by teaching it to someone else.
Ask questions – Sometimes asking the right questions is more important that having the right answers. As you’re learning new things, be sure to ask lots of questions to make sure you understand what you’re hearing and that you can capture all the nuances.
Take a course – Sometimes the tried and true methods are best. There are many skills and subjects available for on-line study and taking a quick online employee training course on a new topic or as a refresher can be a great way to boost your skills.
Ask more questions . . . particularly about assumptions – Of course it’s important to ask questions about new things, but it’s as important to ask questions about the “old” things. Sometimes we get so comfortable with the way things are, that we forget to think about how they could be better. Questioning long standing assumptions can be a great way to learn something new and to break yourself – or your organization – out of a rut.
Consider certifications – Certifications can be a great way to master highly targeted and highly desirable skills. If you’re working in an industry or a domain that recognizes certifications, consider pursuing one or more via online learning courseware or classroom training.
Stay curious – Above all else, never lose your curiosity. If you have a desire to learn and are curious about the world around you, you’ll find that there is no shortage of opportunities for you to continue learning.
When I graduated from college, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of Dr. Seuss’s wonderful book Oh the Places You’ll Go. I can’t think of a better book for a recent college graduate . . . as much for its sense of possibility and potential, as for its honest reminders that there are likely to be some bumps along the road of life. In the years since my friends and I left school, I know we’ve all seen our share of rough spots, and one thing we all agree on is that what we’ve learned since school has had as much to do with how we’ve come through those challenges as what we learned in school.
What are some ways you have found to be particularly effective on your journey of lifelong learning?