Probably the biggest obstacle keeping us from prioritizing our continuing education is time. None of us seems to have enough of it and though we have all good intentions of getting back into reading notable biographies or taking that evening class at the local community college, it’s all too easy for the demands of life and work to interfere and for being a student to take a backseat until it’s more convenient.
However, as we find ourselves in the midst of back-to-school season, let’s use this as an impetus to actually take some action when it comes to lifelong learning. Doing so will benefit us not only personally but also professionally. For example, keeping our minds fit will help us be more inquisitive and open to new possibilities in the workplace and. As you consider ways you can take yourself “back-to-school,” here are a few ideas you might want to incorporate in your curriculum:
· Be a better browser – The Internet can be a treasure trove for lifelong learners, but it’s also easy to get stuck in a rut with your online reading. Make sure you read content from a wide range of sources, endeavoring to expose yourself to a variety of viewpoints. You might even want to ask friends who think differently than you what they regularly read on the Internet and try integrating those sources into your regular reading as well.
· Attend lectures – Attending lectures is a great alternative for those of us who’d like to return to the classroom setting but don’t have the time to devote to an actual class. If you live near a college or university, you should have no trouble finding lectures the public can attend. Resources like TED and Coursera offer a wide range of online lectures and programs for free. Trade and professional associations also can be good sources for lectures. If possible, attend lectures with others. Being able to discuss what you learned with someone else will help you retain the content of the lecture and also will force you to pay attention if you find yourself drifting off!
· Establish mentoring relationships – Professional relationship-building takes time and courage, but the rewards are well worth the effort. We all need people we can go to with questions about our careers; the chance to learn first-hand from leaders in our respective fields can be just the inspiration we need to keep plugging away when the going gets tough. If you’re having trouble finding a mentor, SCORE provides free mentoring resources. Your local trade or professional associations also might be of help.
Meanwhile, don’t overlook the importance of mentoring others. Providing guidance to someone else always helps you learn and grow, since you must evaluate and make sense of your work experiences and translate them into wisdom for someone else. If you don’t know how or where to find a mentee, or are intimidated by the prospect of acting as someone’s mentor, start small. Ask a younger colleague to lunch and just start talking about your respective career paths. Before you know it, you’ll be investing in someone else’s professional life.
· Dare to dream – If you really do have big dreams of going back to school or switching career paths altogether, don’t ignore them. Put these ideas on paper, share them with a few trusted individuals and promise to further explore what it would take to make these dreams a reality. At the very least you’ll learn something new along the way. Even if this process doesn’t lead you to the actualizing the dream you first had in mind, it could lead you in a new and better direction for your life path than you initially envisioned.
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