Why Learning is the Best Career Plan for Aspiring Professionals
Insurance salesman (2012–2014)
Marketing assistant (2014)
Director of social media (2014–2016)
Digital marketing manager (2016–2018)
Strategic partnerships manager (2018-present)
I’m 30 years old, seven years out of college, have worked for (still do) some awesome brands, and yet the fact remains, I have no idea where I want my career to take me (or what my career plan is long-term).
What I do know is that whatever career plan I choose to pursue, I’m going to make constant learning a priority.
Your Career Plan Rival: Comfort
As Calvin Coolidge once said, “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”
Over the past few years, I began to realize that if I wanted something in life that I don’t currently have (job, health, financials, relationships, etc.) then I would have to do something that I’ve have never done before. And that something would most likely make me uncomfortable.
Let’s take skydiving, for example.
Sure, half of the fun is free falling 12,000 feet to earth with only a parachute and a random stranger strapped to your back. The other half, however, is the journey to that point. The fear, the planning, the anticipation, the immediate regret, and the excitement. Until the day finally comes when you do something you never imagined possible.
As Thomas Oppong discussed in his article on growth, “comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth.”
It makes you yearn for something more. It forces you to change, stretch, and adapt. And while being comfortable is easy, it’s also boring and un-motivating.
In order to grow personally and professionally (or simply want to get more out of life) I needed to get uncomfortable.
The Most Effective Way to Learn
No matter what point you’re at in your career plan, it’s never too late to start learning new skills.
For me, the quickest and most effective way to learning something new is to dive right it — no questions asked.
I could read 20 blog posts about starting a podcast, spend 10 hours researching the optimal podcast topic, and talk to 5 podcasters… or, I could just start a podcast.
The same holds true for many other career disciplines such as marketing, sales, or computer programming.
Ask most engineers and they’ll tell you that their education was an important part of developing their knowledge base, but most of what they know about computer science today is from doing.
However, I don’t want to take away from how important reading and researching can be as part of the learning and growth process. In fact, Warren Buffet is said to have spent 80% of his career simply reading and thinking (by his own account).
It’s what Michael Simmons calls, Compound Time. “Like compound interest, a small investment now yields surprisingly large returns over time.”
But often the biggest missing piece between reading and skill development is that we fail to actively apply what is learned in books to real-world situations.
Knowledge becomes expertise with repeated practice, constant experimentation, and inevitable failure.
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time. None. Zero.” — Charlie Munger
Read. Apply. Read. Apply. Repeat.
It’s normal to not have a career plan
If you’re anything like me, there are going to be times in your career when you feel like you’re in a rut.
My suggestion to you during these times is to seek out a challenge.
Push yourself intellectually. Find what’s hard. Pursue a course that will test your imaginary boundaries.
Science shows that mentally challenging yourself makes a huge impact on your brain and health by creating dense new networks of cell connections.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending my sister’s MBA graduation ceremony from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (a top 5 MBA program in the nation). Needless to say, there were lots of folks there smarter than I.
One commencement speech really stuck with me.
The speech was from Booth alumnus, Richard Wallman, who had recently donated to the university — an amount that was in the tens-of-millions. $75 million to be exact. Here’s what he had to say:
“Choose a job not for how much you’ll earn or the status that you’ll gain. Choose a job for how much you’ll learn.” – Richard Wallman
If you allow yourself to pursue a career plan full of learning, then opportunities and money will naturally follow.
The way you make yourself indispensable and the way that you create value for the brands you work for is through knowledge and experience.
You can’t have either if you don’t make learning a priority.