The Neverending Story

No, the title does not answer the question, “What do consultants do?”.

The other day, I was thinking about the Roman Empire. I do this often because the complexity of the Roman Empire, both socially, economically, and politically, is a fascinating tapestry that should be unraveled a thread at a time during a man’s life.

But then, my lovely bride Martha, approached me with that, “I’m about to ask Dean to do something.” look on her face, so I had to quickly pretend to work. Since my wife is patient, I eventually had to do actual work, this month’s From My Seat at the Bar – Professional Development: The Neverending Story.

The title, happy blog readers, or Bleaders, as I like to call you, represents some thoughts I had regarding professional development.

You see, the other day I made a delicious breakfast. It wasn’t complex. It was not difficult to make. There were no exotic ingredients. I used just eggs, bread, sausage, onions, mushrooms and some spices. But, in the end, I had created a restaurant-worthy breakfast in no time.

My first breakfast was taught to me by my mother. This breakfast consisted of milk and cereal. Later in my culinary career, I picked up more and more types of foods and dishes.  Today I’m legitimately a good cook.

The result? Every single meal I make and even the meals I order at a restaurant are better. Every day I eat (which is most days) is better.  Good cooking has gotten me everything from new business to new girls. A lifetime of benefits.

Now let’s move to professional development. Commonplace in today’s business life are curriculums designed to result in a degree or some credential.  These provide proof that you have taken a series of classes, listened to a particular series of lectures, or read a particular book. Maybe you have even passed a test.

But the most important professional development goal is not the “sheepskin” but the lifelong pathway of acquiring competencies that we use and benefit from every single day.

Too many people focus on the destination and not the pathway.

Let’s fix that.

Learning never stops.

Often, we tie professional development to a credential, but the real goal is expanded competencies leading to new opportunities.

Because we are better at our job, we get raises or promotions. Because we have competencies we did not have previously, we get opportunities in our careers we otherwise might not enjoy.

It’s not about the sheepskin. Sheepskins are not bhaaaaad. They are simply not always the point.

When we look at a curriculum with a designed endpoint, we start to view learning as a pathway to a goal. Since the goal is achieved, we are done.

Wrong. Learning is never done. Learning is never linear. Learning is a continuous opportunity. It. Never. Stops.

Learning is never bad.

Take a moment, close your eyes, and think about something you have learned during your recent adult life. For me, they include but are not limited to, the following.

  • Global travel in all its glory – how to do it and how to recover from food poisoning resulting from it
  • French (the language, not the kissing)
  • Deer hunting, skinning, butchering, cooking, eating
  • Sporting clays (as opposed to unsporting clays those tricksters)
  • Cocktails (making and drinking)
  • Cleaning up sewer water in my basement
  • Husbanding (as opposed to husbandry) (still learning)

For what it’s worth, I am also more competent at virtually every aspect of my job.

None of this education and learning has resulted in any formal recognition. And yet, learning these things has made every day of my life better.

The point? Don’t worry about what you’re learning or whether you will receive some recognition for this learning, absorb the lessons you can absorb and enjoy the benefits regardless of the topic.

Learning requires training.

I exercise frequently. You see, unfortunately, I have a hot wife and, as a result, I have to exercise in order to be physically worthy of her.

Review my former blog on How My Wife Called Me Fat and Healthy by Design for additional insights.

Learning is like exercising. You start slow and gradually gain strength, stamina, and flexibility as you practice. Many of you (not me) will remember learning to study in college, for example.

As you explore and develop new competencies, you learn how to grasp new concepts and apply these concepts more quickly. Just as exercise makes you stronger or faster, continuous learning makes you not only smarter but able to become smarter more rapidly and eventually be smarterer than others.

The point? Learn iteratively, patiently, step by step, and understand that mastery of anything is an aspiration never achieved.

Learning requires patience.

Too often, we focus on the output or goal of an activity. As a result, we fail to embrace the steps that lead to that goal. We gain from climbing a ladder, not just from seeing what’s at the top. This requires patience.

Applying patience to your professional development, or indeed your lifelong learning journey, allows you to manage expectations. It allows you to recognize how long the path is for the benefits you might gain. It prepares you for the missteps and hurdles that make the pathway rough at times.

The point? Cut yourself some slack when it comes to learning. It is not a race. It is not a contest.

Learning is not failing.

I recently spoke to a young woman who had failed to pass the CAE exam during her most recent effort. She was understandably upset. But from my standpoint, what stood out was her desire to learn. I don’t need another credential at my company, I need people willing and excited to learn.

I would much rather have friends and colleagues who embrace learning and the intellectual curiosity of knowing than be surrounded by people constantly talking about how they have successfully passed some tests.

True learning involves failure. One of my favorite Peloton instructors often says, “Failure is where the progress is made”.

Too often, we focus on educational or professional development goals that are not achieved instead of embracing the character it takes to learn continuously.

The point? People committed to lifelong learning will adapt to and contribute to your organization more successfully than people who pursue learning simply for validation.

Last Call

It doesn’t matter what you are learning as long as you continue to learn.

Take pride in learning, not knowing.

Talk to your friends about things you would like to learn someday. Ask them what they are studying or learning about. Worst case? Both of you are more interesting.

Just some thoughts from my seat at the bar.

PS – On a work front, if your organization ever needs a keynote speaker on any of my blog topics, contact me. A recent attendee described me as “Speaker, Funny!”. Another listener suggested I was “inappropriate and offensive”. Just the thing to spice up your event. 🙂