Let me ask you a question, and be honest with yourself. When was the last time you learned something truly new? Something outside of your current skillset or comfort zone? Something difficult that took real grit to learn? Something that pushed the boundaries of your abilities in a new direction?
Many times, people focus on learning new skills to help them excel in their current job. In this post, I’m going to walk through 3 reasons why I believe this is the wrong approach. Instead, I argue that you should view your arsenal of skills as your own, independent, portable toolkit. These are the skills and knowledge that you can take with you, regardless of your current job, and they set the limits of the opportunities you can pursue. The wider your arsenal of portable skills, the more opportunities you can chase after.
Reason #1: Your Current Job Might be Temporary
I likely don’t have to tell you that the job market can be very volatile. Year-to-date, in 2015 alone, there have been more than 44 million job separations, over 16 million of which were due to layoffs or discharges (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLT). On the other side of the coin, there were more than 45 million hires during this same time period.
Now, more than ever, people are professional nomads. They move around and follow opportunity where it arises. Additionally, companies must constantly pivot to stay competitive, which can mean big changes in their workforce to abandon old goals and processes (and the people whose roles supported them) in favor of new ones. The job you are in today and the skills you need to excel at it could very well be temporary.
Reason #2: Innovation Changes Which Skills are “Necessary”
Even if you do remain stable in the same job, your role and the skills necessary to accomplish it are likely to change. One of the biggest disruptions in the modern business environment was the personal computer. It’s hard to believe, but IBM released the Personal Computer 5150 in 1981, a mere 34 years ago. By 1989, 1 in 3 people were using a PC at work. In just 8 years, it became much more difficult to get a good, corporate job without being “a computer person.”
Today, when you show up on your first day at a new job, not only are computer skills a requirement, but you’re likely not given any training at all about how to use the computer that is sitting on your new desk. Skills that were once “cutting edge” are now baseline, necessary, and assumed.
Reason #3: You Could Miss Out on Something You Love
This one is a bit personal for me - you won’t know whether you love doing something until you try it for the first time. Ten years ago, if you would have told me that some of my most enjoyable days at work would be spent programming, I would have laughed in your face. However, although it wasn’t required of me at the time, I initially learned to program because I was curious about it and thought it might make it easier for me to get at and work with raw data.
Now, flashing forward, nothing beats the feeling you get when you create something out of nothing. You know the look on Tom Hanks’ character’s face when he makes fire for the first time in the movie Castaway? That’s me every time I program something that I have never programmed before. Every. Stinking. Time. Nothing beats that feeling, and I would have missed out on it had I not discovered my love for programming.
New Years’ Resolution: Widen Your Landscape of Opportunity
As 2015 comes to a close and we all look forward to 2016, I’d encourage each of you to set the goal to acquire 1 truly new skill next year. MOOC’s like Coursera, Khan Academy, Code Academy, Lynda.com, and Udemy have made it easier than ever to learn from some of the best instructors in the world.
Need Some Inspiration?
Here are some questions that can help you get started. Happy fire-starting!
- What outside department do you often work with (Finance, Marketing, IT, etc.)? What new skill would help you work more effectively with that department?
- Who is your professional idol? What skill or knowledge do they have that you don’t have?
- What skills do college and graduate programs in your field now offer that weren’t offered when you were in school?
- What manual process takes up the most time in your day or frustrates you the most? Is there software or tools to help alleviate that burden?
- What job would you love to apply for, but you don’t feel quite qualified to take? What missing skill or knowledge is holding you back?
- Which one of your friends or family members has a job that sounds really enjoyable to you? What is one baseline skill they would suggest you learn if you wanted to break into that field?