Written by Kimberly Rodenberg, Program Manager, Germanna Community College Center for Workforce & Community Education
Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” That is a dark way of looking at it but learning IS important. It is an opportunity to grow and therefore being aware of opportunities to learn and doing it INTENTIONALLY should be a habit!
Sometimes we have to learn in order to keep up with changes. I remember when I first got email and how exciting it was to hear the AOL guy say “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” You could send someone a message or document almost instantly. It was an amazing concept. Now when I open up email, I cringe, knowing I will definitely have mail. In the last few years, I have learned how to use Google Drive as it is even easier than sending documents back and forth through email. For many people, a significant change in technology can create a lot of anxiety but seeing the positive benefits can help you get through the change and learn a new skill in the process that might make your job and life easier.
Professional development is also an important part of learning. Whether it is pursuing a degree or certification, reading career-related publications, or attending training, professional development allows you to adapt to changes in the workplace and grow in your career. Professional development can also be honing your “soft” skills such as team building, communication, leadership, and management. The culture in a workplace changes often as much as technology and it is important to be mindful of these changes and adjust your “soft” skills accordingly. For example, you may have had a teammate that preferred to communicate through email but they left for a new job and their replacement prefers face-to-face interaction. Being tuned into the communication style of others and learning how they prefer to communicate is an essential part of being successful on a team.
Then there is learning for fun! Try a new recipe, take a different route to a favorite destination, check out a new restaurant, or take a crochet class. Four years ago, a friend talked me into taking an aerial silks class. I had no upper body strength and figured I would do it for her with no expectations that I would like it or be good at it. Gracefulness was not something I ever had. The class was definitely challenging but it was fun so I kept going. There were times I was very frustrated because I did not have the strength to do basic things you had to do like climbing. Months later, I was climbing. As time passed, I would continue to hit “milestones.” Now, four years later, I still go at least once a week. I have learned a new skill, gained strength I never had, and have made some fantastic new friends.
In my 30s, I had a life changing learning moment that showed me the importance of seeking out opportunities to learn with intention every day. I had been going to the same gym for several years and had decided many of the people I saw regularly were just not friendly. They did not smile or greet me when I passed them in the locker room. During this period of time, I was going through a divorce and my life felt somewhat bleak. I trudged into the gym one day as always and saw one of these people in the locker room. Even though I was having a lousy day, for some reason, I was compelled to say hello and compliment her on her perfume. For a split second, I figured she would be the unfriendly person I thought she was but her face lit up with a big smile and she thanked me. We talked for a few minutes and then I went on with my workout. The moment had a profound effect on me because I realized that if that was the only exchange we ever had, for a few seconds, I had forgotten about my problems. After that, we did continue to talk and I started saying hello to more people and before I knew it, those “unfriendly” people, were my gym buddies. I tried it other places too and went from being somewhat of an introvert to a very outgoing, confident person. The amazing people I have met and the doors that have opened for me were all because I learned the importance of speaking up and reaching out.
We learn every day, whether we realize it or not. Pay attention to these moments. Write them down. At the end of the day, count them as a positive experience. That new restaurant may be the worst dining experience you ever had but you learned never to go there again. Learn with intention!