This week, let’s sharpen our sights on how to never become a victim of the changing times nor tides.
First, a truth:
The only effective response to a world which steadily commoditizes the value of today’s skills is to keep learning new ones.
If you know that your talents today will be taken-for-granted tomorrow, it seems you oughta, gotta, hafta, get new and better skills.
Becoming a better version of you is the only way to make sure you don’t become an obsolete version of you.
Three stories this week caught my eye…
Lou Reed passed away last Sunday. Without many of the advantages you’d expect of a modern rock star — good looks, an enormous fan base, a huge catalog of hits — Reed kept his career alive and thriving over five decades.
A good helping of native talent combined with the desire to always try something new.
Reed followed up successful albums with weird, quixotically strange efforts. Triumphant global tours would be succeeded by tottering efforts in a new medium, or with new collaborators, or with new instrumentation.
Most of the new things he did fell flat on their face.
But the important thing is he kept trying. He knew intuitively that personal growth and exploration was the only way to keep his audience growing and evolving.
The successful person at the peak of their game, who decides they don’t want to expend the effort to learn any more, ends up like most of Lou Reed’s peers from the ’60s: forgotten long ago.
It’s the same whether it’s an audience, a customer base, or future bosses — growth and development are attractive. Stagnation scares ‘em away.
My barber in New York City, Clark, has a great “coming to New York” story.
Growing up in Utah, attending barber school out there, he remembers seeing photos during class of the best barbershops in the country — many of which were in New York. And he said to himself “some day, I’d love to get to New York and work at one of those.”
But it seemed a pipe dream.
Here’s the important thing — he kept trying new stuff: he’d try out new haircuts, learn about new styles, and even, on a bit of a whim, decided to learn about Instagram and start posting photos of his cuts there…
At jclarkwalker at Instagram.
Well, and before you know it, he got that New York itch again.
So he decided to send those Instagram shots to some of the top barbers in New York, including the finest barber shop in downtown Manhattan, Fellow Barber on Crosby Street. Where he is happily snipping away at his dream today.
Now when Clark got started on Instagram, he didn’t know where it would take him. He didn’t think of it as a strange new type of resume. Didn’t consider that getting better at this clever new communication medium was actually a means to achieve dramatic professional growth.
No, he didn’t need to have it all figured out in advance.
Because he did the important thing — he kept trying new stuff.
He kept learning.
And that learning, which turned into a new way to promote himself, led him on a fun, new adventure for him and his young family.
And that’s an inspiration for all of us.
Which got me thinking about this article on “the practice of practising“. (Yes, that’s the British spelling.)
Concert pianist Stephen Hough writes that “the purpose of practising is so that we (offstage as engineers) make sure that we (onstage as pilots) are completely free to fly to the destination of our choice.”
Similarly, the purpose of learning outside of your day-to-day tasks at work is so that you can achieve new, and grander, ambitions in your day-to-day career.
It is the “offstage” effort that makes your “onstage” performance possible.
By applying yourself and picking up new skills, you make it so that, in the moment — at the meeting, on the client call, during the debugging — you can make the right choice, apply the right method, instantly, effortlessly.
We all learn differently. All the various learning methods — videos, in-person classes, books, audiobooks in the car, one-on-one instruction — are more or less effective for different people. (For me, it’s always books… I couldn’t sit still through a learning video for more than a minute no matter how Hollywood and high gloss the production).
But however you learn, the important thing is to keep learning…
Learning about your industry, learning about other industries.
Learning practical skills, or learning completely impractical skills that simply expand your mind.
Learning history and art, or learning more about Gmail, Twitter, and Whatsapp.
You run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking. If you are not learning new skills in your profession, you are guaranteeing yourself a future pay cut, or, worse, a “pink” slip. Don’t be that victim, don’t end up on the dark side of the moon.
Learning new skills & exploring new avenues are the only ways to ensure that you’ll keep ahead of that fat old sun.
Well, I hope that’s helpful as you think about staying ahead in your career… Have a great week in the search!
I’m rooting for you.
p.s. Say “Hey you” to me @cenedella .