Learning Is For Life

Several years ago, I got into a particular argument that I still think about from time to time.

It was a project meeting and I had recently taken over the team that I manage now. During the meeting I had a battle of words I had a run in with the project manager around the timeline, which got a little heated before the topic was moved on. Afterwards this project manager took me aside and wanted to continue this battle of words in private.

Given this person was known for being a bully toward younger and less experienced people within the department, I decided to not just cop it on the chin and to rather engage him in a proper conversation about the behaviours on both sides.  The conversation soon spun out of control, to the point where he said “I don’t need to change my style or learn anything different here. I’m in the right.” I replied, “so you think you’ve learned all that you need to know?”, to which I got a terse “Yes” in response.

This situation highlighted two matters to me, both at the time and years after the event. Firstly, I should have had my emotions in check that led up to that heated discussion and let it go at the time to bring it up for later discussion (which I believe I have since learned from). Secondly, how much it saddens me to see people who believe that they have learnt all they need to learn, or perhaps more depressingly that they have nothing to improve on.

Whether you’re 8 or 80, you never stop learning. Or perhaps more to the point, you should never stop learning. Those at the height of their particular field, whether it’s Information Technology, sports, medicine, et. al. never stop training, studying, or looking at ways to improve themselves and the quality of their work. In IT this is especially relevant, given the high rate of technology obsolescence. My HTML, CSS and Javascript skills were great in 2000; not so much now. Your skills with IPX were valuable in the 1990’s, but now they’re either a novelty or a way to get yourself some cash on the weekend by diagnosing an ancient NetWare system for a friend unfortunate enough to have such a system in their environment. It’s also why most certifications require you to recertify every several years to you can keep up with the latest standards and features (such as the CCIE).

1. Know what you don’t know.

With almost everything in life (including life itself), you will begin being unconsciously unaware. With knowledge, skills and behaviours, you want to work up from this starting position to being subconsciously aware – where it becomes second nature to you, like driving a car. This article from Aleph Synergy goes into more detail. This article from the Harvard Business Journal also has some useful insights.

2. Be open.

Always be open to improving and learning new things. Your quiver will never become full.

2. Understand relevance.

How long will this skill be useful for? Can you integrate this knowledge into something broader or more contemporary, or do should you focus your attention on a skill more relevant to your current job and potential future employment?

3. Continue to polish.

Ensure that you take the opportunity to review and improve your knowledge, skills and behaviours. As you continue to grow and mature you will find better or easier ways of doing things.

4. Accept that you will never know it all.

As the world continues to get more connected, undoubtedly you will find someone who knows how to do something better than you. And that’s fine. Embrace it, and ask for advice or to swap notes. They may learn something from you too.

5. Never stop.

In May 2012, 97 year old Allan Stewart became the world’s oldest graduate, receiving his Master of Clinical Science from Southern Cross University. That was is fourth degree; the first he received in 1936. Allan shows us that there is never a time when you shouldn’t continue to learn and broaden your knowledge and skills.

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5 comments on “Learning Is For Life
  1. Completely agree. The role of education should be to empower people with the desire to learn and not just rote learning.

  2. Vanessa Naylon says:

    I wonder if the project manager reconsidered his comment after your conversation.

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      Sadly I don’t think he did, and about 6 months later he transferred overseas. However that said I was told indirectly that he was doing some simple network administration for a particular project, so you never know.

  3. Thomas Chamtieh says:

    Hey Steven, nicely put. In my 17 years of experience, there has not been a single day that has passed by that I didn’t learn something new. I love that and look forward to learn more on a daily basis. Take care buddy 🙂

    • Steven Plunkett says:

      Hi Thomas – great to hear from you. Thanks for your positive feedback, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reading!

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