I am a life-long learner. I am not sure I would have always given myself that title, but deep down I have a drive to improve in all aspects of my life. The classroom shows up to me everyday in my interactions with others, in what I choose to watch or read, while self-reflecting, and planning for the future. At times in my life it has seemed like I was stagnant or stuck, especially when I was in the phase of life called parenting. My focus at that time was to keep everything in balance. Yet looking back on those years I know that my priority was to be the very best Mom. To do this, I had to continue to learn new skills to best support my children in reaching their dreams; all while balancing my career, network of family and friends, and volunteer efforts supporting school, athletic, and church activities.
Prior to becoming a parent, I completed a Bachelor Degree and an MBA. I also landed a job at Procter & Gamble. While at P&G I understood that the target is constantly moving. Products and services that were satisfactory yesterday are not good enough today. If we are to consistently hit the moving target, we must continuously improve our products and services, and the processes used to create them. This required me to remain in a ‘Learning Loop’. This loop can be defined as learning, developing a high skill level, and then continually improving. This doesn’t mean just learning anything. The most significant Learning Loops are those that best support the mission, strategy, and results of your organization. The viability of your organization is dependent upon getting a critical mass of employees into Learning Loops so that they can contribute to their fullest potential. Those employees who make it in are in a position to grow, learn, and advance the goals and objectives of the company.
Think about a time when you were in school, learning a new skill, or starting a new job. You were probably drinking from the firehose! Yet, how did that make you feel? Words that come to mind for me are energized, inspired, excited, and having fun. Even though all these times in your life were stressful, I bet you woke up everyday ready to put your feet on the floor and get to it!
Now think of a time in your life when you felt uninspired, stagnant, and quite frankly, bored. It is much more difficult to get out of bed and approach the day. Not only does being in a Learning Loop help the organization that you are in, it helps you personally to improve your mind, body, and spirit. As well, equips you to inspire and serve others.
I made a decision as I was nearing the end of my career with P&G to go back to school in preparation for the next chapter of my life. I decided to pursue a Master of Science Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. This was at a time that my children were in college. I figured I could experience first-hand what going to college in 2015 was really like. I had not been in college for a long time and received great coaching from my kids… like how to access Blackboard or how to ‘skim’ the reading material.
I was making good progress, going to school at night while using weekends to keep up with the requirements. I was well into my degree when I realized that this was not exactly the right major to reach my goals. Fortunately at that time I was introduced to a Master Degree at the same university focused on Executive Leadership and Managing Organizational Change. It was a difficult decision to start over. Yet, once I made that decision I was fully onboard to the new program. Completing that degree in July 2018 was one of the best decisions that I made. And completion was just in time – at the same time of closing out my career at P&G and starting my own coaching and consulting company. I now have all that I learned at P&G as well as my new degree in my toolbox.
So how do you become a life-long learner? Here are the 5 things that you can start today to put you into a Learning Loop:
Find a book, publication, or online resource to keep you in a Learning Loop. Make sure the material you choose is relevant to your goals or your organization’s goals. Set aside time each day to read.
- Formal Learning
Sign up and… go! Often times your company will support your efforts financially through paying for certifications and trainings (both inside and outside the company) or tuition reimbursement if you are pursuing a degree. Don’t pass up a tremendous benefit and opportunity. And remember, it’s all about the learning!
- Apply What You Are Learning
As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Apply what you are learning at work, at home, as a volunteer, and beyond. This may require you to use the skills of persuasion or negotiation to bring others on board in trying out the tools, concepts, and/or improvements you are recommending. In this instance, you become the teacher.
Being back in school gave me the opportunity to write on a frequent basis. This was beyond the standard email and business writing that I had mastered over a long career. I learned the love of writing! Keep a journal, blog, contribute articles to publications, or even write a book. Writing gets your creative juices flowing and gives you permission for personal reflection.
Schedule the above activities into your life. This may be difficult at times depending on your journey. When kids are at home, this can be more difficult. Yet, when they go off to college, this may be your time to do the same!
Take some time to reflect: Am I personally in a ‘Learning Loop’? How much time do I take to invest in myself? And what does it mean to me, personally, to be part of an organization that places a very high premium on learning?