Continuously Educate Yourself or Pay the Price

Change is a constant that is omnipresent in today’s society. Things change so fast that if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind standing in the dust. If you don’t continuously educate yourself, imagine waking up after 50 years of cryogenic sleep. You have no idea what’s going on and are completely out of touch with reality. Conversations leave you clueless and confused. Everything you know is now a thing of the past.

At work, your colleagues all moved on to bigger and better things, earning twice as much as you do. Even the new kid they hired last year is now in charge of you. You come into work every day hoping you’ll survive the next wave of layoffs. Perhaps you’re good enough to stay around but you’ve never been promotion material. After all, you were never there for lunch and learn. You never signed up for the training sessions organized by the office and you’re behind in the essential knowledge you need to do your job better.

You scoff at those who ditched the morning radio for those rah-rah self-motivation crap on their way to work in the morning and laugh at all those sheep who spend all their free time working.

What’s wrong you wonder? You’ve paid your dues, you graduated from a good university with high grades, you have seniority, you are the same person you’ve ever been. You read The Secret, you’re super positive and you believe it to be the key to success! You have been showing up and did what’s been asked of you. Isn’t that enough? It’s far from enough.

Once you stop learning, you start going backward.

A vast majority of us have had a bad relationship with education and learning in general. As kids, it’s something we have to do to avoid getting yelled at and grounded. As teenagers, it’s something we do to keep up with the social pressure and to be able to make it into the higher echelons of education towards a career.

The lucky ones studied for the career of their dreams and thrived. Those not so lucky would hang on in the school system until they figure their stuff out. Some decided to take the path of least resistance by completing the shortest and easiest program they could find to escape as quickly as possible. Others were forced to pursue high studies to avoid disappointing their parents’ high expectations. Also, many realize they lost all interest or passion half-way through or after graduating.

Once we’ve served time in the educational system, we are set free into the world, tamed, adapted and ready to contribute to society. Because one of the major focus of the system is to produce individuals ready to enter the professional world, we deem ourselves educated and ready to make a living once we’ve acquired our degree. At this point, many of us consider our education complete and stop learning altogether. It was a necessary evil we had to do in order to earn our right to make it into the world and we don’t have to torture ourselves with it anymore.

My way to earning an education was a bumpy one. Elementary school was easy. I never really had to work hard to get good grades. High school was a different story. I didn’t care enough at the time to help myself. It wasn’t until I was old enough to get a summer job that I realized what would happen if I didn’t apply myself. The prospect of working minimum wage in a non-fulfilling job for the rest of my life scared me enough to make me take it more seriously. I did the bare minimum I had to do to make it out of there with a paper in hand and even that was almost asking too much of me at the time. I wanted to work, not to learn. My mentality was all wrong.

When entering the corporate realm, this paradigm changes. We are now motivated because we’re getting paid. As such, we have incentives to learn in order to keep our job. This is fine for a few years. It’s possible to learn the basics quickly enough to move up a few echelons on the lower end of the ladder. Eventually, as we become more comfortable in our role, our responsibilities grow and we shift our focus towards meeting productivity expectations. Occasions of being paid to learn become few and far between.

Once at this level, most get complacent. The opportunities for continuous education are now scheduled during lunch breaks, after work hours and even take precious time on weekends. Initially, it doesn’t seem like a big deal until the day you realize that playing games during lunch breaks, skipping evening work training to watch TV at home, not attending team building trips in favor of doing nothing all weekend and not taking personal time to keep up to date for all those years is now a huge problem.

On paper, your CV makes you look like a senior deserving of praise and commanding a high price. In reality, juniors with a tenth of your experience are doing your job twice as good as you. Now if you love your job, chances are this is not going to happen. This is very relevant for those who think their job is something they must do to earn a living and not something they love do to.

The motivation factors to educate yourself, in this case, are often non-existent.

It’s something we know we should do but are too traumatized from our formative years to consider doing. That would be pure masochism. We convince ourselves we have the right to relax on evening, weekends and vacation because we worked so hard to earn that degree and our chair at the office. This mentality in this day and age is a great way to become outdated in an instant. It’s great to pursue personal interest on our free time and I encourage anyone to do this as much as possible.

Back then, you’d have caught me dead before I would have made an effort on my free time to improve myself. All I cared about was to play my video games and hang out with my friends. I didn’t want to look like those corporate sheep taking work back home every night just to keep up with the grind.

Some of us will muster the courage to return to school in order to keep up to date. They believe that having a paper to show for their efforts will help them stay on top. The sad truth is that most of what you learn in school isn’t advanced enough to make any significant progress. The educational system would like to make you believe otherwise. They promise advanced careers if you throw their money at them. They claim they have cutting edge theory and the latest courses made to lure prospective individuals eager to become rich working those popular new professions of the moment.

I made this mistake. I was lucky enough to start my career without a university degree. However, after a few years, I couldn’t get ahead and felt that going back to school would help me. And so, I went back to earn a university degree. Back on the job market and many years later, my situation had barely improved. I was better off but not by much. I started looking long and hard at why I couldn’t get ahead and it took me a long time to realize the following lesson.

Once out of school, you are not off the hook with education. You need to continue learning by yourself if you want to stay in the game.

We have to set aside time to keep up with our professional education whether we like it or not. That is if we want to keep going that route. If not, it’s time to consider a career change but remember that you can’t always learn just the fun part and skip the boring stuff. It will always come back to haunt you later.

I never cared to learn the boring stuff or the basic theory. I felt I was beyond that until the day I realized I wasn’t able to get a job because of it. The expectations of my skills on paper were much higher than they were in reality. This has forced me to go back to basics and rebuilding my skill set from the ground up. Even today, I’m still paying for not taking the time to catch up over all these years.

The personal time you dedicate to learning what nobody else wants to do is the key to getting ahead. Hating your job doesn’t make this any less important. In fact, it’s even more important. You have to be proud of what you do even if you’re just a cashier at McDonald’s. The fact that you care to do the best work you can and show dedication to improving every step of the way will pay off. You could become a supervisor or even a district manager. I know the pain. As a teenager, I worked in a fast food chain, hated it and quit after two weeks. I didn’t understand how essential it was to take pride in my work no matter how much I hated it. Only when I hit my early thirties did I realize that.

This is not only valid for the corporate world. Self-education is essential in all aspects of your life.

The most successful people in this world make self-education a daily habit.

Why not do like them? That’s what I’m doing for myself. With the internet and its sea of information, there are no valid excuses anymore. You can learn and practically become an expert on virtually any subject possible if you spend enough time digging online. Read blogs, listen to podcasts and audio books, start buying more non-fiction books, talk to people online with similar interests, meet up with them, put the theory in practice and keep going.

I used to complain that, after a day of work, I was too tired to do any of this stuff and “needed” to relax. I’d have the same excuse come Friday night and throughout the weekend. I was dreading for Monday to come and needed to “recharge my batteries”. Don’t try to weasel your way out of it, make the time you need to get ahead of your game.

Learning doesn’t guarantee success but it puts you in a position where you will be able to handle demanding situations with ease. You’ll have the tools ready to be able to do so. If not for success, it helps with gaining a better understanding of the world around you. It makes you discover things you never knew existed. You become better at what you already do if you take the time to practice. It allows you to have conversations on a variety of interesting topics and not just what’s on TV. Above all, it makes your relationship with learning healthy again. Hopefully, it gives you the desire to keep doing it for yourself for as long as you can.

Never underestimate the value of your own education. You educate yourself for you first and foremost. When you feel like you’re doing it for something or someone else, remind yourself that it will benefit you in the long run. Make it a daily habit in your life and see how it will slowly help turn your world around for the better.