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Force yourself to keep learning

New skills will enhance your value in the job market and also raise your personal effectiveness generally.

Summary

Posted 26 July 2017

All of us are human and suffer, to a greater or lesser extent, from many habits which can impair our success.

One of these habits is the preference for the familiar. Conversely, most people, including me, tend to avoid things which are new or strange.

As an example, I have never liked changing the computer software that I use. Every major change has tended to be involuntary.

For example, over the decades my spreadsheet program has had to change from VisiCalc (a sign of my age) to Lotus 1-2-3 and then to Microsoft Excel. I found each change somewhat traumatic. Within Microsoft Excel, I hated it when Microsoft introduced “the ribbon” at the top of the screen.

However, I have to acknowledge that each software change equipped me with a more powerful tool, once I have learned to use it.

An example of a former colleague

I once had a colleague at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who was about 10 years younger than me. We were driving back to Manchester from a client meeting, when she told me that she had just turned 40. She said to me “Amin, I’ve just had my 40’th birthday. That’s it. I’m old now, and you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”

I assumed that she was joking. In fact she meant it seriously. From that time, she really did stop putting in any effort to learn new things. Upon reflection, it is possible that she may have stopped learning a bit before she got to 40.

As one might expect, her career at PwC stopped progressing, and she left a few years later.

Forcing myself to learn

While I have the same reluctance to change and learn new skills that most people do, one of my strengths is that I am sufficiently self-aware to recognise this inherent laziness and to overcome it.

Two illustrations are:

Most recently, I have been learning how to convert my website from using a HTTP connection to using a HTTPS connection.

I have not yet mastered this as my attempts to write a file that will force all incoming connections to use HTTPS have so far been unsuccessful. However, I intend to persist until I have mastered it.

I have no doubts that my career as a tax advisor was considerably enhanced by my commitment to acquiring new technical knowledge (for example becoming an expert on the taxation of derivatives and of Islamic finance) and acquiring professional skills such as better public speaking.

Improving my skills has also made me more effective outside my career, for example in making me a more effective mentor.

Advice

It is obvious that if you can learn new skills, you will be able to achieve more. If you are in employment, people will pay more for your work.

What you must do is to regularly force yourself to go through the pain barrier of learning things which are new and unfamiliar. The more often you do it, the less painful it will be.

Why doesn't everyone do this?

I believe there are two fundamental reasons.

Some people believe that they are no longer capable of learning. An example is the female colleague mentioned above.

The other reason is that many people do not believe that their economic prospects, or their lives generally, would be enhanced by the acquisition of new skills. They seriously underestimate how much you can increase your value in the job market by adding to their skills.

 

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