Before I made the switch to my current profession of teaching, I was a features reporter turned news reporter turned freelance journalist churning out stories for local publications. Even though I spent four years earning a degree in communication, I relied mostly on my job experience and ability to hone my skills in writing and the art of interviewing. I considered my first career a breeze to navigate professionally (not that it didn’t come with its challenges) just because by nature I was intuitive, inquisitive, and had a thick skin when it came to weathering feedback from editors or my fellow colleagues.
When life’s choices took me down a different path from my gallivanting days, though, I jumped at the chance to take a teaching position at a local school. First, I thought it would be easy because it would allow me the chance to share my passion with teens. Lastly, as a mother to two young children at the time, I felt I would be fortunate enough to share the same school schedule as them. I remember thinking in my first year as an exuberant new teacher that I would learn as I went and it would be as natural as breathing air. I also thought (foolishly in retrospect) that my interpersonal skills would easily transfer the ability to impart lessons to my students in a meaningful way that promotes learning. I was wrong.
Learning is a lifelong adventure simply because change is inevitable. In order to navigate change successfully one has to be open to adapting, learning new skills, and oftentimes, improving ‘old’ ones. Continuous learning is a must if one wants to gain skills that would facilitate job promotion and help one forge a new career path and attain professional and personal growth.
According to The Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning, “…continuous learning is often viewed as the domain of adult or continuing education. This field examines how adults learn, usually within work contexts.” For an adult entering the workforce for the first time post-secondary and tertiary education, starting at the entry level assures that they are suitably and adequately prepared for the job. However, over time, as technologies, procedures and best practices are upgraded and updated, along with the hiring of additional employees who may come with a competitive advantage, one could only benefit from additional training or professional development courses if one wishes to advance in the company or their profession. Whether an employee seeks a job promotion or is approached by the company’s executives, continuous learning would make the candidate a stronger employee as they effectively lead those in their department while being an asset to the company and a blessing to clients. Moreso, no one wants to be passed up for promotion after giving years of dedicated service. So taking a professional development course, an advanced degree, or specialized training is a plus.
Forging a new career
It goes without saying that most adults have had several jobs over their lifetime for a variety of reasons. We may want to pursue our passions, have a change of pace, escape a toxic work environment or start a new business. Whatever the motivation, continuous learning is an injection that propels us to thrive in new careers. So back to my story. After fumbling as a part-time teacher for two years, I finally arrived at the conclusion that if I were to stay in this profession and impart the lessons successfully, I would need to go back to school. My frustration at being an inept teacher far outweighed the time, money and sacrifice it would take to obtain a graduate degree with a teaching qualification. Two years of distance e-learning followed by a short stint at a public school in Kentucky, USA, equipped me to be confident and competent in the classroom. I felt like I had added the missing piece to a puzzle that had eluded me. As a result of the benefits of continuous learning, I was also able to have an increase in salary with benefits.
Professional and Personal Development
Finally, anyone who is interested in growth and self-development should and most likely will engage in continuous learning. You are never too old to learn or try something new. Just last November, US media outlets reported that an 89-year-old retiree earned a PhD in physics from an Ivy League school. While that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the point this gentleman made was to keep your mind sharp and pursue your dream. Professional growth to advance your career or sharpen your skills is great, but to stretch your mind, which helps with mental and emotional well-being is a bonus that no one can take away. After all, knowledge is power.
Continuous learning does not have to be costly. There are free webinars, tutorials, and budget-friendly courses. Continuous learning does not have to be inconvenient either: there are distance learning and web-based courses at your fingertips (although in-person options abound). The resources are there. With the right motivation and drive, it is possible and achievable.