Want to know one of the most powerful ways to use your job?
Make it develop you.
We all need to become someone, to reach our goals. And your job - no matter what it is or how you feel about it – can help you to become who you need to be.
Step 1 to using your job to get what you want, was where you made your map. You made yourself a detailed plan and directions, so you don’t get another forty hours into work without knowing what it’s all for and where it’s taking you.
Part of making your map involved identifying specific skills and traits you need to develop, to reach your goals.
And this is the part where you take action on that list of skills and traits. This is Step 3 to using your job, and Step 3 is:
And there’s a couple things to keep in mind:
We all have tons of things we could get better at, and trying to get good at everything would take our time away from the things that can actually help us make progress toward our goals. So you’ll have to be selective about what you spend your time studying – especially when it comes to technical skills.
I’m terrible at math, I can’t code, I only know one language, I’m not a great cook, I can’t change a tire – or put air in my car’s tires, my singing is just good enough for my toddlers, my drawing is sometimes good enough for them, I have a hard time keeping plants alive, I don’t know how to use Power Point, I can be so ditzy I amaze myself sometimes, and there’s a thousand other things.
But if I spent my time trying to improve that stuff, I wouldn’t see any progress toward the life I want. And I’d have no time left for working on the things that would help me get what I want. So I’m happy to live with weaknesses, and you’ll need to be too.
This process should be positive for you. You can’t let it get you down about how far you have to go, you can’t let it make you intimidated or discouraged about what you don’t know yet, and you can’t let it make you beat yourself up when you make mistakes.
Progression is such a great thing. Growth is what makes us thrive as humans; it gives us real happiness.
…As long as we keep the right attitude about it.
So be kind to yourself, forgive yourself for not being perfect at things (or even a little bit good a lot of the time), and be excited about learning and growing little by little.
Okay, so now that I’ve said all that, let’s develop ourselves!
MAKE YOUR LIST
Just in case you haven’t made a list of skills/attributes for yourself yet, here’s a bunch of things to help you brainstorm:
These are just to give you ideas. The possibilities are endless really – there are so many industry-specific/lifestyle-specific/your-goal-specific topics to choose from. This list might not cover any of what you need, but I hope it helps you make your own.
CHOOSE ONE OR TWO TOPICS TO STUDY FIRST
Once you’ve made a list of the skills and traits you need to develop, pick one or two to get started with. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too much to study at once, or just skim over tons of info and flush it all as you move onto the next thing. You really want to be able to focus on each subject.
If I were choosing two things to learn at once, I’d probably pick one skill that was a little more challenging (like say, studying to become a real estate agent), and then something a little less technical (like learning to negotiate). But that’s just me.
As long as you’re able to learn what you’re studying, you’re good!
FIND YOUR MATERIALS
…And start with the free stuff! Way-back-when you might have had to pay a bunch for books, classes, or mentoring, but these days, if you have Internet connection (or a way to get to it), you’ve got a world of experts waiting to teach you for free.
Go to YouTube, search for online articles, listen to podcasts, go to webinars. Borrow some books, or dust off any relevant ones you find in the attic.
Talk to people you know, and find out who’s accomplished what you want to, or who knows what you want to know, and ask if they’d be willing to share their story and advice with you.
When you’re ready to invest some money, buy a book or two. Buy a low-cost course or video series.
Down the road, you can save up and go to a seminar. Or enroll in school, if your goal is going to require a specific degree or certification.
You might need to pay for some things, but don’t wait to get started if you don’t have the money yet. Start where you can, with any and every free resource available.
PLAN YOUR STUDY-TIME
A lot of it might have to be on your own time. If you couldn’t put it on an invoice and hand it to your boss, don’t make your company pay you to do it.
This doesn’t have to become overwhelming though. I get that some subjects might require you to plant yourself in a chair and pour over materials in silence, but a lot of other things can be learned by listening to instructions while you’re going around the house or getting other things done.
If you can listen to and focus on what’s being taught, you can be cleaning your house, doing the laundry, making dinner, rocking your sleepy baby, organizing the garage, sorting though stuff to donate, repainting the dining room, sitting in a waiting room, washing your car, working out, taking a walk, giving the kids a bath, working in the yard, walking your dog, driving around, getting ready in the morning… etc. etc. etc.
You might have to get creative, but find a way to make time for this. This is you-time, no matter what else you’re doing along with it.
Hate scrubbing the toilets?
Does the mess in the kitchen after dinner make you want to burn it down?
Is the dryer broken for the millionth-freaking-time this month?
These are all opportunities for study-time.
Take advantage of every single one. Make your development a priority, and find a way to do it every single day.
I promise, what might start out feeling like a chore is going to become your fuel. It’s going to start feeling so fun, and so energizing. It might even get a little bit addicting.
FIND ALL THE WAYS YOU CAN TO LEARN AT WORK
There are tons of them. There are so many ways to learn and develop priceless, relevant skills and traits, while you’re getting paid.
I know I just said you’ll have to do a lot of your studying off the clock, but now find all the ways you can get in additional learning-time while you’re getting your job done.
Maybe you do work that’s more physical or doesn’t require intense concentration, and you’re allowed to listen to music while you’re doing it. If that’s the case, turn on something instructional to listen to instead.
And if you can’t do something like that – which is likely – don’t be discouraged! There are so many more ways.
Start being really observant. During exchanges with customers, your boss, coworkers. During company meetings and trainings. When things are going well, and when it all hits the fan. See what works there, and what doesn’t. Watch how people treat each other, and pay attention to the outcome.
I learned so much at my last job, and it was in an industry that seemed at first to have nothing to do with my personal goal to start this company. I learned things that helped me to get better for this, that helped me to get ready for this, and that gave me endless ideas for this.
Your job has so much to teach you – stuff you can really use. Take advantage of an education you’re getting paid for.
FIND ALL THE WAYS YOU CAN TO PRACTICE WHAT YOU LEARN AT WORK
I don’t care what your job is, there are ways to get practice – at least with some of the things you’re learning.
Let’s say you make fast food in a tiny town and you’re studying to be a civil engineer. Maybe your dream is to move to a giant, vibrant city and help with its development out of your own office. What skills can you practice while you make milkshakes and flip burgers for hours?
You’re going to be studying up on the obvious technical skills, like mathematics, physics, and understanding how to address the needs and potential challenges of structural projects. But aside from playing “count-the-fries” or “how’s-this-joint’s-foundation-doing”, there might not be a ton of that sort of stuff to practice.
But you know what else you’ll need as a civil engineer with your own business? Project management skills. Business skills. Communication skills. Sales. Creativity. Problem-solving. You can practice all those while you make or serve fast food!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a manager or not. Pay attention to the way the manager treats you and your coworkers. See what works and what doesn’t. See what motivates everyone, and what doesn’t. You go ahead and practice the good things, wherever you can. Practice showing respect to the people you work with. Practice having their backs, like any good leader does.
Pay attention to the methods your company uses to keep production efficient. See what works and what doesn’t, and while you practice those things, think about how they translate to any project or business.
When the chocolate runs out, and vanilla is the only shake option for the night, you can practice communicating calmly and confidently to the disappointed customers.
When four people call out sick during the same shift, or the special fry sauce is gone, or a customer is screaming because her order is wrong, or the air conditioning stops working, or a register goes down, or fifty people show up at once - you can practice creatively solving problems, and practice keeping yourself together while you do it.
That was just one example, and most likely it’s not specific to you and what you want. But we can all do this.
Practice what you’re learning while you’re at work.
WHEN YOU'RE READY FOR A NEW SKILL/ATTRIBUTE – PICK ANOTHER
This whole post has gotten long, but it’s because Step 3 is so important. I hate to pick a favorite, because all the steps to using your job are vital in their own way, and doing all of them together is how you’ll really dredge work dry of every opportunity, and launch yourself in the right direction.
But I think if I were forced to pick just one thing… developing yourself would be it.
Doing it intently and consistently will take you forward all by itself. It will help you to have confidence (which was Step 2). Doing it this way will help make your plan for your job (Step 1) clearer. It will help you become who you need to be to reach your goals. It will help with everything else I’ll ever talk about.
So let’s get going on this! What are you going to study first?