New Concept in Career Planning

If You're Not Learning, You're Wasting Your Time

Photo Credit: Andrea Flanagan Photography

I was recently asked to be a panelist to help provide insight on the topic of potential careers in project management.  One question came up that I needed some additional time to ponder.

QUESTION: “If I were to shadow you today vs. ten years ago, what different behaviors would I notice?”

I honestly hadn’t given this much thought prior to the panel discussion. The question stuck with me, here’s my attempt at an answer.

My speculation is that someone would notice several behavior differences when comparing my past self with my current self, however, since these behavior changes were the result of a shifting mindset, I’ll start with how my mindset has changed.

Here’s how my views have changed:

  • I purposefully changed my theme song from ‘put in the time, get the reward’ to ‘if I’m not learning, I’m wasting my time’
    • The learning is the reward, not an unintended side effect
    • By making learning my reward, instead of compensation, career opportunities now regularly come my way as a result of my focus on learning. I’ve got choices I didn’t have 10 years ago.
  • Project management is first and foremost about people.
    • In order to understand how to coordinate and guide people, you must first understand how people work
  • It’s not about me and my idea, it’s about you and your idea (with a little bit of me sprinkled in)
    • If you create the right environment, real collaboration can occur. This is a beautiful thing.
  • Understanding that my own career path is cyclical, not a straight line–just like life. In life, how often do you know exactly where you’re going to end up? You don’t. Nobody can tell the future. That’s why it’s important to have a long-term vision and general direction you want to go without worrying about all the details.
  • Being my own competitor in my career
    • If you spend your time worrying about the next guy, you’ll never find happiness at work. Play your own game and do it well, that’s all you can do.

Here’s why my views changed:

  • Professional boredom
    • I learned that putting in the time to get a reward was more of a waste of time than taking chances on different opportunities and challenges. It was a snooze. Personal and professional growth happens when you throw yourself into uncomfortable situations, not when you patiently wait to get promoted by doing the same thing you’ve always done.
      • I learned this by throwing myself to the wolves as a consultant and not worrying about where I would land my next gig
        • Why? Because in my mind, 1 consultant year = 2 or 3 regular work years
          • It’s scientifically proven that 70% of professional learning happens through on the job experience
          • If you’re moving from place to place, you’re constantly learning new things, constantly being challenged
          • As a consultant, I wasn’t concerned with a specific career target like I had been as a full-time employee. It felt good not to worry about that
          • I’m now a full-time employee but never would have found the great company I work for without challenging myself to learn more. Now I’m not bored because I’ve implemented the habit loop of getting to my learning reward early and often.
  • Skills-based continuing education
    • I’ve got my own development plan for areas I know I need to improve
    • Here’s a list of improvement areas I’ve focused on during the past 10 years:
      • Bridging connections with people I don’t know, as opposed to bonding with people I already know.
        • This practice exposes me to all kinds of people with diverse ways of thinking. It helps me to understand the world we live in
      • Studying the power of language and words and practicing through writing and speaking opportunities
        • Being a clear communicator is hands down a time-saver
        • Focusing on content over format with regards to my communication (written and spoken)
          • It’s actually more difficult to write and speak in a concise manner
          • I send fewer emails (which magically leads to receiving fewer emails)
      • Facilitation skills/ collaboration skills
        • Helping others visualize where they want to go by slowing down and focusing on strategy
      • Critical thinking/ strategic thinking
        • I learned to use tools such as mind maps and cause maps to help categorize my thoughts and understand relationships between my thoughts
      • Productivity
        • I now use tools that free up space in my mind for better focus when it’s time to focus
        • I understand what times of day I’m most productive, how to spend my time in the morning so I can knock a presentation out of the park in the afternoon, etc.
        • Understanding and adapting to natural tendencies of your mind and body can truly change your life

Here are the behavior changes you’d see:

  • Short, succinct documentation, written in such a way that a grade school-aged child could understand what’s going on
  • Very few meetings
    • The real work happens outside of meetings
  • Very few emails from me
    • Email is a communication tool, email does not equal work
  • Visual aids in every single meeting I facilitate
  • Asking “why” literally all the time
  • More time outside jogging or in the gym and more time meditating or doing breathing exercises
  • Less of a behavior change, more of a superficial observation: I would appear more relaxed and confident at work, similar to an individual who appears to have a great sense of focus in his life

My parting statement: Just be cool, people. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.