“Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.”
Brian Tracy, author
The other day I was meeting with Bill Lee, one of the members of my master-mind group. He told me he had just seen his family doctor who is 77 years old … and has chosen not to retire from his medical practice. In fact, his doctor said, “I find excitement in the challenge of keeping up with all the advancements in the medical field. I read trade journals, listen to audio CDs, watch DVDs, attend seminars, and spend a lot of time talking shop with my friends in the medical community. If you relax in this business, you’ll become a dinosaur in no time.”
The doctor is right. His challenge is also your challenge, my challenge, and everybody else’s challenge. If you don’t keep on learning new things, if you rely on yesterday’s knowledge, you will become a dinosaur in any business. And you know what happens to dinosaurs. They disappear.
So I took a serious look at every wildly successful person I know. And I discovered one overwhelming fact that hit me right between the eyes. Every one of them is in to continual learning.
The last time I called my accountant, he told me about an exciting seminar he just attended in another city. It would revolutionize his practice. And when I met with my financial planner in Detroit last October, he talked about the dozens of hours he spends going to seminars each year so he can keep up with all the ins and outs of the economy, the changing tax code, the home mortgage crisis, and the future of health care and retirement programs. I even found that my lawn service provider had gone to a seminar to learn how he could help his customers grow stronger, thicker, more resilient lawns. And so it goes.
When I speak to sales audiences, I find the same thing. The MOST successful salespeople are continually working on their people skills and product knowledge … while the LEAST successful ones always have an excuse for their lack of success.
The same goes for companies. According to the publication, “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America,” the 100 best are making major investments in employee education. On the average they are lavishing 43 hours of training on each employee every year. As Dan Timm, a principal in the Edward Jones brokerage firm, puts it, “We consider training an investment rather than an expense.”
So let’s get personal. How can you apply the lessons of the most successful people and the most successful companies to you and your life and your career?
=> 1. Recognize the critical importance of continual learning.
Intuitively, you’ve got to know that your best chance for a promotion at your present company … or any other company … is additional education and training. You can’t expect to do more … and be given more in return … if you don’t know more.
Listen to Libby Sartain, a human resources executive. She says, “Today’s success currently isn’t about what you’ve achieved in the past; it’s about your capacity to learn and grow in the immediate future.”
=> 2. Give yourself a ruthless self-analysis.
Ask yourself a lot of tough questions. And don’t fudge on the answers. Are you really learning more and more? Are you getting better and better? The way to find out is to ask yourself the following questions.
Some overall questions:
* Am I better off now — and happier now — than I was at this time last year?
* What goals did I reach? And which achievements gave me the greatest sense of satisfaction?
* What do I wish I’d done? What regrets do I have in the last 12 months?
* How have my relationships with my spouse, my children, and my friends changed in the last year?
* How well have I used my time?
Some work-and-money related questions:
* What progress have I made in my career?
* How have my relationships improved or deteriorated in the last year with:
* How does my financial portfolio look compared to last year?
If you’ve gotten better in most or all of these categories, I congratulate you. You’re a learning, growing human being.
But if your answers reveal a lack of significant progress, don’t get discouraged. It simply means you need to LEARN more. It means you’ve got to…
=> 3. Invest in your continual learning.
If your company brings training on site, thank them … profusely. If your company sends you to seminars, thank them … again and again.
That’s what Doris Dean did. She writes, “I am so thankful that the FBI brought you back for another one of your ‘Journey To The Extraordinary’ experiences. I’ve heard so many positive comments about your other programs at our facility, and I wanted my supervisory friends to experience your sessions as well. I tell people that you are my motivation guru and have shared your messages with co-workers as well as friends in business, education, and medicine … as well as youngsters throughout my county. And I’m pleased to report that even the teens (a tough audience) are using your positive techniques!”
And if your company doesn’t send you to seminars, ask them to send you. The very worst thing they can say is “no.” And at the very least they will see you as a highly motivated employee who wants to move ahead.
You can’t lose. In fact, many of the folks who attend my “Journey to the Extraordinary” experience simply asked their boss or company for permission to go and the financial support to make it happen. And they got a “yes” response.
But … and this is important … even if your company doesn’t offer enough on-site training or doesn’t support your off-site education, don’t let that hold you back. You can’t let somebody else’s short sightedness be your excuse for failure. Invest some of your own time and money into continual learning if you have to. As Austin Phelps, the educator, said in the 1800’s, “Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”
Then, with your new found knowledge, like all successful people, you’ve got to…
=> 4. Take action.
Learning is critical. It’s one of the first steps to greater success. But it is not the only step. You’ve got to do something with your learning.
After all, what is more pathetic than an educated person sitting on his butt? As E. L. Simpson points out, “Getting an idea should be like sitting down on a pin; it should make you jump up and do something.”
You’ve got to apply what you learn … consciously … consistently … and courageously … or your learning won’t do you any good. You can’t confuse taking a class with taking action on what you learned in the class.
Author Alfred A. Montapert said it well: “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.”
Of course, you’ll make a few mistakes when you apply your new knowledge. No problem. That’s why the final step in continual learning is to…
=> 5. Learn from your mistakes.
In fact, mistakes, setbacks, and negative feedback can be a blessing. When I’m teaching customer service, I tell the service reps to welcome complaints. After all, those complaining customers are giving them a free consulting service on how to get better.
That’s why Jill Blashack Strahan, the founder of the gourmet foods company, Tastefully Simple, tells her colleagues, “We reserve the right to get smarter.” No wonder they continue to be listed as one of the fastest growing companies in America. If they make any mistakes, they reserve the right to get smarter, and they do get smarter.
I would advise you to follow the advice of the great poet John Keats. He told us, “Don’t be discouraged by a failure … failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.”
Chances are … you upgrade your computer on a regular basis. But the question is … are you upgrading yourself on a regular basis?
Action: Write out your continual education plan for the next 3, 6, 12, and 18 months. A written out plan dramatically increases the chances that you will actually follow it.