A few years ago I wrote a blog called “If you think you’ve ‘arrived’ you’re in trouble!”, warning people of the importance of continually reinventing yourself. My point in that blog was that I often see people work very hard their entire careers, and then reach what they see as the pinnacle of success. But, that is the moment at which they stop pushing themselves, stop learning, and just enjoy the view instead of creating something new up there. That’s a problem. But other people just aren’t sure how to keep reinventing. They’ve reached many of their goals; they are expert in their field. What’s a useful path forward?
There are always ways to keep reinventing yourself, at every stage of your career.
Keep in touch. Many of us graduated from university twenty years ago or more. But are you really in touch with how that area has transformed? If that specialty is still relevant to your day job, it’s worthwhile to discover things you “already learned,” Things change, theories evolve, ideas reflect 21st century life.
At the very least there will undoubtedly be things that you have simply forgotten. Wake up a dormant part of your brain. It focuses you on something else, giving your mind a chance to recharge before diving back into the day-to-day issues.
Introduce yourself. The other opportunity is just the opposite approach. If you’ve moved away completely from your academic field of study, you might benefit from a formal introduction to your current responsibilities. If you were an English major and now you’re a marketing executive, it doesn’t hurt to learn the fundamentals of that area. You’ll then be able to understand the foundational concepts that your colleagues are operating from. And you don’t have to invest nearly the time of a full degree, of course. There are ways to learn a new skill fairly quickly.
Certify your specialty. In some professions, such as law or medicine, continuing education is required. This is because it’s critical to keep learning the newest developments in order to serve clients. But there’s no reason you can’t make it a goal to get a new certification.
After years of working in Europe, I became certified in a European-specific application of my US-based training. You could focus on something that is more directly related to your practice. If you’ve narrowed your career to operations in Asia, then perhaps that M.B.A. in general business management is too broad to really improve how you approach your role. Or, become fluent in a business area with a new certification in something that didn’t even exist when you were at university – the gig economy, cyber security and so on.
The real key to reinventing yourself is to want to do it.
The biggest factor is your attitude. You need to be open to learning daily from others, accepting new concepts, and not assuming you know the best way just because you’ve been doing it your way for so long. You might be caught in old patterns and approaches. But if you want to challenge yourself, you’ll soon find opportunities. After all, a lot of things you can do are just a cup of coffee and a Google search away. Doesn’t get easier than that.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.