I firmly believe in ongoing personal and professional development; so how can I say there are negative aspects to a commitment to a lifelong learner?
I’ve always invested heavily – both money and time – in my own personal and professional growth. My software company has been publishing assessment and development tools for more than 22 years, so I’m committed to helping others grow, too.
But as one for whom learning is a passion, I’ve discovered there are some downsides to a lifelong learner. The four items listed here are related, but each presents its own challenge.
Do you identify with any of these?
#1 – Accumulating a lot of knowledge without applying it in the real world.
I admit that I rarely read novels. I prefer business books on topics like marketing, sales, leadership and personal development. That’s because I absolutely love my business, and I’m always interested in learning how to improve systems, relationships and of course, our bottom line. But sometimes I start on the next book before I’ve taken time to analyze and use the insights gleaned from the one I just read. (Below are just a few of my favorites.)
LESSON: Look for the nuggets.
For every book or program you go through, list the ideas that make sense for your situation. Then commit to implementing immediately the ONE strategy that will make the biggest difference in your business or life, and hold yourself accountable for doing it.
#2 – Getting overwhelmed with too much information.
As I read books and newsletters, watch videos, and listen to audios, I can get paralyzed. There are so many directions to go.
How can I organize the mass of ideas into a cohesive action plan?
How do I deal with conflicting opinions and determine whose approach will get the best results?
LESSON: It’s about quality, not quantity.
Determine the one subject, program or book to focus on, and dedicate time to it. Then use your gut as well as your logical mind to evaluate the concepts presented. Which ones sound and feel right for you right now?
Just one book with one idea can transform the way you do things and the outcomes you achieve.
#3 – Spending money on the next hot idea before mastering the ones already purchased.
Falling into this trap contributes to the situation described in #2. Some people call this tendency the “bright shiny object” syndrome. I’ll hear about a great solution to a business challenge, and I sometimes want to dive into that when I haven’t finished going through the materials I’ve already invested in.
LESSON: Use self-restraint and self-discipline.
Say NO to any attractive offers that come along until you’ve fully digested the one you’re consuming now. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that continually blast you with the next great offer promising to double or triple your results. Find someone (e.g., business partner, colleague or spouse) who will require you to justify your reason for wanting to make a particular purchase.
#4 – Experiencing the uneasy feeling that you’re still not ready or good enough.
When I’m studying the work of people who’ve specialized in a particular subject for many years, I sometimes feel inadequate. I’ve postponed taking action because of thoughts like, “If I just get a little more information about THIS, then I’ll be able to do THAT.” The truth is, there’s no end to the comparisons that could be made where I would fall short.
LESSON: Give yourself full credit for what you DO know.
No matter what field you’re in, there’s always room to grow and learn. You’ll never reach the end of what you can become, but don’t let that stop you from using the knowledge, skills and talents you already possess. Recognize that when you try things, they don’t have to be perfect. This is a learner process.
The Bottom Line
Despite the drawbacks I’ve described here, I intend to continue my pursuit of becoming a better version of myself. The process of thinking about and articulating these four downsides has made me more keenly aware of their potential to harm instead of help me in my learner journey. As a result, I’ll keep my eyes wide open and be more careful to avoid these traps going forward.
Because in the end, it’s not about what you know. It’s about what you do with what you know.
About the Author
Meredith Bell is co-founder and President of Performance Support Systems (PSS), a global software company that publishes award-winning assessment and development products. Their Strong for Performance online system for personal and professional development combines a 3-step process for creating new work habits with a network of support coaches.
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