“I still remember the point in my career, when the commitment to lifelong learning became a core value of mine.”
My career had gotten off to fast start. I was hired by a great firm right out of college, and by the age of 28 I had been promoted to Vice President. I was gaining experience through increased responsibility and I was becoming more and more expert in my industry. But, without fully realizing it, I was also quickly becoming a specialist.
This reality hit home when I left the company to start a new adventure in a new industry. I was no longer an experienced expert. I was in a foreign land. There was suddenly a whole lot I didn’t know. And needed to. And while this was my wake-up call, it was far from the only time I would feel the need to learn in order to grow and succeed in my career. Over time, in fact, I’ve come to realize that the need is continuous.
Lifelong learning, the decision to commit
At that early point in my career, it wasn’t hard to deliver on a commitment to lifelong learning, and I did so by completing my MBA, taking certification courses, and reading about business topics that were relevant to what I wanted to accomplish. When I was doing new things in new industries, it was easy to find new and exciting things to learn and to connect learning to achieving my goals.
More importantly, I had unlocked a portion of my brain that kept me motivated to want to learn more. And that was a very good thing: I discovered, as I moved through my 30’s, and encountered a slew of new industries and verticals that the need to learn was ever present. Learning turned me on; it seemed at the time that supporting my commitment to lifelong learning would be an almost effortless pursuit.
Then something interesting happened in my 40’s as I took on more senior leadership roles. I shifted from learning new things to applying the things I had already learned. For example, at Safari I created the inside sales channel. Sure, there were new concepts I had to learn about the business, but most of my work was based on past experience. My first few years as a manager in the Safari sales organization were what I would call “build mode,” where I was creating something that had not existed before, evolving and fine tuning along the way. I was not exactly pushing the same mental boundaries as in my 30’s, but it was a lot of fun.
Reaching the plateau; don’t confuse busy with learning
After seven years at Safari, even with the increased responsibility of leading the enterprise sales and marketing organizations added over time, I started to feel like I had arrived at some sort of plateau. I loved my job but something was missing. It wasn’t something I could articulate at the time, but in retrospect it’s clear: that “learning mode” I enjoyed so much had subsided.
Safari launched a new platform in mid 2014, and during the time pre-and-post launch, I found myself consumed by new challenges: by product development, the strategy to sell and support the new interface, and all of the operational change issues associated with launching a new product across the sales organization. This was a major shift in our business — an exciting time of building something new. You probably expect me to say that all of this new stuff happening spurred me back into learning mode. The funny thing is that it didn’t; it just kept me busy.
Senior-level learning, the pursuit of new peaks
It wasn’t until I made a personal commitment to use Safari every day — the very product I tell other people to use every day — that I became aware of my comfy spot on the lifelong learning plateau. Yes, I was busy, and yes, I was building new capabilities through experience, but I still wasn’t learning beyond the job. I had forgotten the joys — and the importance — of discovering new ideas. I started using our Queue mobile app, and spent time each day reading books and watching videos on various business and technical topics. Some of the content was genuinely eye-opening, and some was sort of “been there, done that” — but the real breakthrough was that I had reignited that place in my brain that powers “learning mode.” That’s the happy place where my creativity thrives; where I start thinking beyond what’s next to what’s possible.
I now look at the challenges I face at Safari with a new perspective. I’ve been reminded of best practices that I haven’t applied in a while. I’m discovering new topics to explore. I relate more personally with the value we deliver to professionals every day — not because I know our product features, but because I know the deep satisfaction of hopping off of my plateau and reaching new peaks in learning mode. I find myself having more relevant conversations with my team, with my customers and with others I interact with every day. And I make time everyday to read at least a chapter in Safari to make sure my engagement with learning mode never wanes again.