“ Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” —Nelson Mandela
Education and the pursuit of knowledge is something that I have always valued in my life. It is a gift that no one can take away from you, and it’s something you can both personally possess and simultaneously share it with the world. As a Millennial in the first decade of my career, I look at education not as something that ended when I graduated from college, but a pursuit that I strive to continue with each year that passes.
The first phase of your career is a crucial and exciting time when you get to demonstrate what makes you unique and valuable to the world. What sets you apart from the other 200 applicants? Why should they choose you for this new project? What can you bring to the table that they don’t already have? And, even later in your career, you run into similar questions. How do you remain competitive in your industry? How do you succeed in a new role or promotion? How do you continue to bring new ideas to the table? I have found that to continue to grow both professionally and personally, it is important to never stop seeking new ways to learn. Our value as leaders is best achieved not only by mastering tasks in our jobs, but by also taking time outside of our work to pursue educational opportunities.
It is human nature to get comfortable once we master a task. We might reach a point in our current roles where we think, “I know everything I need to know to do my job.” However, this is when we need to challenge ourselves. This is where we need to truly hone our focus, in the gaps between the comfortable places. In my life, filling in these gaps has taken many forms. Earning a graduate degree might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of post-baccalaureate education. However, this is not the only way to continue to learn. The following are a few unique ways I have personally found to be valuable in my pursuit of education.
1. Master a new topic by taking an online class.
This is something that many employers not only support but often help make possible. In today’s digital age, it is possible to simultaneously learn something new while also working full-time. Online education offers flexibility for adult learners that allows us to complete homework and listen to lectures in our free time. I have had the pleasure of taking a few online classes since graduation, and I have found this is a great way to educate yourself on a new topic that can benefit you in your job or personal life.
2. Attend a workshop or seminar.
I have found workshops and seminars to be a great way to build leadership skills. Whether it’s a leadership development session through my work or a seminar put on by an organization I am a part of, these are often great ways to expand your knowledge and work on soft skills such as team dynamics, leadership styles, human behavior, etc.
3. Pursue certification.
I chose to pursue a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification after graduating college. This was not a simple task, and it involved endless hours of studying after work and on the weekends. However, certifications are something that can add great value to your career and marketability. Certifications can open many doors and allow you to specialize in technical skills that can greatly enhance your work and personal life. Certifications can also be the gift of an education that keeps on giving. Many professional certifications have continuous education requirements, which allow you to learn and update your knowledge with each subsequent year.
4. Subscribe to podcasts and channel your inner bookworm.
One medium for learning that I have found to be particularly valuable is podcasts. There are thousands of podcasts in a vast array of subjects, so chances are if there is a topic you’d love to learn about, you can find a podcast about it. There are healthcare-specific podcasts, economics and business podcasts, as well as current events. This has been a great way to educate myself when I am stuck in traffic, folding clothes, working late, or even while going on a walk. Amazon also has a vast array of textbooks and educational books on a multitude of healthcare finance subjects that I’ve found is another great way to study up on any complex areas of your work that you’d like to further perfect.
5. Attend a networking event.
Another great way to learn is through the experiences and knowledge of those around you. It is important to have learning relationships with role models and peers. I have found that sharing in the camaraderie of like-minded individuals and female leaders is a great way to grow and learn from others who face similar challenges and joys as you do. Women who are further along in their careers have years of wisdom and experience that should not remain untapped by those of us in younger generations. In addition, your peers can offer empathy for some of the issues you may be facing. There is so much learning and understanding that comes from taking the time to simply ask and listen. You’d be surprised at the valuable best practices and education that can come from others.
Education is one of life’s most powerful gifts: It allows us to expand our horizons and remain flexible and dynamic. It takes us out of our comfort zone and gives us the tools to change the world. Search for those gaps in between the comfortable spaces of your life, go forth, and never stop learning.
Alyssa Gallagher is a lead accountant in corporate finance at Sharp Healthcare, a trainer in high-reliability organizations, a Sharp Best Health Wellness Committee member, and a past board member and blogger for the nonprofit Women Inspiring Leaders.