If you haven't learned something new in a while then do yourself a favor and invest in yourself. There are more opportunities to gain education (for free!) than ever before. First, here is why you should make it a point to learn continually:
- Education increases your potential salary and brings future opportunities
- It is the key to advancement in your profession
- The speed of innovation is increasing rapidly with technology. You learn or get left behind.
- We are increasingly competing with a global market that values education
- Innovation comes when you "cross-pollinate" by mixing your specialty with concepts in other fields.
There are lots of good places to find free education. Libraries are full of useful and interesting books. Satellite TV has tons of educational channels. My favorite is getting paid to learn at work. I once heard a statistic that only 2% of employees take advantage of job education benefits. Do you? Of course, the Internet is the one of best sources around. Why do you think so many non-profits (like this one, this one, or this one) are working to bring affordable internet access to developing nations? They know that with internet access comes free education for everyone. So hop in and get a piece of the pie. These are some of the best sites out there for free learning:
- Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org) - A free library of over 1800 video lessons on a variety of subjects including economics, statistics, chemistry, physics, and lots of math. Very impressive.
- Academic Earth (http://www.academicearth.org) - Recorded Online Lectures from professors at Yale, MIT, UCBerkeley, Princton, Stanford, Harvard, and other elite universities. You have to see it to believe it!
- Open CourseWare (http://ocw.mit.edu) - Did you just say free course materials for nearly all classes offered by arguably the best technical university in the United States? Yes. Yes I did.
- Connexions (http://cnx.org) The site is an open-source education system with materials submitted by users around the globe. It contains full textbooks on a variety of technical topics, but can also be used to learn music theory, business, and a variety of languages. See the talk by the founder to learn more about connexions.
- Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org) - Wikipedia has become a pretty good source for basic knowledge on everything. If I am unfamiliar with any concept, object, famous person, or organization, wikipedia is the first place I go.
- Podcasts (http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts) - Download iTunes and you'll have access to thousnds of free podcasts. There is a podcast for just about anything you can dream of. Audio podcasts allow you to learn while you drive, hike, cook, paint, or do yardwork. I've used them to learn about investing, car repairs, technology, and history.
But honestly, these are just scratching the surface. Let me know where you go to learn on the web. It would be a shame to let all that treasure stay buried.
In Henry David Thoreau's "Walden," he states that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I've seen it. The mass of men live from weekend to weekend. They let the random experiences of life dictate their happiness. Consider the following all-too-familiar examples.
- Mr. Ellis spends several hours each day monitoring his blood sugar level as a result of adult onset diabetes. Three months ago both of his legs were amputated below the knee due to related infections. He is discouraged by his current lack of independence.
- Mrs. Jarvis, widowed at 85, was raised in the Christian Methodist faith but has slowly become disenchanted by her religion. Unable to face the people at church, and being 'too old to change' she no longer attends worship services. She often worries for the welfare of her soul.
- Mr. Green was laid off of his IT job at age 60. His lack of technical certifications makes him feel unqualified when compared to the crop of young college graduates in his field. He lacks the savings to retire and cannot imagine why anyone would want to hire him again.
These are real issues and they are painful. But were they not preventable? Are there not still options for these people? How often do we hop in the back seat and let our circumstances take the wheel while we moan that we don't like the direction we are going?
This week I was reading an article called Grand Challenges for Engineers, which discussed the biggest problems of the 21st century that Engineers will be called upon to solve. The article is part of a movement to unite engineers on pursuing solutions to these problems. As I read, I thought "The NAE is brilliant for putting this project together." You see, the first step in resolving these issues is making sure they are clearly defined. They defined the grand challenges.
As I read, I thought, what are my grand challenges? Do I tend to overeat. Do I dislike my job or field of work? Am I shy and lonely? Do I overwork? Am I always late? Do I fear change? Am I boring? We all know ourselves. Can I not look back in time and predict what issues will challenge me in the future?
If I somehow define my grand challenges, I can work on them. I can track my progress. In the biography of Larry H. Miller (arguably one of the most influential men in Utah), he confesses, "If there is one thing I'd do differently--only one--it's this: I would have been there for the Little League games and the scraped knees and the back-to-school nights..." He admits, "...I didn't know how to be a father."
So here's to living and dying without regrets.
My grand challenges are:
- Finding an Enjoyable and Satisfying Career Path
- Balancing Family and Work
- Conquering my Weaknesses
- Actively Contributing to Society throughout Retirement
- Being Healthy Enough to Live to see 100 years.
They aren't quite as epic as the Engineering Grand Challenges (I'm not setting out to reverse-engineer the brain), but they are challenging, all right. Who really ever finds a truly satisfying career path? Who can die saying they conquered their weaknesses. I want to actually do it. I want to live deliberately.
I've been learning about the connection between great leaders, and good attitudes. Turns out, they have them. It's a strong correlation. During my time in South Africa, I grew to love the following quote:
"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church....a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes." — Charles R. Swindoll
This concept should make you feel uncomfortable. It runs contrary to the belief that great leaders are born... not made. It teaches that you are responsible for your failures. You are responsible for your successes. You have a choice in the matter. We place far too much emphasis on our pre-dispositions, claiming we were just "not made for swimming" or that he was a "born-genius". Ultimately, there are very very few things that are truly outside our influence.
'But Bryan, some people are just born with opportunities. Others are born into broken families. Others are born into poverty.'
Indeed. We are not all identical. Those advantages exist, but they fall into the 10%. Abraham Lincoln didn't care about his disadvantages. Neither did Martin Luther King (this article mentions how little his low GRE scores correlated to his success). If you are an olympic sprinter, that 10% could make it difficult for you to win. But if you use your 90% better... if you train harder that your opponent, then you can still beat him. This idea is as powerful as it is painful. Once you latch onto this, you will see that anything anybody else can do, you could do too. You aren't trapped in your career. You aren't trapped in your financial situation. You aren't trapped in your level of education.
It is in this light that I am committing myself to have a better attitude this week. This will be easier if I get enough sleep, have a good breakfast, and stay on top of my commitments, but even if I don't, I can still do it. It's my choice, and it will only benefit me.
What will you choose to do this week? You could master the moonwalk. You still have time.