The best ways to supercharge your professional development and learn anything easily
Learning new things is not always easy, but it’s necessary in your career. But professional development – the term for “learning new things to do your job better” – is not just about learning what your boss wants you to. It’s also the time and opportunity for you to learn what you want. Any time you want to learn a new skill that makes you more marketable, increases your salary, makes you qualified for a more senior job, or helps you reach a career goal is all part of professional development.
While professional development can be tough, there are many ways to make it easy. Keep reading for tips on how you can learn anything easily for your career (and supercharge your professional development).
Ask a coworker
When you want to learn something new, it can often be hard to know where to start. You feel like you are such a beginner that you couldn’t possibly learn a whole new skill. Or you know what you want to learn but aren’t sure where to begin. In times like these, a great way to supercharge your professional development is to ask a coworker to teach you.
Your coworkers – even the ones on your team – know many different things than you. It’s also likely that you know many things your coworkers don’t). Since you work together every day already, asking a coworker is a great way to learn something new.
Asking a coworker for help can not only help you learn something quickly, it can help you avoid common mistakes. Chances are your coworker made mistakes when learning (something we all do) so they can share tips.
How to ask a coworker to help you learn something
The first step is to know what you want to learn. You need to get really specific here. It can’t just be “I want to be better at Twitter,” for example. It needs to be “I want to learn how to properly use hashtags in my tweets” or something else very specific.
Once you know what you want to learn, you have to verify that the person you want to ask actually has that knowledge. In the Twitter example above, it’s possible that the coworker may not know much about hashtags. In that case, they won’t be helpful to you. So when you approach them, don’t instantly ask them to teach you. Instead, bring up what you want to learn and ask if they know about the area. Then ask if they might be willing to help you out a bit.
A note here is that you can’t be upset if someone politely declines to help you. They may simply be too busy or do not have enough knowledge to teach you. In that case, be gracious and thank them for their time. Then move onto someone else who can help you and restart the process.
Find a mentor
No matter what you want to learn, there’s probably someone who has done it before or already knows it. And if you want to learn something totally new, chances are there are people that know some of the knowledge required and can give you a head start. Those people – the ones who have been there and done that – are mentors.
If you want to supercharge your professional development, you need a mentor.
Mentors may also be coworkers, but the difference is that a coworker can teach you a specific skill they have. A mentor, on the other hand, can teach you mindsets, share experiences, and open doors for you to continue progressing and learning. While mentors are typically older than their mentees (that’s you) due to the time it takes to collect real experience, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s a matter of someone becoming a master in a new technology or process, such as design thinking, and sharing it with someone who is experienced in other ways but a novice in the new idea.
How to ask someone to be your mentor
Since a mentor is all about someone who has personal experiences to share, the first step in getting a mentor to help you with your professional development is to find someone with the right experiences. Mentorship is a custom-built relationship with specific goal outcomes, so you have to know exactly what you want. In this example, you can be a bit more broad. For example “I want a mentor who is an expert at all things Twitter and has hundreds of thousands of organic Twitter followers.”
Once you know what kind of mentor you need, it’s time to go looking. You can either find one formally or informally. Formal channels include mentorship networks that may exist in your company already or mentorship communities in the business world. If you’re not sure if any mentorship programs exist in your community, try Googling, “[Topic you want to be mentored in] mentorship programs in [your city].” You could also try asking your coworkers or posting the question to your social media, if you have active pages.
When you meet the person you want to be your mentor, get to know them first. Rarely will you be able to ask them to be your mentor the first time you meet. Instead, introduce yourself and ask if you could ask them some questions about their experience in the topic you’re interested in. During the meeting, take a mental note of how well you get along. Are the person’s experiences helpful to you? Does conversation seem easy and fun? Do you like spending time with this person? If it all goes well, then you can more formally for them to become your mentor.
Hire a coach
Sometimes, you know the skills you need to succeed already. They are just buried within you. Perhaps you need the courage to ask for what you want. Or maybe your career goal is to be a successful salesperson and you need the drive to continue prospecting. No matter what you want to learn, there are some fundamental elements that lie within you like determination, grit, and an open mind. A coach can help you unlock all of them.
Unlike a mentor, a coach is not necessarily experienced in the specific area you want to learn more about. Instead, coaches are certified experts in unlocking human potential. They can help you get over mental blocks, plan a work system that fits your lifestyle, and help you increase your confidence to chase your dreams.
When it comes to professional development, a coach is the person who helps you do what you know you need to do. This is a crucial element of learning anything because much of the time you know what you have to do… it’s just a matter of doing it. Or you have the information you need and just need to act on it. That’s what coaches help with.
How to get a coach
Coaches, like mentors, are only helpful if you know what you want to accomplish. It may feel weird to say “I need help getting over my fear of failure” because you may feel you should just ‘get over it’ now that you know it’s the problem. But knowing what obstacles lie ahead of you (or within you) is a crucial first step. A coach can’t help you solve any problems until those problems are identified.
Once you know what problems you want to solve, for example, “I want to build a plan that helps me learn X skills while taking care of my kids,” then you need to find a coach that specializes in what you need. There are coaches for just about everything, so don’t be afraid to Google for coaches and then ‘interview’ them over the phone to see if you work well together and if they can help you.
After selecting the right coach for you, meaning a coach that knows your problem, has the ability to help you solve it, and is someone you feel comfortable with, then it’s up to you to do the work. Coaches may assign “homework” or work with you to develop action items, but coaching is only impactful if you take the action required. Your coach will be by your side, cheering you on and giving you real-time feedback, but you only get value if you take action.
Read a book
One of the oldest ways of transmitting information – writing it down – books are still one of the best ways to learn almost anything. There are books written about nearly every subject known to humankind and, if there isn’t a book about a subject, there is one about something similar. Given how many authors exist in the world, you can find just about any kind of writing as well – philosophical, practical, engaging, descriptive, and more.
No matter what kind of writing you like to read or topic you want to learn about, there’s probably a book out there that you can read. When you read a book, you aren’t just digesting some facts and moving on. You can refer back to it. You can use it as your guide book. Or you can carry it with you and follow each step in real-time, treating your book like a coach. You can even rent books or audiobooks to make your life easier.
Books are a great way to learn from people you’d otherwise never have access to. For example, if you wanted to learn about business building from Bill Gates, you can read his book Creative Capitalism. Or if you wanted to learn about building a startup from Peter Thiel (who founded PayPal), you can read his book Zero to One. Both of these business people don’t typically have time for personal meetings, but by reading their books you can learn everything they know.
How to find the right books
Finding the right book is a mixture of finding the right topic and the right style. Topic is fairly easy to find, for example the best marketing books.
Once you know your topic, you want to identify what kind of writing you want to read. To do this, pay attention to the author. If you’re looking for philosophical writing that ponders the idea of the subject, look for authors that are academics. If you want practical writing that teaches you how to do something, look for authors that have experience doing the thing the book is about.
Teach someone else
Have you ever been confused about a topic, but as soon as someone else asked you to explain it to them it suddenly made sense? If yes, you’re not alone. Humans are better at explaining things than they are at learning something alone. It’s called the Protege Effect and it talks about how people are better at explaining things than thinking about things.
If you want to supercharge your professional development and learn something new, one of the best ways is to learn so you can teach someone else. By putting yourself as the go-between – you learn the thing and then explain it to the other person – you double your opportunity to learn. Not only do you learn when you do the research, but you learn when you explain it to the person. Further, when the person asks questions and you do more research to clarify, you learn even more.
How to teach someone else
If you want to learn something new (and try the teaching method to do it), you first have to find someone to teach. This could be someone who asked you for help on a subject or someone you find that you know wants to learn a new subject. Either way, it just has to be someone who wants to learn the same subject as you, otherwise the exercise won’t help either of you much.
Once you have your ‘protege,’ it’s about getting to work. You need to learn as much as you can about the subject from any methods that work for you, then turn those learnings into lessons so you can teach the other person.
When you turn something into a lesson, break it down into either its essential parts or its steps. If the thing is one item or one fact, then breaking it down into essential parts is a useful way to explain it. This method will also help you spot where misunderstandings come from, instead of simply “not getting it.” If the subject is multi-faceted or is a process with many steps, break it down into steps to show what comes first, next, and after. That way you can follow along and make sure the person you’re teaching understands the foundational concepts (step 1) before you move onto the more advanced stuff (steps 2, 3, 4, and onward).