“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford
I recently experienced a professional – actually a group of them – so steeped in the “old ways” they can barely see the day ahead of them. Stuck in the time when you spent 30 years on the job, and the big pension was at the end of that rainbow, they plod along as their skills, mindset and contribution continually dwindle.
These folks miss the main lesson of a long career: learning is the key to a long career and life.
It’s not hard to understand in some ways, yet completely baffling in another. I’m just approaching my mid-40s and have seen my share of battles. Twenty years from now, I can imagine I’m going to be a little tired of them looking forward to a nice long retirement with my wife. At the same time, as long as I am working, and I have an interest in keeping my mental acuity, I can’t imagine reaching the stage where I just mail it in. Yet you see this all around us as old economy moves to new economy and our work population ages in great numbers.
Today’s professional doesn’t have to age into obsolescence. In fact, if you’re excited by technology and how it’s changed the game, there are new things to learn every month. It’s crazy to think the first brigades of IT professionals, marketing talent, and other workers who brought us into the digital age are now sitting back and, in some cases, holding us back.
You know whom I’m talking about. That IT guy who won’t accept the world is a two-platform place; the marketing executive who still doubts the power of social and online marketing; the human resources executive who thinks any candidate who has had a job less than five years is a “job hopper.” These folks may have been the cutting edge back in 1993, but now they just opine for the days of the 386 and 2400 baud modem. They’re holding many of you back and it doesn’t have to be that way.
I pride myself on being an early adopter. Not because I am some technology guru or hipster caught up in the latest fad. No, I am an early adopter because I have a burning desire to always understand and learn where thing are going. These technology, education and even artistic trends help me stay fresh. They help me exercise my mind. While I may still listen to 80s rock (Van Halen, Motley Cure, et al), I mix in the uncomfortable with the comfortable. It keeps me young and it keeps me current.
What I’m finding is it not only keeps me young mentally, combating my advancing years, but it also keeps me professionally relevant. How many conversations have I had in my corporate gigs where highly intelligent and educated professionals have no clue about anything current – many, many times.
I don’t listen to Lady GaGa or Paramore – but I know who they are, what they sing, and why people like them. They’re culturally relevant (barely) and that makes them relevant to me and to my business. How others don’t understand this is beyond me.
The key to keeping your job – now and in 20 years – is to understand you have to grow and learn and change continuously. Once you reach the end of the “prime” of your career, and climbing the ladder doesn’t matter to you, that doesn’t mean you stop learning and reinventing yourself. If you stop, you stop contributing to the business world and to society.
The brain is like a muscle and it has to be exercised.
Don’t be that crusty IT guy who thinks Al Qaeda is trying to hack your small business network. Be the crusty IT guy who knows how to thwart the threats but at the some time is looking for new ways to make technology accessible to you and your employees. It will keep you young and it will keep the paychecks, and the professional satisfaction, coming in.