Tag Archives: learning new skills

How to Stay Fresh In Your Career


Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

There’s an old expression that seasoned college professors like to invoke about teaching: “The first year you get it wrong. The second year you fix it. And the third year you’re bored.”

As I settle into my third year running my communications consultancy, that comment came back to me. While it applies beautifully to teaching, it applies to everything else as well.

Because I love my job, I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure that I never get bored. Here are three ways I keep my job fresh, and you can too:

Keep Adding New Content

I have a lot of colleagues who love to deliver the same material year in, year out. Whether it’s a lecture for students, a sales pitch or a topic for a column or essay, having some pre-set, go-to content frees them up to do other things with their time.

But if you’re someone like me who needs constant change in order to feel alive, the worst thing you can do is to settle into a routine. So even though I frequently give workshops I’ve done before, I always make sure that I’m creating new content alongside them.

Just last month, for example, I developed a new workshop on “virtual presence” – i.e., how to maximize your personal impact in an online meeting or presentation. Preparing that workshop took several days to pull together. But it was also exhilarating. Even with workshops I’ve honed to the point where I’m happy with them, I’ll still change an exercise or an example. It keeps me on my toes.

Learn New Tools

When the Corona Virus first hit – and like every other workshop facilitator I know – I jumped into the digital workshop space with two feet. We had to. It was a classic case of “adapt or die.”

Back then, the learning was mostly around how to get the most out of platforms like Zoom and MS Teams. I still remember practicing “break out rooms” the day before my very first online workshop back in April. My daughter and two of my nieces stepped in as fake participants.

But as time goes on, I’ve gotten more adventurous and have expanded my digital toolkit. I recently incorporated Mural – the visual collaboration app – into a brainstorming exercise for a workshop on project management. In preparing for that workshop, I spent way more time practicing the app than I did refreshing myself on the workshop content. But it was worth it.

I went into the classroom with that tingling feeling of being slightly nervous about how that exercise would pan out. And that’s a *good* thing. I leaned into the material just that little bit more. The students loved the app, and I had another tool under my belt to take forward into other workshops.

Experiment with your portfolio

I’ve talked a lot here about how having a portfolio career suits my personality. But one of the things the pandemic has done is to force me to experiment with the balance within that portfolio.

When the pandemic first hit last spring, nearly all of my work was one to one writing coaching. Universities – a huge part of my client base – were too busy sorting out online learning in their core courses to think about the sort of soft skills workshops I offer. And corporate clients were focused on keeping their staff. They didn’t have any extra money – or headspace – to spend on professional skills development. Fortunately, PhD students – in particular – still needed help writing their dissertations.

But this autumn, that breakdown reversed. Nearly all of my work since September has been group workshops of various sizes. I’m only seeing writing coaching clients occasionally.

Although I didn’t engineer that experiment, I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve decided that I prefer the current set up. It’s much more cost effective vis a vis my time. And when I do shift to one-to-one coaching – which is far more labor-intensive than running a workshop – it’s an absolute joy.

The lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that for my life as an entrepreneur to work, I need to constantly mix things up.

How about you? How do you stay fresh in your career?

This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me.

Action Learning in the Age of Corona


learningOne of the many things I’m grateful for in the wake of the Corona virus are my multiple and varied networks. On the personal end of things, I’m reconnecting with friends and relatives from all over the globe and from different phases of my life. That’s fun and enormously comforting.

On the professional end of things, I’m discovering that at a moment when it’s vital to be flexible and agile in how we approach our work, my network is furnishing me with new opportunities for growth.

I was reminded of this the other day when a call went out at one of the consultancies where I work. Overnight, this company – which specializes in leadership development – was transitioning its content from face-to-face workshops to webinars. The CEO suggested that the 50 or so affiliated consultants sort ourselves into small “action learning groups” of four to six people to help navigate this shift into the Wild West of online delivery.

I’m new to action learning, which has been described as a process of “insightful questioning and reflective listening.” It’s essentially a group coaching methodology that brings together small groups of people from different areas of an organization to solve real issues in real time.The idea is to use group dialogue to disrupt the status quo and generate innovate solutions.

My group defined its problem as “Sharing our collective insights from the field to learn about super powers of adaptability in shifting offline to online learning in tough times.” Our Slack channel is #superpowers. (P.S. Love!) Because all six of us have very different backgrounds – ranging from journalism and academia to executive coaching and learning and leadership – we all bring different perspectives to this joint endeavour.

The first week, one member of our group gave a short presentation on how to engage audiences with online learning tools. I already knew how to use polls, chats and break-out rooms to facilitate participation using Zoom. But in conversation with my Action Learning group, I was delighted to discover that document sharing, What’sApp and live video recordings could also be utilised to stimulate learning.

The following week, we talked about the advantages of running webinars through other platforms like Google Hangouts and Prezi. We also talked about how to flip the classroom, the potential advantages of shorter “bursts” of instruction and how to fold one-to-one tutorials in alongside webinars to personalize the learning experience. Next week, I’ll facilitate a discussion around “voice,” and how to become a thought leader using social media.

I’ve written before about why it’s important to have a group of people who can offer advice as you move through your career, rather than relying on one, sole mentor. This diversity enables you to draw on a range of viewpoints – and skill sets – that complement your own. I’ve also championed lifelong learning as a way to cultivate curiosity as we age.

What’s wonderful about this new group I’ve joined is that I feel like I’m doing both things. I’ve got some new guests at my metaphorical “dinner table” who are helping me to develop professionally. And during a period in my life when I’m mostly  stuck indoors, it’s great to stay fresh and learn new skills.

What are you doing during this difficult time to accelerate your learning curve?

Image: Questions fear learning book by Mohammed Hassan via Pixabay


Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Feel Productive This Summer

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, it’s summer again. Here in the U.K., the concept of “summer” is decidedly shorter than it is in the States. (Because school holidays are distributed somewhat differently, most schools break from anywhere between 6 and 9 weeks rather than a whopping 3 months.) Still, we are most definitely in the era of flip flops, sun tan lotion and beach reads over here.

While summer is a great time to relax, much like the New Year, it’s also a great time to set resolutions for yourself.

To that end, here are five ways to feel productive this summer:

1. Try something new. When I posted about my staycation in London last year, I talked about the value of learning a new skill. Last summer we taught my son to ride a bike and I myself became the proud owner of a Brompton.  This summer my “new thing” is Pilates. I’ll be honest. Until recently, I had no idea what Pilates was. (I also noticed that even people who did it regularly had a hard time explaining it.) I’m still learning (enough to know that it’s all about obtaining core stability in my abdomen which – as my Pilates instructor quickly observed – currently exhibits the fortitude of a wet noodle.) But let me be the first to tell you that if you’re having back trouble, get thee to a Pilates class tout de suite. Wow. I feel 300 years younger. Next up? Zumba. All the cool kids are doin’ it, I’m told.

2. Return to something old.  Of course, there’s no better way to feel productive than by completing a project that you’ve left half-finished. We all know the joy that attends tackling your dreaded To Do list. Me? I’m going to confront a biggie this summer: revising my novel one last time. With the help of my fiction writing group, I now have a much better sense of what doesn’t work about the opening (and we all know that if the opening of a book is weak, it isn’t going to be read.) But I also know that in order to do this properly, I need to have a block of time so that I can get back into the story and inhabit it for awhile. So I’ve decided to devote the month of August to fixing that sucker.

3. Fix something around the house. And speaking of fixing, summer is also a great time to fix things around the house, whether it’s cleaning out a spare drawer, tightening up the screws on a loose door knob, or adding a touch of paint to the wall that your kid drew on with crayons. In my own case, I keep a little box of broken jewelry on my bureau. It contains all the jewelry that’s gotten damaged over the years, but which I like too much to toss. There is, for example, a blue earring in that box which I bought in Paris when I spent a semester there in college (cough) 25 years ago. All that earring is missing is a back, and yet in all that time, I’ve never quite gotten around to gluing one on. No more, I say. I plan to wear those earrings this Fall! Need motivation for tasks like this? Find a fix-it club.

4. Read something that you wouldn’t normally read. Summer is also a great time to get out of your comfort zone in terms of reading. After all, most book groups go on holiday during the summer, and even if you aren’t in a book club, you generally have more flexibility – and time – to mix things up a bit. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.  But I’d like to try and read more of it. So I decided that rather than plunge into War and Peace straight away, I’d first read a book that’s been on my shelf for quite some time: Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side.

5. Make something by hand. Over on The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin recently posted on the value of making something by hand. I’m not very crafty, but my daughter is. She frequently embroils me in her hand-made projects, whether it’s sewing a piece of clothing, designing a marionette or weaving a friendship bracelet. And it really is deeply satisfying to create something with your hands. Try it!

How about you? What are your productive plans for the summer?


Image: Pilates Video Class Exercise by myyogaonline via Flicker under a Creative Commons license.