NICOLE WOLFRATH
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Throughout my years of being a college career coach, I’ve seen numerous students in my office, slumped in their seat with furrowed brows, wondering what career they can choose that will make them happy. They are fearful of committing to one major or career path, feeling like they will be stuck or married to this job.  

“I will have to do this for the rest of my life,”  they think, and they become riddled with anxiety at the thought of making a potentially bad decision.  

What they fail to realize is that we are evolutionary beings, and we yearn for growth. Our careers and thoughts about them change over time.  Much like a marriage, where couples bend and shift to adjust with personal changes, our relationship with our work and career needs to do the same.  

But growth takes shape in unique ways for each person. We are not one dimensional and often our interests are what drives us to seek out different careers, tasks or knowledge. It’s because of this natural gravitation to fulfill our underdeveloped areas, that lifelong learning is such an important part of one’s personal and professional development. 

What is lifelong learning and how can you attain it? Lifelong learning is the idea that you will continue to educate yourself in ways that make you feel complete or whole. This can be by obtaining a new skill like gardening, learning a new computer program, or pursuing an interest as a hobby like a running. These things can be incorporated into professional lives as well, covering different aspects of your career such as executing new tasks that require some additional training.  

There are a number of ways to continue your educationIf you are feeling the urge to learn something new, here are some tips on how to get started and where to find educational opportunities:

1. Quantify your list:  Write down your interests and a few things you would like to learn. Determine whether these things are in your work setting or not. Create a list of about 3-5 things you would like to learn and create a measurable timeline (i.e. complete 3 things in 6 months).  

2. Identify Your Training:  Determine what your learning is going to look like. Is this something you can read up on?  Do you need practical training?  Should this take place in a classroom? Once you figure out where your education is going to come from, you can find it.

3. Consider short term educational opportunities: Short-term opportunities are typically in the classroom or you might find online classes that can advance your career. They can be found through professional organizations such as those linked to your industry of choice, as well as places like adult continuing education programs which are offered through school districts or local colleges. 

They typically cover subjects such as cooking, coding, arts and recreation, financial planning, computer instruction and many more. There are also organizations that sometimes offer workshops or webinars that are at low cost or even free!

4. Buddy-Up:  Mentoring is a great way to learn something new. This can be as easy as finding someone in your current network who can introduce you to something new, like a friend who knows a language and doesn’t mind tutoring you once a week, or a fellow alum from high school who owns a startup and can give you some tips on a career transition. There are also formal mentor programs you can find through social media groups such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  If you post something like, “Looking for someone to chat with about starting an online business,” you will be surprised at how many responses you may receive.   

5. Utilize Your Time:  Consider taking on some new tasks at work that can expose you to a different skill set, or a volunteer position outside that offers you the ability to do something you may have never done before.  

6. Don’t be afraid: Remember those growing pains as a kid? Sometimes growing takes us to uncomfortable and unfamiliar places.  But that’s when you know you are challenging yourself. And you are never too old or too busy to learn something new!

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Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time, and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.

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