How can you give yourself the best chance of having a long and fulfilling career?

The world of work is changing fast. Your job in 5-10 years from now may not have been “invented” yet. And the skills you’ve worked so hard to hone may become outdated even sooner.

At the same time, technology is upending entire industries and leaving companies struggling to stay relevant. It’s no wonder there’s no longer such a thing as job security.

Even the good news that we’re likely to live longer brings the challenge that you’ll probably need to work for longer too.

In a world where the only sure thing is change, the “warning label” on investments holds true for our careers as well: “past performance is no guarantee of future performance.”

The Most Important Skill for Your Future Career Success

If you want to craft a career where you’re able to add value, feel fulfilled and stay employed over the long term, then there’s one skill that stands above all others.

That skill is being able to keep learning.

When you keep learning, you are better equipped to adapt and change with the times and perhaps be the one who drives the change. This is what will give you longevity in your career.

In a study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on The Future of Jobs, the skills that are in demand are changing such that employers expect 54% of employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. Even if your job stays the same, the core skills you’ll need to perform that job are likely to change.

For example, a marketer who was trained on TV and print advertising now has to be savvy about digital media. And with the upswing in remote working, managers will need to become skilled at leading virtual teams.

So, if you’re staying still doing what you’ve always done, even if it’s to a high standard, then you risk falling behind. Instead, you have to keep learning and growing.

But don’t let this panic you. Learning and growing doesn’t have to be overwhelming or time-consuming. It’s about making it a priority and a habit. And here are three steps that will help you to set yourself up for future success.

1. Take Ownership of Your Learning

As tempting as it is, relying on your employer for your career development is a mistake. No one knows or cares about you as much as you do and even the most well-meaning employers can fall short.

For example, in the WEF study, the #1 strategy for employers to address their shifting skills needs is to hire new permanent staff with the relevant skills. And two-thirds of employers expect people to adapt and pick up the needed skills in the course of changing jobs.

So, if you’re relying on your employer to provide what you need to upskill or reskill, you’re taking a big risk.

The number one skill for your future success is way too important to leave to someone else. You’ve got to take ownership of your career development and invest in yourself.

2. Create Your Learning Strategy

It’s useful to have a strategy for what and how you want to learn. This doesn’t need to be detailed or fancy. You just want to take a moment to make a few choices so you’re investing wisely.

What to learn:

A good guiding principle is from one of the world’s greatest ice hockey players, Wayne Gretzy, who credited his success to this approach: “Skate to where the puck is going” and not where it is right now.

So how could you anticipate what will become increasingly valuable for you in the future? Which skills do you need to show you’ve got what it takes at the next level in your career?

To further guide your thinking, the two areas cited in the WEF study where skills are increasingly in demand are technological proficiency and “human” skills (e.g., creativity, influence and persuasion, negotiation, leadership, communication, emotional intelligence, teamwork, flexibility, critical thinking). Which of these skills do you need to work on and improve?

You won’t go wrong by adding to your skillset ones that can be used broadly rather than the ones that are specific to a particular organization or job.

How to learn:

Think about how you learn best, how you would fit it into your life in a sensible and realistic way, and what would help you to actually follow through and do it.

Some people like to learn on their own while others prefer having people around them for support. Some prefer to read or study while others prefer to learn by doing.

Going back to school for a degree or a certificate program full-time or part-time is one option. But this can be costly in terms of time and money.

On the flipside, learning by doing is a great low-cost and time-efficient option. You get to develop your skills and get real-time feedback on how you’re doing in a work environment. And it’s a visible way to show senior management that you are willing to learn and grow, which can lead them to give you new opportunities.

3. Stay Open and Curious

Once you’ve taken ownership of your learning and created your strategy, it’s time to adopt the mindset that will help you to keep learning, which is to stay open and stay curious.

This makes it easier to learn because you’ve primed your brain to look out for new ideas, different perspectives and creative ways to do things.

It’s when you think you know everything that you stop learning, growing and developing. And that’s a risky place to be in a rapidly changing world if you want to stay relevant, engaged and in demand.

To keep that open-mindedness and curiosity, experiment with adopting a “beginner’s mind” with things that you’ve been doing the same way for years. Or start asking questions instead of giving out answers.

What can you do to remain open to new ways and approach your work (and life) from a place of curiosity?

Get Going and Keep Going!

They say the best defense is a good offense. So instead of being left behind as the proverbial “old dog who can’t learn new tricks”, make sure you are (and are seen as) the person who keeps learning, growing and developing. 

What’s the next step you will take to keep learning and set yourself up for success?

Leave me a comment and let me know.