How to keep learning new skills as we get older

I used to think that it was weird to not be learning all the time. You spend 9 years in grammar school, 4 years in high school and if you are lucky, 4 years in college. All total,  that is 17 of your first 21 years in school with daily lessons, lectures, homework, required reading, tests, quizzes, projects, essays and exams. Then you have to make the jump to the working world whether it is in business or other areas and you still have to learn, but it is everything not included in your schooling. How your company works, how people work, what is required there and all their multitude of processes and products.

At that point you usually meet someone much older than yourself that has no idea what is happening in technology. And not just high technology, they don’t get basics that most people use just to function daily like email, pivot tables or search engine optimization. What you don’t know is that they are the future you. They don’t want to change because they say they have just done things this way all these years and it has always worked with paper files, binders, phone messages and post it noes. You look at them and their outdated clothes and rows of beanie babies around their cubicle like they have 3 heads. How can they work this way? How do they get anything done? How can a company value someone antiquated like this over me who has all this knowledge and ability (yet with 0 experience). 

Then time marches on. You become acclimated with the business environment and get promoted or jump to a better job a few times. You balance social, personal and work life stuff and think wow it’s a lot to manage and are always tired. Then some of you have kids and are even more tired. Then you wake up one day and realize that you have become that antiquated person you ran into years ago because they hired some younger workers that are all gung ho about getting ahead and talk about things you don’t understand. Now all college grads come to work knowing how to build databases and web sites even if they got a degree in English? How can they know so much so fast? 

You wonder how 10 years flew by and you haven’t really added anything new to your skill set because you work 50 hours a week, have a relationship on weekends and laundry/dishes/cat/cleaning/reading/few social things weeknights. (you don’t even watch TV for god’s sake) How can you go to school at the same time? If you have kids, how can you exist on less than the 4 hours of sleep you get now just so you can spend time learning? And when will you ever get around to painting the garage? How is this possible when some mornings you come to work 1/2 asleep with 2 different shoes on?

Are companies going to only hire new youngsters for all the positions because they make less money and have more tech skills? How much does experience matter?  Why did it piss me off for weeks when the new wordpress.com backend system was launched, and nothing made any sense anymore? I didn’t have time to spend looking for hours for where everything had been moved to and was just mad that it wasn’t where it was before and it took forever to post. And there was no communication from those adsense loving wordpress people about where everything had been moved to. They thought this was self explanitory? (Not!)

I think I started to recognize some of these changes happening to me in the past few months. I never planned on stopping learning and the things I chose to learn about in my spare (and fleeting) time were never really panned out useful things. So, back to the drawing board. I feel like I need a lot more technical skill to remain ahead of the curve in my job and be able to keep finding great work over the decades to come. And I want to do that along with have a family and marriage and the whole kit and kaboodle. I don’t think this is a women’s issue anymore either really. Men face the same questions as they get off the fashion bus and start looking, sounding and working more and more like their fathers.

Another thing I realized the other day is that I may try and shop at more contemporary stores, but I basically dress exactly like my mom. And she is 67 and I am 32. I used to hate how my mom dressed, and now I am her?  Is this just the arrival of the long plateau of middle age? Are the middle ages of me going to be anticlimactic and uneventful? Or how can you bridge multiple generations, technologies and social groups all at the same time while still getting 8 hours of sleep at night? 

I don’t know how this is all going to work. I suppose many people don’t write about it on blogs, or maybe even recognize the change until they can’t find bleached jeans and high tops at Kohl’s anymore. But it bothers me because I don’t want to stop learning and get left behind. Especially when the economy keeps changing so much every year and the jobs go with it. How do you not get outsourced when literally everything can be outsourced today? How do you keep going to school when most universities require full time attendance of a degree program and not piece mail courses as you need them? How do you find time to do homework when you have bills to pay and garbage to take out and emails from your boss? Even reading was hard to get back into after years of not focusing like that for an extended period of time.

Here is what I have been doing about it and working on over the past years and what I would like to continue to work on:

1. About 2 years ago I started reading books again. I read TIME every week, but that is pretty short. I found it hard at first to just read for an hour at a time because I had gotten so multitask happy with the internet and channel flipping.

2. I also decided it was time to start pushing back sometimes at work and saying No. You literally can’t do that when you start out, and sooner or later you have to set limits and not do everything for everyone else when you have a limited time to do it. The whole idea of urgency and priority come into play and they shouldn’t be anyone else’s priority or urgency but yours. People will negotiate and try and get as much from you as possible but it’s not in your best interest if it’s not really in your job description.

3. The last year was one where I decided it was time to have a self hosted blog. Everyone and their sister had one but me, and it wasn’t supposed to be impossible or anything. So, I bought a url and went to town for about 2 days straight truing to figure out how this wordpress thing worked, researching themes, plugins and all the possibilities and building it. It was a great learning experience although it has nothing to do with my work.

4. This year I had a client that insisted on a different data process than what we usually provided and I had to learn Pivot tables. I still don’t know them to the extent I need to probably, but it helps immensley. I still have more of the high end Excel stuff to learn.

5. I also had to learn Access. I guess 2 days in a class can’t really teach you everything though so I should either retake the class or take another one because my skills there still don’t match what I need them to.

6. I also wonder about math and statistics. I should really go back, take the prerequisites and then statistics. This is what I get for not taking it initially because I didn’t want to work in business. Sheesh. This is by far one of the hardest things to do because, I am not fantastic at math, it has been about 14 years since I have taken a math class and it means driving back to the community college I attended a million years ago. It also entails weekly classes and weekly homework. This could be 10 hours a week or more. Where am I going to find 10 hours a week? Where do people who have kids find that time?  Is sleep allowed?

7. I also think it is time I got better at this friends/networking thing at work and outside it. I have never been that great at the social stuff, but I am meeting more and more people who weren’t necessarily either, but because there are some ground rules in business and no need to act like Jr High kids anymore, they are pretty good at it now. This helps get things done faster when they need to be, and it makes work and life generally more fun. It also helps not to work with assholes.

8. What I would also like to do more of is learn about web pages and building them, coding and sleuthing out issues with them. This comes up with work and would be an asset.

9. Long term I have to get into databases and SQL. I have no choice. It will mean more classes and more time than I know I can find and afford, and that isn’t even the expensive part like tuition.

But what is the alternative? To be outsourced in a few years? To be relegated back to the minimum wage jobs that we had back in college but would be even more difficult to get since they would rather hire energetic young people now, with better tech skills?  The way I see it, the only way to survive is to go onwards and upwards. I have to keep learning things whether I have time for it or not.

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Top 10 Signs you have been working too much

1. You try and open your car door with your key card.

2. You try to open your home’s front door with your key card.

3. You dial 9 before the number when you try and dial your home phone.

4. You have dreams about meetings, coworkers and your work. You wake up in a pile of papers you were reading when you fell asleep. Bonus points if it is in the living room.

5. You wake up on Saturday, get dressed and don’t realize you don’t have to be at the office until you see all your neighbor’s cars still parked in the driveway.

6. You wake up on Sunday, get dressed and don’t realize you don’t have to be at the office until you see all your neighbor’s cars still parked in the driveway.

7. You get really bad caffeine headaches on Saturday and Sunday.

8. You don’t know what to do with yourself on Saturday or Sunday. Your social life has kind of died since you got this job.

9. Your home has no real food in it, just coffee and granola bars.

10. There is a pile of dirty laundry the size of Mt Fuji around your closet and dry cleaner bags and hangers on the floor everywhere.

Bonus signs:

11. You have no idea what TV shows are new this season or what plays on what channel on which days. Ditto for what songs are popular this year.

12. Your big Friday night plans you are all excietd about involve take out chinese food and sleep.

13. You have never meet your neighbors. Bonus points if you live in an appartment building and you have never seen your neighbors.

14. You sometimes slip and call your kids the names of the people who work for you.

15. Your home was vandalized, the TV and DVD player are gone and you didn’t notice.