We are now several weeks into the Back to School Season. This can be a hectic time of year with getting used to new schedules and juggling studying with other commitments, not to mention adjusting to a new school or educational pursuit. Across the country, people are getting settled into the new school year. As those individuals focus on continuing their education this year, what about those of us who aren’t going back to school?
For those of you who have recently finished your schooling and started focusing on your careers, I would encourage you to think about continuing your education, even if you’re not going back to school.
As a Human Resources and Training Professional with over 13 years of experience in Adult Education and Job Training, I cannot stress enough that just because you are done with school doesn’t mean you are done learning. Learning new things, developing new skills and cultivating new abilities are the keys to success as you grow in your career.
You’re done with your formal education. Here’s what you should do now.
It is important to continue learning every day of your life. You don’t have to take another course or earn a degree. Instead, learn about things that are important to YOU and your future. What can you do to beef up your resume?
Now you are in charge of your own learning! On the surface, it sounds great – no more homework or deadlines or exams! But most people will find themselves not doing any learning after they finish their formal education. It turns out, you don’t do the extra work if you don’t have to and nobody’s making you. So how can we keep learning?
Be SMART about your learning!
The most effective way to focus your energies and give yourself the best chance for success is to set SMART goals for your learning.
S-Specific – How can I really show that I have done it?
M-Measurable – How will I know if I have done it?
A-Attainable – Is this possible?
R-Realistic – Can I make this work given my limitations in time, money, etc.?
T-Time-bound – Give yourself a deadline!
Of course, this is easier said than done. It can be a little overwhelming as you get started with a topic. As you get started, do a little research. Determine what kind of proficiency levels are attainable for your topic and what it might take to reach them.
Start small. Taking on new knowledge, skills and abilities can be a daunting task. First, figure out what you want, what you can do, and how you can do it. It is also important to manage your expectations and not get ahead of yourself. For example, if you want to learn Spanish, you have to recognize that you can’t go from high school Spanish to conversational fluency in a short time or with independent study alone. The same goes for professional credentials. It’s good to want to learn more about accounting, but you can’t become a CPA from just a few free online courses. Biting off more than you can chew will not set you up for success.
An example of developing SMART goals
If we take the example goal: “I want to learn Spanish.” That in itself is a good goal: foreign language learning can increase your knowledge and skills in your native language. It can also lead to a larger cultural awareness, and the study skills you develop from language learning will help you as you attempt to learn new skills in your profession. Not to mention, foreign language skills are a good differentiator in the job market. All that being said, “learn Spanish” is a little too general to be able to know if you you’ve been successful at it.
Instead, set a more realistic and specific goal. Instead of the more general “learn Spanish,” set a goal like: “I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and use only Spanish next Cinco de Mayo.”
Breaking down the goal
Specific – you have an exact scenario that you can practice and prepare for. You can do a little research and find the right restaurant that suits your needs.
Measurable – you can decide to what extent you have done this because you will know how much (or better yet, how little) English you had to speak in the restaurant. No English – give yourself and A+! 3-5 English words in context could be a B, etc. Because it’s your goal, you can decide how to measure it. Do research. Go to a restaurant in your normal routine and see how you use your native language. Try to visualize how you might use Spanish in a similar way.
Attainable – you have set yourself up for success because the goal is specific enough that you know exactly how you can achieve it. You also have a clear context, so you can focus your energy on learning the correct vocabulary and grammatical structures you will need for this situation.
Realistic – Can you do this given the resources you have available? These factors will help you adjust what specific and measurable outcomes are possible.
Time-bound – Having a deadline is the best way to make sure you are focusing your energy and managing your time. The deadline of next Cinco de Mayo will work especially well for this goal because you probably were planning on going to a cantina that day anyway. It’s also far enough away that you aren’t adding unnecessary stress. Bonus if you select the right restaurant where you can talk to a lot of people besides the servers!
Putting the SMART goal into action
First off, when you reach this goal, it’s time to celebrate – order another margarita! Now you can reflect. How did you do? Based on your measurable criteria, what grade do you give yourself?
If you missed the mark, don’t get discouraged! Because you have given yourself specific and measurable determinations of success, you will know what to work on. For instance, you need to brush up on certain vocabulary that was missing, or you need to listen to more servers speaking naturally. Your preparation and research will make it easier for you to fix these errors. Try again next Taco Tuesday after a bit more practice!
If you hit your mark, great job! You have learned Spanish. Now, you can go to every Taco Tuesday and speak only Spanish to reinforce what you know. It will get easier every time.
Now you are ready to set a new goal. Try the same thing in another setting. Maybe a Spanish-speaking farmers’ market? Then you can try something different. Maybe watch a movie or TV show? Maybe read a book? Maybe plan a trip to a Spanish-speaking country? The most important thing is to keep at it and be SMART about it. By setting these modest SMART goals and sticking to them, you will be a Spanish speaker before you know it.