I was asked once in an interview “What have been obstacles that you’ve had to overcome when it relates to your educational journey?” There have been many – as I am sure there have been for you – but one that came to mind immediately was a “tendency to avoid risk.”
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve done some reasonably adventurous things in my life, and I have also been an entrepreneur for most of my career. So, I am hardly what might typically be thought of as “risk averse.” Nonetheless, most adults like to feel safe in learning situations. As a result, I am like most people in that I don’t always embrace discomfort, much less danger, when it comes my personal and professional development. So, that got me thinking: what are some ways to take reasonably safe “risks” that lead to learning?
Here are five that came to mind:
This may be among the easiest “risks”now available to us. Anyone can start a blog quickly on WordPress.com, Tumblr, or Medium. Or, any number of blogs, small journals, and other publications are always looking for guest writers. Even a substantial post on Facebook or a LinkedIn group may do the trick.
Even if you don’t get a lot of readers, forcing yourself to write in a clear, cogent way about a topic or theme you care about is a sure fire way to solidify and deepen your knowledge.
Teaching takes things just a bit further. Whether you actually stand in front of a classroom, lead a live Webcast or Webinar, or record an instructional video or audio session, you put your knowledge on the line in a way that makes it hard to hide from questions, comments, and yes, criticism.
Scary, perhaps, but doable, for pretty much anyone with a Webcam and one of the many online course platforms now available. Or, if you prefer live venues, propose a session for at Rotary Club, a professional or trade association conference, or any of thousands of other places that are continually in search of content.
Performing and teaching have a lot in common, but I think they deserve separate treatment. While teaching is primarily about instruction, performance is primarily about expression. And let’s face it – expressing yourself in from of others can be downright frightening.
I’m lucky to live in a town where there are plenty of open mic nights for musicians, poets, and others with something to say or show, but you can find them every night all over the world. If you want to find an open mic night in your area, just check out http://openmikes.org/
I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to improve my own knowledge is to ask others about their knowledge. The process of preparing for an interview and then engaging in meaningful discussion requires you to do things like repeat, review, formulate questions, and put things in your own words – all activities that contribute to learning. This is key reason I am a big fan of podcasting as a way to get into a rhythm of regular interviewing.
Who could you reach out to for an interview? The person doesn’t need to be a celebrity or well-known expert. He or she could just be a friend, family member, or someone in your community who you respect. You might even use the knowledge you gain from the interview as inspiration for your writing, teaching, or performing.
This last one may raise an eyebrow or two, but there are few things I have learned more from in my life than having to sell something, whether that means selling a product, a service, or – perhaps most difficult – an idea. To sell effectively, you have to learn how to convey ideas and value clearly and concisely. You have to develop an understanding of how others might perceive your offerings. You have to be believable – which almost always means you have to have true command of your material. Bottom line: teaching sells, and selling teaches.
You may have noticed by this point that all of these suggestions are related by a common element: action. In most cases, the avoidance of risk is the avoidance of action. But without action, there is no way to build competence, and if we are not steadily building competence, we will severely limit our learning and growth potential.
So, consider taking one of these suggestions for a spin. While they do involve a bit of risk, the downside for any of them is pretty minimal. The upside could be a significant leap forward in your learning.
P.S. – I like to come back and add links to relevant posts as I discover them over time. Here’s one from Chris Guillebeau over at The Art of Non-Conformity, someone who certainly seems to have embraced the idea of takings risks to learn: Risk Something to Gain Something.
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.