“Your career is like a garden. It can hold an assortment of life’s energy that yields a bounty for you. You do not need to grow just one thing in your garden. You do not need to do just one thing in your career.”
— Jennifer Ritchie Payette
Something about describing your career as a garden rings true to me. Over the years that I have worked in the fast-changing technology industry, cultivating different skills, and having a mindset of continuous learning is something that has allowed me to pivot time and time again. Considering that we’re expected to live to near-100, with somewhere between 11 to 15 job moves during our lifetime, the ability and openness to change is a good skill to cultivate.
So, what can you do to build a career that lasts your lifetime?
Pick the right seeds.
It isn’t about the quantity of skills that you focus on learning, but the kind. Having a mix of power and hard skills will enable you to do your job today but be ready for any kind of shift in the future. Power skills might be a term you’re not familiar with, they simply describe skills that are applicable in many different roles, departments, and companies.
We saw, during the pandemic, power skills rise in popularity. For example, in November 2022, learners using Degreed searched for leadership, change management, design thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship. Seven out of ten of our top skill searches were power skills, with leadership ranked first.
Another valuable skill to cultivate is learning agility — the ability to continuously, and quickly, learn to build skills that evolve your career and respond to changes. If you are consistently learning new things and have an open, curious mindset, you are growing your learning agility. The half-life of a skill is currently five years and dwindling fast, so being able to pick up a new skill within weeks or months is increasingly essential to long-term career success.
Grow your skills.
Power skills are built over time in a variety of ways, including the need to practice and grow them on the job. Likewise, if you are learning a hard skill like a new language or coding, I would always recommend finding real-world applications for them as soon as possible as it reinforces what you’re learning and makes it more memorable.
Celebrate your harvest.
Keep a record of the learning and real-world experiences that you’re doing to prove that you have a skill. You can bring this record up whenever you have a performance review, come up for a promotion or pay rise, or when searching for new opportunities. This record is not a resume. It’s a portfolio of what you’ve learned, how experienced you are in it, and what you’re planning to do next to stretch that skill.
Review your record at least once a year, but ideally once a quarter to make sure your skills are keeping pace with changes in your role and the market, and that they are still the skills you wish to focus on based on your career goals.
Know your season.
When you’re learning alongside work, it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to balance it all. Although there are techniques you can try to fit learning into your work life (like 20% time or bite-sized learning modules), sometimes it is ok for learning to take the back burner if you have urgent priorities. Try to avoid going for longer than a couple of weeks without building one of your focus skills (that half-life will catch up with you).
Likewise, there may be times when one skill takes priority over the other and that’s okay. When you come to review your overall skills and feel you have a good balance between power and hard, current and future-building, you’ll be in a good place career-wise.
Share your garden and visit others.
A garden is best enjoyed by others. Make a habit of checking in with peers, whether those are colleagues or friends, to see what they’re learning and what knowledge they can share (and vice versa). This informal peer learning can broaden your horizons, helping you discover new skills to focus on and allowing you to practice teaching others.
It’s worth considering a mentor or two, who can also guide you on the best skills to grow based on your current role and future goals. This doesn’t have to be your line manager; it could be someone else in your organization or it could be someone in your industry. Whomever you feel will give valuable insights to help you grow.
Consistency builds resilience.
Your 100-year career is built on a foundation of consistency and dedication to learning. Like gardening, there will be times when you don’t feel like picking up the shovel, and there will be moments when the sun is shining, and you reap the benefits of your learning. Keep going because the ends will justify the work that you’re putting in now.
Sarah Danzl has been actively involved in the learning space for 12 years, leading marketing and communications efforts in both corporate and startup capacities. Prior to Degreed, Sarah served as the Senior Marketing Communications Manager at Xyleme, helping grow their comprehensive authoring system into the leading LCMS provider. When she’s not developing new content, she can be found experimenting with new recipes, getting involved in a local nonprofit, or walking her two pit bulls at the base of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado.
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