What to Do When You’re Feeling Left Behind

Change may be the only constant in business—but that doesn’t make it any easier to embrace.

Question: I’m not a change agent. But everything is changing around me. How do I reinvent myself and my skill set without seeming like my old skill set is irrelevant? – Unchanged Agent

Dear Unchanged Agent:

You’re not alone in feeling like you’re scrambling to keep up. The digital revolution, artificial intelligence and other types of innovation are changing the way we work at an unprecedented pace—and most of us must learn new skills on the fly. Even for people who want to add to their professional toolkit, as you do, all of this learning can sometimes feel like a sprint that never ends.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to get comfortable with reinventing your skillset and stay relevant:

Get out of your own head. Many of us have built our professional identity around being competent in certain skills. Learning new skills can make us feel incompetent, until we master them. Many of us fear that we’ll look foolish in front of our colleagues if we can’t perfect new skills quickly enough.

That’s normal. Most of the people around you have to learn new skills, too, so they’re probably more focused on their own progress than yours. If you feel so self-conscious that it’s keeping you from doing the work that’s necessary to pick up new skills, set aside some time in the evenings or on weekends to work on it in privacy. It doesn’t matter where you learn things. What counts is that you actually do it.

View it as an investment in yourself. With many careers—or parts of them—subject to automation, you may wonder how all of the work you’re doing to help your employer run things more efficiently will impact your job.

The thing is, you can’t stop change at your company or in your industry. By embracing technology and devoting any time you’ve freed up through automation to high-value activities like finding ways to bring in more revenue or cutting costs, you’ll give yourself job security.

In the meantime, view what you’re learning as an investment in yourself and your career. Next time you ask for a raise or look for a job, the new skills you’ve picked up could be a great talking point!

Prioritize. It can be overwhelming to try to learn two or three new skills at the same time. Choose one new skill to master at a time and block some time in your calendar every week to moving ahead with it.

  • Get clear on what skill matters most. If you don’t already know what new skill you should learn first, tell your supervisor you want to keep your skills current and ask which one would be most valuable to your department.
  • Tap workplace benefits. Your employer may be willing to pay for classes or training, so it doesn’t hurt to ask HR if there are any programs you might sign up for.
  • Make the most of online resources. If your employer won’t pay for your training, find an economical way to do so yourself. There are many great online courses today from providers like Lynda.com and edX that will help you get up to speed quickly, so check out their offerings. Ask around among your professional network for recommendations, too. Your colleagues are probably being asked to learn similar things.
  • Budget time. Set aside one hour a week to sharpen your skills. For many people, choosing the slowest day of the week is a good way to ensure they stick with it. One hour may not seem like a lot, but by the end of a year, you’ll have logged a good 50 hours of training, assuming you take a two-week vacation.

It’s all about embracing lifelong learning. Once you get into the groove, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy it—and how it helps your career.

– Browser, Protech Associates. Published in Associations Now, a publication of the American Society for Association Executives.

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