The top four ways to improve yourself

“The best contribution one can make to humanity is to improve oneself.”

When I was looking for a quote for last week’s blog post, I ran across the Will Rogers quote regarding how “a man learns”.    The truth is that I have been thinking about that quote all week.  I think Will was on the right track, but I think he missed a couple of things.  So, here are what I believe to be the top four ways to help you advance in your chosen career.

1.  Read.  There is no other way I can think of to get in-depth information regarding any subject.  My favorite suggestion is to read at least one career or improvement oriented book per month.  If you read twelve books a year, and only implement one idea from each book, you will still be ahead of most of your colleagues.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your colleagues for book recommendations.  My guess is your successful colleagues will have plenty of suggestions.  Those that are struggling will have few, if any.

Further, I would recommend buying books rather than borrowing them.  Why? Because when you own the book, you can write your own notes in it.  I still have several books that I regularly pull off my shelves and refer to the notes I wrote when I first read them.   While some people might not want to “defile” a book by writing in it, I feel quite the opposite.   In my opinion, good books should be well used.  A pristine book is an unused book.

However, if you are struggling financially, borrowing a book and keeping a separate journal of what you read is far better than not reading because you cannot afford books. If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend your local library.  Mine has been incredibly helpful to me.  And, many of the books I originally borrowed, I have since bought and re-read.

2.  Hang around really smart people.  As noted in last week’s post, don’t underestimate the impact of surrounding yourself with people who already are what you would like to be.  Don’t know what to talk about?  Why not ask them what books they would recommend and why they would recommend them?

3.  Actively experiment.  Gaining knowledge is only useful if it leads to action.  So, as you read and learn from interesting people, find ways that you can try out what you are learning.  One of the best ways is to volunteer for “stretch” assignments.  Barring that, go find an organization that needs the skill you are trying to grow and learn by doing.  Not only will you gain valuable experience (and confidence, too), but according to an article in FastCompany, many hiring managers are finding candidates with a social conscious very attractive.

I do feel that I need to explain “experiment” a little further.  As you are working to improve yourself, you will struggle.  Don’t worry about that.  Consider yourself and your career as a “work in progress”.  An experiment, if you will.  Be prepared for set-backs and use them as learning experiences.  Figure out what went wrong, adjust your approach to account for what you’ve learned and try again.  You will make progress.  I guarantee it.

4.  Write about it.  I am a firm believer in the power of journaling.  Putting something on paper gets it out of your head and makes it real.  Write down what you hope to achieve.  Then write down your progress toward that goal–both successes and struggles.  Further, I would suggest that if you can, write it out using a pen and paper rather than typing it.  I have found that there is something almost magical about writing things out long-hand.

One of the best suggestions given to me was to create a dream journal.  I wrote a more extensive post about it last year.  Since writing that post, I have started using this same technique for just about anything I want to accomplish, big or small.  I am now compiling a couple of journals that will likely be filled with notes on things that worked and places where I struggled.  To other people the information I put in my journals might be obvious.  For me, the lessons and learning are priceless.

So there you have it–my “Top four ways to improve yourself.”  I’d love to hear what you think.  Are there others that I’ve missed?  What has worked for you?  Please comment!

Call to action:

Stop reading this blog (for today 😉 ) Get out there and use these four techniques!!

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