Chances are you’ve heard a lot of a talk about how schools are working to prepare students to succeed in their future careers. I often wonder how frequently people stop to think about what it really means to succeed not just in today’s economy, but tomorrow’s. I wonder how frequently people stop to think about what that word success really means.
I’m here to encourage you to come up with your own definition for success, and then to go in pursuit of it. Answering the question of what success means is personal. Your journey in pursuit of that success is personal. So my suggestion is this: create a space for yourself online, a space that you control, where you can document your development in your chosen field(s) and, maybe more importantly, your personal journey as you figure out how you want to live your life.
Let’s dig into why sharing your learning and your life journey in an online space is a good idea.
Earning a Living; Living a Fulfilling Life
From my perspective, in order to set yourself up to earn a living, you need to do three things: you need to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill set related to your current line of work, you need to demonstrate your ability to learn new things, and you need a set of people who can vouch for the quality of your work and your work ethic.
That’s what you need to earn a living, but to set yourself up for a fulfilling life, you need more than that. To live a fulfilling life you need to know yourself. You need to know what sort of life you want to live, and for most of us that takes experimentation. It takes trial and error. It takes reflection.
I sometimes worry that schools place too much emphasis on earning a living and not enough emphasis on living a fulfilling life. I think there is a way to prepare for both at the same time.
Then and Now
Before the internet, people did those first three steps in earning a living locally. They went to school to learn (and hopefully learned how to learn), they got recommendations from teachers to get jobs or go do more school, they got jobs, then they got recommendations from their employers to get better jobs. They did all of this in person because that was the only way you could prove yourself.
Now we have the internet, which allows you to share information with anyone in the world. In the realm of education, that means you can find teachers anywhere. You can learn just about anything you want from the internet. But that’s consuming. You can also share. You can use that open and accessible space to demonstrate your own proficiency in your field. Those three things that I think you need to do to be able to earn a living – a demonstrated skill set, the ability to learn new things, and people who can vouch for you and your work – you can achieve all of them by documenting what you learn online.
I’m not suggesting that you take away the in-person relationships and learning experiences, I’m only suggesting that you document your experiences online because that documentation will greatly increase the number of people who know what you’re about and what you can do, which will create more opportunities for you to find meaningful work.
If you chose to document not just your professional pursuits, but also your pursuit of a fulfilling life, then I think you’ll have a better chance of achieving that life. You will be able to connect with others that have similar interests from whom you can learn and with whom you can share your own experiences. Those connections should not replace the relationships you build offline. Instead they should supplement those in-person relationships in meaningful ways. They should fill in the gaps that the community in your immediate surroundings cannot fill.
I am suggesting that you create a space online, a space that you control (i.e. a website or blog – not just a Facebook page or a Twitter account because ultimately someone else owns those and they could disappear in the future) within which you share your learning experiences and your development as an individual. If you’re in an education program you can simply post your assignments and reflect on them. If you’re an independent learner you can share what you’re choosing to do to build your skills and why.
As you develop your skills you can use those social media platforms that I mentioned above (and the many others that no doubt will appear in the future) to connect with others in your field. You can learn from others, you can teach others what you know, and over time you can grow a worldwide community of people who know your work and your work ethic.
As your skills improve and the work that you post gets better over time, you will be opening yourself up to opportunities to use those skills in work that gets you paid. If you decide to become a freelance worker (which is becoming a more and more viable path), then your portfolio will be there, your development and your dedication to your craft will be on the page for anyone to find. If you do good work that improves peoples’ lives, then the word will naturally spread about what you do. People will find out about you and contact you to do work for them. If you decide to seek employment, your community will help you. You’ll also have a place to send potential employers that shows how much you care about your craft so that they know what to expect if they hire you.
And maybe even more importantly than the demonstration of your new skills and the ability to connect with others to use them, you’ll also be figuring out what you want to get out of life. You’ll be sharing stories from your own life and figuring out what work you can do to help the lives of others.
Create a Space and Start Filling It
By creating a space for yourself online and regularly sharing your journey through life with others, you will make not just professional connections but personal connections. Those connections will have a significant impact on your life, both professionally and personally.
The idea of putting yourself out there in the way that I am describing might be scary. But it is worthwhile. The benefits you reap can be tremendous.
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Your future depends on what you chose to do right now. If you want to set yourself up for a successful career and a fulfilling life, sharing your journey with others is a great place to start. And if you do part of that sharing online then you greatly increase the chances that you’ll come across the right people that will help make that life you desire a reality.