THE BEST ADVICE IN THE WORLD

My dad is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever known. He climbed telephone poles in the sun, rain, wind, and snow for for BellSouth (now AT&T) in Nashville, TN.  If there was an hour of overtime available, he worked it…every time. He’s a good man…smart, witty, and lots of other things.  He still lives in the general vicinity of where he was born, and he literally refuses to leave – even for a short trip.

I’ve never known my dad to read a book, take a class, or pursue professional growth.

In short, my dad probably stopped growing and developing at age 25, which is unfortunate (and all too common), given his potential and ability. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best telephone lineman in the world…and he earned an honest wage pursuing a trade. However, he had self-imposed limits on his success.

My mom is awesome. Her work ethic is also tremendous. Unlike my dad, she reads vigorously…literally devouring novels. She had a relatively brief run as an entrepreneur in the 1990s when she and my stepdad owned several stores called The Herb Shop (since put out of business by GNC). Herbs are medicine, so knowledge was critical. I was always impressed at the amount of knowledge my mom had about all the various herbs, their effects, etc.  She’s a very smart cookie.

Having never saved for retirement, mom now works long days at a sewing and vacuum cleaner store. My mom never stopped growing and developing, but she didn’t take big enough steps to realize her full potential. Luckily for me, she encouraged me to reach my mine.

I also have two older sisters, Monica and Melody.

Monica (Master’s Degree) runs the Pre-K program for the state of Georgia.

Melody (Bachelor’s Degree) is a Senior Vice President at Bank of America.

I (M.B.A.) am a Senior Vice President at McGraw-Hill Education, the most recognizable learning company in the world.

Monica, Melody, and I are just getting started.  When I consider the difference between my sisters and me vs. our parents…it all points to one decision – education. We made the courageous choice to pursue an education and a life of learning.

My sisters and I know first hand what it’s like to grow up poor…in an environment that placed little value on learning and personal/professional growth. You could say that we got on-the-job training in that way of life, and that we all decided on a different, better path for ourselves. Our story is played out over and over again around the world – education and learning changes lives…families…futures…the entire world.

The point I am making doesn’t stop at the value of a getting a college education – that is virtually undisputed. The real point is that if you are not aggressively learning every day, the divide between you and your peers (even your subordinates) will quickly become as great as the divide between my dad and me.

CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day.  If that sounds like a lot, first ask yourself what premium you place on your own success.

If growth and success are important to you, consider these options for continuing your education and committing to lifelong learning:

  1. Go back to school. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree…get one. If you don’t have a master’s degree…start one immediately! Also, consider shorter professional certificate programs from well-regarded schools in your area…or online.
  2. Read a book. You should have at least one professional development book you are reading at all times…period. Carve out time to read every day (or at least every week). You’ll be amazed at how fast you develop. If you don’t do this, understand that those around you are, and they will pass you by.
  3. Read blogs. There are loads of real-time thought leadership in the blogosphere, and you can learn a great deal by following just a few bloggers. Just be sure to follow the right ones!
  4. Write. When I started writing this blog, I was amazed at how much my thought developed when I sat down, focused, and actually wrote about it. The next thing I knew, I was better prepared for all sorts of business conversations, as I’d already thought through and crystallized my thoughts on a variety of topics. Even if you don’t publish it right away, just try writing on something that interests you.
  5. Travel the world. Learning happens in a variety of ways. One of my favorite ways to stretch my mind and develop my experience is by traveling the world with my wife, Kate. We challenge ourselves to go to interesting places (Europe, of course, but also Tanzania, Morocco, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, and countless other places). Don’t let excuses get in the way of this one, as it is essential to developing a global mindset…and it’s fun!

When you learn, you have more to offer. When you have more to offer, you are more substantive and interesting. When you are more substantive and interesting, opportunities are limitless. It really is that simple.

Commit to lifelong learning and education. Your success depends on it.

Lead (and learn). Courageously.

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I am the Chief Sales Officer at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. More
     
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