Leading, still learning

I think one of the biggest benefits of being a 1,000-Hour Pro is the way it prepares you to lead. But as I’ve been reading my own writing about the 1,000-Hour Pro, I realized that becoming a leader seems like the finish line for the Pro. I couldn’t be more wrong, and I’m here to rectify if I may have lead you astray.

Ascending the ranks and becoming a leader only begins the 1,000-Hour Pro journey. Because as the leader, you have more to learn. Not only does it help you to learn a little about the nuts and bolts of what your team is doing every day, but you now have to learn about that team.

Whenever I read a book, particularly something directly applicable to my professional life, I underline. I am not much of a margin-writer, but I underline anything that resonates. Which gave me a thought. What if you were to read a book as a team and then collect those books when everyone’s done? People underline the things that resonate with them. Things often resonate with them because they feel like that’s something they would like to see in their life or something that they would like to see continue. Regardless, there’s a lesson to be learned about that person. By knowing what your team collectively and individually thinks is important, you can better lead them.

But there’s so much more to learn than just the nuances of your team. Now don’t get me wrong, I think knowing your team well is one of the most important jobs for a leader, and for a while, it’s more than a full-time job. However, as a leader, you’re expected to grow, for yourself and for those you lead. Expanding your skill set is the only thing that keeps you leading. By definition, you’re supposed to blaze the way. If you were expected to tread water, keep the status quo, and never find new ground, you wouldn’t be the leader. You’d probably just be fired.

When you make it to the leadership role you were hoping for, don’t quit. Your stay as a leader will be short-lived if you don’t keep learning. What made you the leader with potential was your willingness to journey as a 1,000-Hour Pro, so continue down the 1,000-Hour-Pro road and become THE leader in your organization with a hunger to grow and learn that can only come to those committed to being a 1,000-Hour Pro for life.

 

Our Renaissance

Three centuries of art, culture, science, learning and enlightenment. Three-hundred years produced some of the most well-known pieces of art and innovation that we still look at with wonder. The collected works include pieces like David, The Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper, Píeta, Mona Lisa and literally enough others to fill a entire blog post. We can thank people like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, Galileo, Shakespeare and Mozart for some of the greatest contributions to the history of the world. This period of time in Europe from the 14th Century all the way through the 17th Century is known the world-over as the Renaissance.

But when you boil three-hundred years of art, science and math innovations down, what do you come up with? Well, in modern culture, we have the term “Renaissance man.” It’s easy to muse about the meaning of such a phrase. It could reference someone with great artistic vision or innovators that create world-changing devices. It often conjures up thoughts of well-read men in smoking jackets that discuss world politics and history while pulling on their pipe in their garish living room filled with the aroma of rich mahogany.

Thankfully for us, we don’t have to wonder what a “Renaissance man” actually is. Mr. Merriam-Webster shares that a Renaissance man is “a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas.” Sound familiar? Sounds an awful-lot like a 1,000-Hour Pro.

The Renaissance is one of the greatest periods of productivity, innovations and enlightenment in history, and it seems to center on the value of being well-rounded. Men like Leonardo da Vinci weren’t just great painters. They put forth some of the latest technology and dreamt up some of the craziest stuff. Leonardo drew up plans for a helicopter centuries before the first helicopter flight in the 1940s. He’s most famous for the Mona Lisa, but he also thought up an armored car during his 15th-Century lifetime. He knew a lot spread out across many areas. He didn’t focus in on one thing and only do that. He was a 1,000-Hour Pro.

And today, we’re seeing some of the greatest strides in technology since the Renaissance. We’re seeing unimaginable innovation and world-changing ideas, and because of that, I think we’re in the middle of a second Renaissance. So what does that call for? More Renaissance men and women. We need those of us who can think in an interdisciplinary fashion. The world needs our expertise across areas to make sure the innovations we’re dreaming up work together. The world needs us to paint and invent at the same time. If we want to continue today’s Renaissance, we need enlightened men and women who are constantly learning and growing and becoming a new version of the Renaissance man; the 1,000-Hour Pro.

Stuck…

I want to paint you a picture of how almost every post on here begins. I open up my computer, start a new document, format it to be Times New Roman, 12 pt., 1.2 spacing. Super random, I know, but it’s got to be that format for me to be able to write and sift through what I write. Then that little cursor sits at the top left corner of the document taunting me. Each flash of the cursor seeming to say “You. Have. Nothing.” Of course, it’s a simple writer’s block. Or a not-so-simple writer’s block if you’ve ever been on the “blocked” side. It’s not just something that you can will away. You can’t just think harder and make it disappear.

I think a lot of us tend to feel that way sometimes. Writer or not, you’ve probably felt stale. Uninspired. Blocked. Stuck. You can’t drone on day after day doing the same old same old. And I don’t want that life for you! That’s a terrible place to be. You find yourself stuck in a rut that’s guiding your life in a direction of which you feel no control. So the question begs to be answered:

What can I do about it?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

I think some of the the things that I’ve picked up to combat writer’s block can apply to us when we feel stuck in a rut at work, creatively, in a relationship, or just in life.

  1. Find some new tunes.

When I hit that wall, I always change up the soundtrack. Chance the Rapper isn’t giving me anything? Let’s try the tried-and-true pop punk playlist. Still nothing? Let’s take a trip to today’s hits. Whatever it is, there’s something that always strikes a chord (get it?) and gets me writing.

What are you listening to? Are you listening to the same top 40 playlist every day at work? Mix it up. Just a simple switch of background music provides a new canvas for your work to happen upon. But to take it a step further, what are you listening to non-musically? Find a great new podcast that might clue you in on a new way to approach your job. Listen to some new people around the office and learn what they’re all about. Maybe you’ll make some friends that add a little enjoyment to your work.

  1. Find a new spot.

I love to write with people around most of the time. The bustle of a coffee shop is where I work the best. I like having some movement and busyness going on for my brain to fire away. But I’ve recently discovered that I can crank out some work when I isolate myself. There’s a limit to my isolation time, though. It’s not how I work best, but switching up the scene for me puts me in a new headspace and gives me fresh thoughts. Again, I’m changing the canvas and consequently my headspace.

Maybe in your work that means taking a couple of hours in the week to leave your cubicle and work in the break room. Maybe your communal office space needs to be vacated for a coffee shop. Or maybe you’re like me and need to find that place to put your headphones in, close the door and get to work.

  1. Find something new to learn.

I think at this point, you all know well enough that almost everything revolves arounds learning. If I’m feeling stale in my writing, I’m going to try to pull from something I’ve been reading or from a podcast I heard in the last week. It’s hard for me to hear something new and not immediately apply it to my life. Most of the time, my brain goes straight to work. What did I just learn that can apply to my job? And of late, a lot of it has ended up here. How does what I just learned fit into the 1,000-Hour Pro journey?

For me, learning doesn’t just give me a new canvas. It has the ability to give me a bigger, differently-oriented canvas. Something new as part of my repertoire can flip my view of work from landscape to portrait. The walls of the rut become significantly shorter, and I hop right out.

If you’re feeling stuck, try one of these. Or if you have something that’s your go-to for seeing your day in a new light, share it! These are definitely not the only ways to get unstuck, but these are a few of my favorites.

 

You can never know it all

The 1,000-Hour-Pro journey is not for the faint of heart. At its core, becoming a 1,000-Hour Pro is a lifelong commitment to learning. It’s an eyes, ears and mind-open attitude. And it all begins with admitting something to yourself:

You don’t know it all…and you never will.

Now, don’t worry. I haven’t been talking to your mom. If you’re like me, growing up you probably heard a couple times that you didn’t know it all, especially in those teen years. Back then, I’m sure I rolled my eyes and moved on with my day. But turns out my parents were right. I don’t know it all!

And that realization is freeing for the 1,000-Hour Pro because we’re constantly on the lookout for something we can learn. Scanning for something we can read about to expand our worldview. Examining every surrounding for a new area of study. Talking to our colleagues in search of a new skill we can add to our repertoire. We’re the learners of the world, and that’s going to lead us to continued success.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” –Eric Hoffer

You see, learning is a lifestyle. It’s natural to learn the things necessary to survive, but to learn feverishly is something you have to choose. It’s easy to sit back and be content with your skills, knowledge or worldview, but the world moves too quickly for that. The global, 21st Century world is changing by the second, and if you don’t learn with those changes, you’ll get left in the dust. And once you decide to start learning because you’re getting left behind, it’s too late. However, if you’re living in a constant state of learning, you’ll be ready. The thing you “need” to learn to keep up is just another routine part of your day because you’re already in motion.

Think of your learning as a snowball. You know quite a bit already, so your snowball is pretty big. Getting that three-feet-wide snowball rolling is quite the task. It’s heavy and probably a little frozen in place. Your learning is stuck. But if you get the snowball rolling, you’ll add more and more snow, or knowledge, and it’s easier to keep moving. If you roll it a little bit, stop and then try to start again, it’s a heck of lot harder to move along than if you keep that learning always churning.

Here are three really practical ways to make sure you’re taking the opportunity to learn every day:

  1. Read: This seems like a given, but I think it deserves saying. Don’t just read your friends’ Facebook updates or the latest article from ESPN or BuzzFeed. But take some time to intentionally read something new where you learn something different. Read someone’s opinion that’s different from yours. Read an actual book. Learn the newest schools of thinking in leadership or dive into a historical figure’s life. Simply being willing to read something that stretches you is the best and easiest place to start learning and growing yourself.
  1. Listen: There are an amazing number of podcasts in the world, covering every topic imaginable. Find a few that you really enjoy and commit. Stumble on one or two that expand an area you already know about and find a couple that are totally new to you. Diverse voices and new topics are everywhere if you’d just listen. But listening doesn’t only happen in structured “listen” time. Listen to the people around you. What do they know that you could learn? Maybe your deskmate has a really interesting opinion on the latest political controversy. The guy in the break room might spend his weekends learning everything there is to know about Winston Churchill. Or maybe it’s the designer who loves to actually talk about her craft and will share some tips with you. The world around you is full of knowledge if you’d stop to just hear what it has to say.
  1. Ask: Listening to those around you get you started, but to really dive in, you have to ask. People love to talk about the things they’re passionate about and knowledgeable about. Take your boss out to coffee and just ask what she’s learned about leadership over the years. Sit next to the accountant at lunch and ask his thoughts on ways to increase profits for your company. People who have had different experiences than you have knowledge you don’t have. You just need to ask for it to be unlocked.

Whatever your favorite way to learn, it doesn’t matter. As a 1,000-Hour Pro, you’re committing to learn and grow every single day, so that when change inevitably comes, you’re ready. You’re ready to use what you’ve already learned. You’re ready to be the first one to adapt. And most importantly, you’re ready to turn around and start learning again.

A moment of honesty

Over the last few months, I’ve been familiarized with the Enneagram. Not my choice, I must tell you. I’m not a big fan of personality tests. They typically feel a little reductive to me. I’m told it’s part of being a “millennial.” Who knows? But that’s beside the point. Our entire team at work was taking the Enneagram and meeting with someone to identify what “number” we are, so I went along with the plan because I like to be a team player. If something’s important to your boss, make it important to you, right?

So anyway, I took the test and met with the consultant. I was told that I am a 3 after all that. So I naturally went and did some research. What I learned is that 3’s are called “The Achiever.” So the research was off to a great start as I learned all of the benefits to being a 3. I read some of the negatives to being a 3 and thought, “That’s alright. Can’t be perfect!” But then I started to get into the root of what the Enneagram is all about. Apparently, the Enneagram is centered around what your “core fear” is that drives you. What are you scared of that makes you do the things you do? What are you so afraid of that you’ll do anything to not have that fear come true?

My natural next step is to find out the 3’s core fear: being worthless. Ouch.

Maybe that doesn’t hit you like it hit me. That probably means you aren’t a 3. But when I read that, I felt like I got punched in the gut. In that moment, I realized why I was a 3. Because being worthless is one-hundred-million percent my greatest fear. All of this affirmed by my wife who a day later read the “3” description and said, “Oh my gosh. This is exactly you.” Thanks.

But I think that’s part of what drives my 1,000-Hour Pro journey. I don’t want to be worthless. I don’t want to live a life that doesn’t make a mark. The age old saying, “You only have one life,” hits home for me, so I drive hard toward learning everything I can in this one time through life. I latch on to opportunities to try new things  because they might not present themselves again.

I don’t think my mark will be a Nobel Prize in physics or a great innovation in one area. I’d like to think that part of my mark will be inspiring some people to take the 1,000-Hour Pro journey. I want to encourage people that just because you don’t know what your niche is doesn’t mean you aren’t valuable. It means you’re more valuable. You can “do it all,” and you can make your team stronger and the world better by doing so.

I don’t think this is the only reason to take the 1,000-Hour Pro journey, though. So as we build a community of 1,000-Hour Pros, I’d love to hear what drives you. What makes you want to be a 1,000-Hour Pro?

The 1,000-Hour Leader

If you’ve been reading along and taking the 1,000-Hour Pro journey for any amount of time, you may be on the same page with me that a lot of being a 1,000-Hour Pro is learning skills and being able to do tasks. And I’ll be the first to admit, that even as I was first thinking about the value of a 1,000-Hour Pro, I was skeptical. Being a 1,000-Hour Pro seems to be a fast-track to middle management. Learn how to do a bunch of different things and get stuck only doing things for the rest of your life. Seems logical, right? Not so fast.

You see, being a 1,000-Hour Pro is great when you are in those middle-management roles. You can lean in and be helpful when you’re needed, and you can be known to your bosses as an integral member of the team. That’s all well and good, but the 1,000-Hour Pro journey pays off big time when you get to be the 1,000-Hour Leader.

Being a successful leader all begins with trust. If you’ve ever been in a leadership position, you know how valuable trust is. Trust gets a team moving in the same direction, reaching for the same goals and having each other’s backs. And of course, there are a myriad of books, articles and blog posts you can read about how to build trust on your team. But there’s an edge that the 1,000-Hour Leader has.

As The 1,000-Hour Leader, you have come up through the ranks all the while learning different skills. You’ve learned a little about each area of your team, and now that you’re the leader, that’s going to become apparent to your team. Because when a designer comes to you and has an issue, you can speak their language. When someone from accounting comes to you for guidance, you can help them problem solve and not just encourage them to figure it out.

The 1,000-Hour Leader can be trusted because they care. They care enough about the IT world to have learned some of the ins and outs of the company systems. They care enough about the schedule of the traveling sales team to learn the times that it’s easy for them to chat and other times when it’s too stressful amongst airport security, rental cars and hotel rooms.

I’m currently reading a biography of Winston Churchill called Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best. Best talks about Churchill’s early career in government before he was the Prime Minister, the great orator or the British political powerhouse that led a nation through the Blitz and World War II. Churchill held office in every area of the government and is described by Best as “one of the most able and versatile men in government.” What that meant for Churchill as he ascended to the top position in the land was a complete understanding of the workings of his “team,” the British government, and an ability to understand what it took for individuals to hold those offices and operate a country through all of the offices, cabinets and commissions.

If you still don’t believe me that the 1,000-Hour Leader is a better kind of leader, think about your own life. How many times have you left a meeting with your leader, boss, whoever, and thought, “They just don’t get it. They have no idea what I’m dealing with.” As a 1,000-Hour Leader, you can make sure that thought is never on the table with your team. The 1,000-Hour Leader has been in the trenches learning why things are tough and what frustrations pop up. The 1,000-Hour Leader knows how teams work together and why things sometimes break down. The 1,000-Hour Leader knows because they’ve been there and can empathize.

The 1,000-Hour Leader knows, and the 1,000-Hour Leader cares because the 1,000-Hour Pro learned.

 

Yes, I am a 1,000-Hour Pro

If you’ve committed to being a 1,000-Hour Pro, you’re going to know a lot and be able to do a lot. You’re going to be able to jump in and contribute in a slew of areas. And for those who are able and willing, those who need help will always come calling.

You’ll get asked by seemingly every department and area for some help at some point. Sometimes, it’ll seem like you’re being pulled in 85 different directions. Which is why I want to warn you:

You can’t say yes to everything.

The endeavor of the 1,000-Hour Pro is to be all things. You want to be a Swiss Army Knife in a specialty blade world. But the tools you have will only be effective if they’re not all used at the same time. Being a “yes” man and a 1,000-Hour Pro is a deadly combination.

Being able to help doesn’t always mean that you have to. Sometimes, you need to protect yourself and your skills from being stretched too thin. If you say, “yes,” no matter what, you’ll quickly burn yourself out and start to see your primary responsibilities slip, as well.

There isn’t another layer to this or some interesting story to prove the point. Just a simple warning to not get in over your head. Don’t say, “yes,” to all of the things all of the time. Hop in and help whenever you can, but know your limits. Otherwise, your Swiss-Army-Knife skill set will quickly turn rusty from overuse.

Start with Curious

I’m always interested when people start talking about their school experiences as a kid. Of course you hear the stories from the playground, traumatic bullying experiences and lunch table debates. But I think my favorite stories are when people start talking about the classes they hated. I’m not sure why it is, but math always seems to be a favorite horror subject that I hear. (Probably because I work on a creative team and math isn’t traditionally our thing.)

I’m sure you’ve heard from countless people how they just couldn’t grasp calculus or how they still don’t know or really care to know how to use a semicolon; some even hate the thought of the Periodic Table of Elements. (P.S. That’s the right way to use the semicolon.)

What’s interesting is that when you hear those stories about how much people hated classes, you also find they probably didn’t do very well in those subjects. That seems like a no-brainer, but the reason that’s the case is actually pretty interesting.

When we’re curious, we’re much more likely to learn and retain what we’ve learned.

Neuron’s October 22, 2014 issue published an article that drew the connection between curiosity and learning retention. In fact, when we’re curious, our brain chemistry actually changes, which is what leads us to learn more effectively. We learn even more from a state of intrinsic curiosity than when we’re being rewarded for what we’ve learned.

Boiled down to your life as a member of the workforce, that means that when something piques your interest, you’re going to learn about it and keep that knowledge. But if you’re learning something new because your boss told you you’d get a raise, you’ll have more difficulty retaining what you learned. Your curiosity is the most powerful learning tool you have, even more than the almighty dollar.

That’s all well and good, but what if you don’t get to decide the things you need to learn? Sometimes you have to learn to keep up or adjust to a new setting or system. So what do you do in those times? Stay curious.

That same research from Neuron also found that people were more likely to learn less-interesting material when they were already in a state of curiosity. When we live in a place of curiosity, our brains are already ready to learn and retain information, so we can more easily learn the less-interesting things. The math, chemical compounds and semicolons that we couldn’t care less about go from a mystery in our minds to an area we know. We feed our brains the information it wants when we’re curious and then we sneak in something less interesting every once in a while.

So as you take on today, think about what interests you. What are the things you’ve been wondering about? What are you curious about? Find those things and feed that curiosity. Go down the rabbit hole on the internet and learn those things that you’ve always wanted to know. Not only are you going to learn and enjoy what you want to be researching, but you’ll be ready to learn when you’re required. You’ll be broadening your horizons and becoming the go-to, 1,000-Hour Pro for everyone around you.