What does a sharp saw have to do with lifelong learning? For all you Covey fans, you know Dr. Steven Covey coined the phrase "sharpen the saw" in his highly acclaimed book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. To me, I think about a saw sharpener as a complicated device that I would never be able to use. Doing an image search on "saw sharpener" on Google shows 423 different pictures of saw sharpening devices that require you to know various things and exert various amounts of effort to "sharpen a saw" in the traditional sense. Now there are probably close to this many ways we can keep our own saws sharp by continuously learning. I won't bore you with all of them, but I will outline a few of the ones I've found helpful below.
1) Join a professional organization and use their training outlets - You may already be part of an organization like Toastmasters, a local writer's workshop group, or something else of that nature. Perhaps there are other organizations out there that might also suit your needs? If you're not sure, ask someone how they've done what they do, and then do it!
2) Pursue an advanced degree - For some, an MBA or masters in something job related is what you need to advance up the ranks and to stay sharp in your current job. If this is you, there are so many different resources available to you now, some online, some traditional, some that blend the two, and definitely you can find something that will fit in your schedule if traditional schooling is for you.
3) Certification - For others, an industry-specific certification is all that's needed to stay sharp. Just like a traditional college, you can do self-paced study or take a class online to get the certification you need to move up.
4) Use your company's training - Many larger companies offer in-house training to associates once they reach a certain level. What have you got to lose by talking to your manager, supervisor, or HR department about the classes that might be available to you at your current level? If you're fortunate, you'll get a few different ideas, and your employer will probably pay for these classes and give you time to complete the necessary materials.
5) Read a book or a website that's topic specific to what you want to learn - If you're looking for a good book or for that perfect website, ask someone else you know who is an authority on what you need. There are so many books published every year, you're bound to find one or two that suit your needs. And the web is full of things to help you learn more about what you need to know.
6) Find a mentor - My last piece of advice is something you can do at anytime, and that is finding a mentor. Seek someone out in your company who knows what you need to know and ask them questions. Buy them lunch and pick their brain. Find someone in our organization who knows what you want to know and ask them if you can give them a call or have lunch together. Or look online and e-mail an expert. You'd be surprised at how many people are willing to help, if you'll just ask them. And maybe they'll even become a formal mentor of yours and be willing to invest some time in helping you advance your career and your life.
Phil Gerbyshak leads a team of IT help desk professionals in Milwaukee, WI, and finds that sharing his knowledge is a crucial component in his success as a leader and as a person. Phil's personal philosophy is paraphrased from Tim Sanders' fantastic book Love is the Killer App: "Share your knowledge, your network, and your love. The rest will follow." Read more of Phil's ideas at http://makeitgreat.org