5 Tips to Educate Yourself and Advance Your Career
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5 Tips to Educate Yourself and Advance Your Career

Kat Boogaard Kat Boogaard Last Updated:
Illustration of woman reading a book

You know that to climb the proverbial ladder in your career, it’s important to educate yourself.

Today, employers and companies are always on the lookout for people with a growth mindset—people who are eager to make today better than yesterday.

Those are the people who continue to land promotions and take giant steps up in their own careers.

What does that mean for you?

Well, professional development needs to be a top priority for you if career advancement is high on your own list of things to do.

Fortunately, today many employers are making an effort to arm their employees with the resources they need to expand their knowledge and their skill sets.

When 87% of Millennials state that professional development and career growth opportunities are highly important to them, it makes sense that companies would channel their energy and attention into helping their employees be the best they can be.

  • But, what if you don’t have an employer who places a lot of emphasis on professional development?
  • Does that mean there’s no way for you to obtain that sort of education for yourself?
  • Once you leave the classroom and start your career, do you just need to accept the fact that you’re done learning?

Absolutely not.

With tons of resources at your fingertips today, it’s easier than ever to explore new areas and refine new skills—even if you don’t currently work for an employer who’s willing to put in that legwork for you.

Here are five helpful tips you can use to educate yourself and give your own career that well-deserved boost in the process.

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1. Set SMART Goals

You’ve decided that you want to master a new subject.

But, let’s face it—setting a goal of “learn something new” is a little too broad. You’ll not only have a tough time motivating yourself to actually get started, but you’ll struggle to track your progress once you do start making strides.

So, the first step to take when you decide to tackle a new subject area or pick up a new skill is to set a SMART goal for yourself.

Need a refresher on what SMART goals are? Here’s the breakdown of that acronym:

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Attainable

R: Relevant

T: Time-bound

Now, let’s say that your end objective is to become better at public speaking. That’s a pretty large undertaking, so it’s best to break that up into several smaller SMART goals.

For example, perhaps you want to have talked with five different public speaking experts to get their advice and insights by the end of this month. Maybe you want to book your first speaking gig for an audience of at least 50 people during the month after that.

Remember, breaking down the learning process in this way is helpful for a few reasons:

  • First, it gives you an action plan to get started. Learning something totally new or foreign can be intimidating at best. So, identifying these smaller, more bite-sized milestones will help to make the whole process seem far more manageable.
  • Secondly, it gives you benchmarks that you can use to monitor your own progress toward mastering that new skill. If you get to the second month of your public speaking learning process and realize you haven’t even completed your conversations with experts, you know you need to pick up the pace in order to keep yourself on track.

Of course, exactly how you end up mapping out your own goals is up to you—and, you should definitely give yourself some breathing room (unfortunately, not everything will go according to plan!).

But, by setting these specific goals before you even so much as crack open a book or conduct a Google search, you’ll make the process of educating yourself that much more efficient, effective, and rewarding.

2. Find a Mentor or a Partner

You might be setting out on a mission of educating yourself, but that doesn’t mean you need to go through it all totally alone.

People can be some of your greatest assets when it comes to kicking your knowledge up a few notches.

For example, finding a partner or a mentor will help you stay accountable to your goals and the learning timeline you mapped out for yourself.

Additionally, if you can find someone with at least a little bit of expertise or experience in the area you’re trying to master, you’ll have a built-in resource you can turn to when you get stuck, confused, or frustrated.

So, where exactly can you find these people to help you along in your learning journey?

Start with your own network—there are probably plenty of untapped resources there who could help you.

For example, if you’re itching to learn how to code, that web developer on your team could be the perfect choice to help you cover the basics and dip your toes into the coding waters.

Can’t find anybody in your existing network who fits the bill?

Peruse a variety of LinkedIn groups related to your interest, niche forums or online communities, or even your school’s alumni network to see if there’s anybody there who’s willing to help you out by offering some advice or guidance.

People love sharing the things that they’re passionate about and good at, so you shouldn’t have too tough of time finding someone who’s willing to show you the ropes in that new area you’re expanding into.

Plus, having that person in your corner isn’t just enlightening, it’s also incredibly encouraging—which you’ll appreciate when the learning process gets rocky or disheartening (which happens to the best of us).  

3. Dig Into Available Resources

Here’s the great thing about learning today: You have almost unlimited resources available at your fingertips.

Just a quick search online can turn up thousands of different results that can help you expand your skill set and take your own expertise to the next level.

If you learn well by reading, there are countless articles, ebooks, and guides that can help you learn.

If you’re somebody who’s more of a visual learner?

There’s no shortage of video tutorials out there either.

If you’re eager to get really hands-on and walk through a process, online courses are another popular method for gathering even more knowledge and know-how. Platforms like Skillshare, GoSkills, and Udemy offer tons of different courses that cover a huge variety of subjects.

Remember, learning doesn’t have to involve sitting in a formal classroom. Today’s technology grants you access to tons of different learning resources that will make educating yourself incredibly convenient.

But, while the ease of access that technology offers is a great thing, don’t neglect the opportunities that you can get elsewhere.

Take a look at some of the events and groups in your local community, and you’ll probably find an abundance of:

  • In-person classes and demonstrations
  • Workshops
  • Seminars and presentations

Those are also great opportunities to learn more about your chosen topic—while also networking with people who could become valuable resources for you.

While there are plenty of chances to learn online, sometimes it’s worth stepping away from the screen and finding some other methods for expanding your own education.

There are tons of them out there!

4. Ask Questions (and Plenty of Them)

Do you know those people who seem to know a little something about everything?

The ones who just ooze wisdom, knowledge, and curiosity?

Chances are, those people have one big thing in common: They view every single day as an opportunity to learn something new.

That’s why one of the best ways to educate yourself in your career is to continually ask questions. Rather than nodding and pretending you comprehend something just so you don’t have to appear ignorant, put yourself out there and ask for the clarification you need.

  • Don’t understand why your boss does something a certain way? Ask.
  • Curious how one of your co-workers gets a particular task accomplished? Ask.
  • Want to know more about how a specific department or position works? You guessed it—just go ahead and ask.

While it’s not a formal professional development activity like sitting down and taking a course or reading a book, it can be just as (if not more) revealing.

You’ll broaden your horizons and learn new things from all sorts of different people. And, oftentimes those insights won’t be anything you even could’ve found through your own research.

So, get out there and don’t hesitate to ask some questions.

It doesn’t make you pesky—it makes you persistent and eager to learn.

When you think about it, isn’t that what educating yourself is really all about?

5. Just Get Started

There’s a lot to be said for planning and research when it comes to learning something new. But, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to just jump right in and get started.

Experience can be the best teacher, and you’ll likely learn far more through trial and error than you would have just reading or hearing about those experiences.

Want to expand into the area of photography?

Grab your camera, start snapping some photos, and then take a look at what works and what doesn’t.

Want to learn more about email marketing? Sign up for a platform, start building a list, and see what happens.

Are you going to make mistakes? Absolutely—that’s to be expected.

However, those instances when you stumble can actually be some of the most resonant and enlightening experiences.

So, don’t get so wrapped up in preparing and planning to educate yourself that you never actually take the steps to do it. Sometimes all you need to do is take the leap and just get started.

Taking Learning to a New Level: Get Ready to Educate Yourself

As the old saying goes, you’re never done learning—and, that’s especially true if you’re looking to advance in your profession and take your career to the next level.

If you have an employer who emphasizes professional development and provides all sorts of opportunities for you to learn and grow?

Definitely take advantage of those.

But, if you don’t?

Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean you’re limited in terms of how much you can learn—you just need to take initiative and educate yourself.

We’ve covered several different ways that you can do that throughout this post. But, to recap, expanding your own knowledge all comes down to:

  • Setting SMART goals for your own learning progress
  • Finding a mentor or a partner who can encourage and enlighten you
  • Digging into available resources, whether that’s online or in-person
  • Asking questions whenever you’re confused or interested to know more
  • Just getting started and learning from your mistakes

Put those tips to work, and you’re sure to not only educate yourself and expand your own horizons but actually enjoy the process of doing it. Good luck!

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.

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