There’s something about describing your career as a garden that rings true with me. Over the years that I have worked in the fast-changing technology industry, cultivating different skills and having a mindset of continuous learning is something that has allowed me to pivot time and time again. Considering that we’re expected to live to near-100, with somewhere between 11 to 15 job moves during our lifetime, the ability and openness to change is a good skill to cultivate.
So what can you do to build a career that lasts your lifetime?
Pick the right seeds
It isn’t about the quantity of skills that you focus on learning, but the kind. Having a mix of power and hard skills will enable you to do your job today but be ready for any kind of shift in the future. Power skills might be a term you’re not familiar with. They simply describe skills that are applicable in many different roles, departments, and companies. We saw, during the pandemic, power skills rise in popularity. Learners using Degreed in January 2023, for example, searched for leadership, change management, design thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship. Seven out of ten of our top skill searches were power skills, with leadership ranked first.
Another valuable skill to cultivate is learning agility — the ability to continuously and quickly learn and build skills that evolve your career and respond to changes. If you are consistently learning new things and have an open, curious mindset, you are growing your learning agility. The half-life of a skill is currently five years and dwindling fast, so being able to pick up a new skill within weeks or months is increasingly essential to long-term career success.
How to grow your skills
Power skills are built over time in a variety of ways, including the need to practice and grow them on the job. Likewise, if you are learning a hard skill like a new language or coding, I would always recommend finding real-world applications for them as soon as possible, as it reinforces what you’re learning and makes it more memorable.
Celebrate your harvest
Keep a record of the learning and real-world experiences that you’re doing to prove that you have a skill. You can bring this record up whenever you have a performance review, come up for a promotion or pay rise, or when searching for new opportunities. This record is not a resume. It’s a portfolio of what you’ve learned, how experienced you are in it, and what you’re planning to do next to stretch that skill.
Review your record at least once a year, but ideally once a quarter, to make sure your skills are keeping pace with changes in your role and the market and that they are still the skills you wish to focus on based on your career goals.
Know your season
When you’re learning alongside work, it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to balance it all, especially if you have commitments outside of work too. Although there are techniques you can try to fit learning into your work life (like 20% time or bite-sized learning modules), sometimes it is okay for learning to take the back burner if you have urgent priorities. Try to avoid going for longer than a couple of weeks without building one of your focus skills (that half-life will catch up with you).
Likewise, there may be times when one skill takes priority over the other, and that’s okay. As long as when you come to review your overall skills, you feel you have a good balance between power and hard, current and future-building, then you’ll be in a good place career-wise.
Share your garden and visit others
A garden is best enjoyed with others. Make a habit of checking in with peers, whether those are colleagues or friends, to see what they’re learning and what knowledge they can share (and vice versa). This informal peer learning can broaden your horizons, helping you to discover new skills to focus on, and it gives you an opportunity to practice teaching others.
It’s worth considering a mentor or two who can also guide you on the best skills to grow based on your current role and future goals. This doesn’t have to be your line manager, it could be someone else in your organization, or it could be someone in your industry. Whoever you feel will give valuable insights to help you grow.
Consistency builds resilience
Your 100-year career is built on a foundation of consistency and dedication to learning. Like gardening, there will be times when you don’t feel like picking up the shovel, and there will be moments when the sun is shining, and you reap the benefits of your learning. Keep going because the ends will justify the work that you’re putting in now.