Self-Directed Learning and Professional Proficiency

Professional proficiency requires ongoing, lifelong learning. There’s no getting around this. And there are no excuses.  In addition to traditional formal programs, technology has made learning much more accessible and convenient.   

Keeping current is critical to your success.  Arguably, it is the most critical component. Other than death and taxes, change is certain. To be comfortable with your current state of knowledge risks complacency and this is fatal to your success.

Learning should be purposeful and self-directed. Here are a few recommendations and tips based on my experience:

  • Continuing, lifelong learning is a given.  Accept it. Learn to love to learn.
  • You are responsible for developing your own plan.  It should be purposeful, structured, and challenging. Seek the advice/guidance of experienced practitioners who demonstrate a commitment to life-long learning
  • Work for an employer that is sincerely committed to its employees’ development.  That means substantive support including educational assistance and recognition.
  • Your employer’s educational assistance plan should be flexible, not rigid and not narrow.  For example, if you are an insurance claims professional, programs should not be reflexively disallowed if not directly related to claim handling.  This is short-sighted.
  • Your professional development, short- and long-term, should align with your employer’s goals.  If they don’t, find another employer.  A corollary: you should take the primary role in developing your goals and action plan to achieve them in collaboration with your boss…not the other way around.
  • Join professional associations that provide learning and networking opportunities.

Learn to love to learn

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what advice I would give to the millennials and the iGens. (Can’t wait to hear what we call the generation after that.)

Now I don’t have the gravitas of a CEO. But I figure that after a 42-year career I still like what I do and maybe that is the true measure of success, and the gravitas I need to give some advice. So, if forced to choose one piece of advice to give, here it goes:


I am talking about real, substantive learning that requires effort. The dividends are many. Keeping current in your field generates a feeling of competence and confidence that will enhance your value to your employer but, more importantly, to yourself. And herein lies true security. It’s that feeling of reliance on yourself for your success instead of dependence on others.

Continuing learning is critical and it is something that you have to design for yourself. Complacency is very risky given the fast-moving world we are in.

One of my favorite quotes:

If thou thinkest that thou knowest many things and understandest them very well; know also that there be far more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather acknowledge thine own ignorance. Why wilt thou prefer thyself before another, since there will be found many more learned, and more skilful in the Law than thou art? If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, love to be unknown, and to be esteemed as naught.[i]

 [i] Thomas À Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., Barnes & Noble Edition 2004; originally published in 1418) 5-6.