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Want to Keep Learning? Look to Your Co-workers for Inspiration

A group of people smiling and posing in an office.

When we feel stuck or uninspired at work, it’s easy to assume that we need to add more responsibilities to our proverbial plate, get a promotion, or even get another job in order to feel re-engaged or re-committed.

But sometimes, it only takes a slight change of perspective to take us down a whole new path, and getting curious about your co-workers could be just the thing.

We all bring unique interest and expertise to our work each day, and by spending time learning about co-workers, you may open yourself up to a new skill set or professional possibility.

Get curious

While professional development and continuing education are great options, they often require a significant time commitment, or sometimes, costly travel. If you find yourself wanting to grow, here is a way to do it closer to home.

Start by paying attention to the people you spend your days with. Invite someone out for coffee and get to know more about their role. Schedule a meeting with a colleague whose work you admire to brainstorm ways you might collaborate. Ask what avenues they’ve taken to strengthen their skills. A bonus benefit of this kind of connection-building is that it gives you a chance to work on strengthening your professional relationships.

Curiosity can extend to paying attention to speakers visiting your organization or a nearby college or adult education center. And if your HR department or staff-wellness committee has a regular email updating staff on upcoming events and professional development opportunities, subscribe!

There are also less formal ways to plug into what colleagues are doing. Maybe a group of co-workers walk together during lunch every Wednesday—join them and be open to new ideas. By being adaptable and interested, you can help dictate your success in your current job and in future work as well.

What can I teach?

A hand raised.

One way to deepen our understanding of a particular subject, even one we know well, is by teaching others.

But how do we let people know what we know?

  • Ask your supervisor if she would support you starting a knowledge exchange
  • If you get the green light, send an email inviting co-workers to join you during lunch
  • Create a simple spreadsheet to track interested co-workers and the skills and interests they can bring to the group
  • During your first meeting, brainstorm a list of topics for future meetings
  • Hold a monthly or quarterly brown-bag-lunch style gathering in the conference room, or a nearby coffee shop, to discuss that month’s topic

Find a mentor

Two people sitting and discussing.

If there is someone at work whose wisdom and values you admire, consider asking them if they might mentor you.

  • Send an email asking if they’d give you an hour of their time to meet over coffee. Let them know how much you admire them and share that you are at a point in your career where you are in need of some guidance, and you’re hoping to hear their thoughts.
  • When meeting, describe what kind of advice and support you are looking for and why. Are you wishing to strengthen your time management skills, plot a path for advancement, or better manage feedback? Being clear about what you’re looking for offers insight into what kind of support you need.
  • Let your prospective mentor know you’re happy to put in the work to plan meetings and to stay on top of any suggestions they offer. Ask if they’d meet you for an hour each month, or once a quarter.
  • Be sure to acknowledge that they are busy, and likely serving indirectly or directly as a mentor for others in your organization. Give them the option to say "no" to your request, and remember to always thank them for their time.

In searching for a mentor, you may naturally look to those colleagues who are older than you, but remember to consider what you can learn from somebody who is younger, too.

Learning to bridge the generational divide at work can deepen your understanding of your organization's mission and vision.

Balance learning with being

A woman sitting on a cliff.

We know that in order to feel engaged and interested in our work, we need to find ways to keep learning. But as more and more people are talking about work/life balance, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of one more thing to do.

That’s another reason why folding learning into the work we already do makes sense. If we can build relationships with co-workers and supervisors that allow us to have fun and grow at the same time, we’ll be making space for learning to be part of our workload.

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About the Author | For nearly two decades, Jeannette Eaton has been working for nonprofits and helping people identify their strengths. She has experience as an advocate for women and girls in crisis, a volunteer coordinator for adult literacy, and a family literacy instructor.

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