Self-Directed Learning: Pick a Skill, Any Skill—It’s Easy and Rewarding! (Part 2)

Last week, I told you some anecdotes about large-scale institutions with communications tools that many of their staffers didn’t know how to use. I stand by my earlier statement that you can benefit in this situation by being the person who learns the basics, thus becoming the only “expert” in the office.

There are many workplaces with junior staff who are only a few years into their careers, alongside senior employees who have put over 20 years into the institution. This can cause a distinct gap between the technology-savvy, adaptive learners and those who learned the ropes several decades earlier. While most employees seem comfortable with email and word processing, technology is evolving at a much higher speed than many institutions can keep up with. Who can bridge the gap?

You can! I’m living proof.

I had long wanted to do something more creative with my career, but I’d always done my artwork by hand, and I thought graphic design was something reserved for techies. Well, we’re all kind of techies these days, with our little computers we call “phones.” Realizing I might well be more technically competent than I gave myself credit for, I looked for freeware design programs and downloaded InkScape. After a few short-lived sessions of playing around with this new tool/toy, I got frustrated and wondered why they made everything so complicated, with their Bezier curves and nodes!

Perhaps you can relate: I realized I had a longstanding habit of getting impatient with anything that required careful examination of instructions, or daunting assignments that weren’t required of me by an academic institution. But the thing was, I had a great idea for a visual presentation. On a daily basis, I worked with a complex application process that I had to explain to others over and over; my goal was to represent the jargon-filled, confusing process in a visual way, like a flow chart, to save time and improve learning efficiency. To achieve my goal, I needed to buckle down and read the freaking instructions. Carefully.

Within a few hours, I read a 30-page tutorial downloaded from the InkScape website, and was actually using the software properly. I welcomed nodes, turned choppy angles into smooth curves—oh, it was empowering! I made a trumpet with music notes coming out of it, and if I could do that, I could surely create a flowchart.

For weeks I obsessed over my flowchart, working out placement and logic on paper first, and then designing a template that would efficiently communicate visual information. It was my first try at an infographic, but it worked. I was now the only person on our floor (of about 30 people) with graphic design skills. When I showed my presentation to my practical-minded boss, I was worried he would reject the more modern idea. But he was impressed and said, “Cool! Can you get this up on our website?”

A few hours of learning, practising and researching got me approval by senior staff and a request to represent my institution by posting my flowchart as a web resource for new clients.

With so many helpful resources available on the Internet, I truly believe that you can learn to do almost anything reasonably well. Just as I learned how to do professional makeup for job interviews on YouTube, I learned by watching video tutorials for InkScape settings that I didn’t really understand when reading the written instructions.

Whether you’re soft on Microsoft Access or want to be the go-to designer in the office, the information you need to succeed is out there, and it’s easier than ever to access. The real challenge is snapping out of your everyday routine and choosing to self-educate, even if you can’t do it at work. It’s not always easy to get promoted based on newly acquired skills, but you can self-promote by humbly showing off your skills while making life easier on everyone else. If a colleague thinks what you’re working on is “cool,” chances are she’ll ask you about it again, or mention it to someone else.

There is free education out there, and as post-grads, we all know how rare that is. So go learn, and improve your chances of success!


Allison Whalen

Allison is a freelance writer and multimedia artist based in Chelsea, Quebec. Since completing her MA at Carleton University, she has focused on professional and creative projects that aim to provide both efficiency and joy.

Twitter: @EclecticRoyale

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