In How To Win At The Sport of Business, Mark Cuban writes about learning on the job.  He insists that every job, regardless of what it is, is an opportunity to learn.  Not only that, you’re getting paid to learn. 

Whether it was Cuban’s breakthrough into the tech industry or even his job of selling powdered milk (yikes), he saw the job at more than face value.  He saw past what his daily duties were and looked at it as an opportunity to get paid to learn: learn how to sell, learn about technology, learn that he was a better entrepreneur than an employee.

I wrote a bit about this topic in one of my daily posts.  Most people attracted to this blog are early in their careers.  They’re cutting their teeth in something other than their dream job.  If it were easy enough to get your dream job at age 26, you probably set your dreams too low.

If it were easy enough to get your dream job at age 26, you probably set your dreams too low.

So you’re not just a bartender, or a Sales Development Rep or a finance associate.  You’re on the come-up. You’re getting paid to learn.

Here’s a trick.  At the end of each day, write down one thing that you learned.  It can be a great one-liner you heard from your colleague, a new process of doing your job or a self-discovery.  At the end of the week, comb through and rewrite any significant learnings in a tool like Evernote or on an index card.  Keep track of what you’re learning.

I do the same thing with books.  If you looked through my latest reads, you’d think I was preparing to write my thesis.  If the book is any good, it’s littered with underlines, notes, and thoughts to use later.  A week or 2 after I finish the book, I place the notes, key quotes, and any other ideas into an Evernote file.  When I have a question or a problem, I not only consult people: I consult my “virtual mentors” from these books.

You may feel stuck in your job.  You want more, you deserve more, this work is beneath you.  They’re really asking me to do this?

Take your ego out of play.  Gary Vaynerchuk often tells young people that seek him out for advice to “eat shit until you’re 30.”  While certainly a simplistic strategy, it’s not too far off.

If you want more guidance, follow these three steps.

First, take a breath.  Realize that you have a lot of time and that things will work out for you.  A normal working life for a college graduate is from age 22 to 65. That’s a very conservative number as many folks work past age 65, and with life expectancy continuing to increase, that number will likely increase.  But for this example, you’re working for 43 years. If you’re 26 years old like me, that means you’ve completed 4 years of this journey or only 9%. You can’t expect bountiful rewards after less than 1/10 of the work.

Second, do more than what is required in your current job.  Go above and beyond. If you’re in sales, your goal isn’t to hit quota; it’s to be the best rep in the company.  If you’re a teacher, your goal isn’t to help the kids learn their multiplication tables; it’s to become the best teacher in the school district.  The Universe doesn’t reward order-takers. It rewards those that go out after their dreams with full speed.

Third, learn wherever you can.  This is a way to focus more on the process than the result.  You have permission to take this immense pressure off of yourself when you realize that everything is a learning experience. Learn from your boss, your colleagues, your customers.  Pick up books, listen to podcasts, take classes, read ingredient labels on your food, talk to strangers on the street.

David Cancel, CEO of Drift, calls this becoming a “learning machine”.  That’s how you get ahead while playing for the long game.

Learn wherever you can.  Isn’t that what you’re getting paid to do, after all :)?

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