5 Steps to Lifelong Learning for Leaders!

Learning should never stop with the receipt of a diploma or a degree.  It should be a lifelong process.  This is especially so for leaders who take charge in their industries.  Individuals who aspire to be a leader, advocate, or working professional should take as many steps as they can to be a lifelong learner.

Why is this so important?

Because, the world is consistently changing and growing.  Technology is rapidly shifting, and all of these complex changes affect how various industries operate, and how this can change the career landscape.  To truly stand out and prepare for growth in an industry, individuals should continually educate themselves.  This can provide the competitive edge to take your leadership position, company, or industry to new levels.

Here are 5 steps to lifelong learning!

1.  If growth in your field requires a higher level degree or certification, go for it!  Gaining an education is more accessible than ever as colleges and universities add programs that cater to the busy schedules of professionals.  Utilize this opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge you need to be competitive for growth.

2.  As a leader, one of the best ways to learn is to listen to those you lead.  Ask for your employees opinion, and actually listen to what they have to say.  People will follow those they respect, and they will respect you more if you treat them with respect.  This means valuing them.

3.  Subscribe to periodicals, magazines, or other services in your industry.  This is where you will find hot topics, studies, or cutting edge information that could give you the insight you need.

4.  Regularly evaluate your skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  If you know where your weaknesses are, you can fix them.  For example, if you are looking for a job or for a vertical or lateral move, and you know you have a deficit in specific software, learn how to use it.  There are textbooks, websites, and YouTube videos that can teach you everything you need to know.

5.  Set aside 30-60 minutes each day to read about your industry.  It is amazing the amount of information that can be ascertained from this minimal amount of reading each day.  It can keep you well-informed and ready to handle complications, grow as a leader and professional, and make necessary changes to keep up with technological advances.  It can set you apart from those who are left behind.  Knowledge is power.

Take these steps to be a lifelong learner and an incredible leader!

Taking on the World Post-Graduation!

The past six years of my life have been dedicated to academics and growth based on education combined with leadership.  I have found my self-confidence grow as I became more knowledgeable about the world and my place within it.  I have led student organizations, attended conferences, found success with my writing, and discovered my strength in public speaking.  I became passionate about advocacy, and learned ways in which I could use my skills to make a difference.  This is what I gained with my education because it was a strong liberal arts education with a focus on creating women leaders.

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Now, I am a graduate.  I was proud to be the 2015 commencement student speaker at Cedar Crest College, and when I walked across the stage, I knew it was symbolic for walking into a new phase in my life.  Graduation is exhilarating, but also an emotional time.  One journey is ending, and this is bittersweet because while endings lead to beginnings, life will never be the same.  A few days later, the realization of that loss is prevalent, and fellow graduates begin new phases of their life, or post panicked comments on Facebook because they do not know where they are going.

I am in the job search mode as many of my friends are, but I know my college provided me with the skills I need to be successful.  That, combined with my confidence and determination, will lead me to a rewarding life.  I know I may start in a position that is not what I hoped, but I also know I may very well find the position that will be rewarding and lead to a career I will be happy with.  This is the roller coaster of post-graduation.  It is the next phase, which requires just as much work and dedication as the previous educational phase, if not more.  It is the time for graduates to prove themselves.

While this can be a time of anxiety and fear, it can also be an exciting adventure and another learning experience in life.  For those fellow graduates out there, those who are searching for their place in the career world, do not forget your worth.  Remember that you worked hard for your degree/s and you should embrace this new challenge just as you embraced the challenges of college.  Be proud of your accomplishments, and bravely put yourself out there.  Be confident and explore what this new path has to offer!

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Why I Chose a Women’s College!

The Lehigh Valley, where I live, is full of colleges and universities.  Each school has its unique culture, great programs, clubs and activities.  In the heart of Allentown is Cedar Crest College, a women’s college founded in 1867.  Its campus spans many acres and is listed as an arboretum.  Its historic buildings mix with the contemporary, just as the traditions of the college have remained steadfast while welcoming change.  Every day, I walk to work and classes, to meetings and activities, and I feel truly at home and welcome.  This leads me to why I chose a women’s college.

Cedar Crest welcomed me as a continuing education student, and I found the environment to encourage growth, leadership, and success.  There are opportunities around each corner, and I have taken as many as I could over the years.  The faculty and staff want students to not only pass, but to excel, and they support creativity, initiative, and innovation.  I have found my education to be hands-on and it has focused on how to apply information gained to real world experiences.  In addition, I have found my voice at Cedar Crest.  I am now more empowered than ever, and I am ready to make changes in the world.  Not only am I ready, but I also believe that I can because Cedar crest has inspired me and instilled within me a higher level of confidence.  I believe in myself and my abilities, and I believe in each student who graduates from Cedar Crest because they have been given the tools to succeed if they choose to use them.

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Cedar Crest College creates leaders.  This is a fact.  I am an example of what a women’s college can do in a modern world.  While Cedar Crest has a strong tradition, and so much history that is worthwhile to explore, it is the future that is so exciting.  Here I am about to graduate, and all I can think about is how much love I have for this incredible institution, and how can I be there as it evolves into the 21st century.  With exciting new programs in health care, a new MBA, and a strong new writing major, I am enamored with this dynamic path Carmen Twillie Ambar, Cedar Crest College’s esteemed president, is crafting.  She is continually meeting and exceeding challenges put forth by the needs of the college and community. This passion is catching, and I want to remain involved.  I can see myself becoming just as active as an alum as I am now, and working to help the college meet strategic goals.  I am more passionate about this unique world of higher education than I ever imagined I could be, and I hope to to use my skills in this way after graduation.

I look forward to walking across that stage in may and entering into a new chapter of my life as an alum of Cedar Crest College.  I also plan to give back because so many wonderful  donors to the college have helped to support my education. My last month of college is coming to a close, and I feel like this part of my life is one of the hardest to let go.  I have been truly affected by my experiences at Cedar Crest, and I am so incredibly thankful.  I know the new chapter will be exciting, and Cedar Crest will still be a major part of my life.  Perhaps I will even pursue my master’s degree there soon.  However, the undergraduate experience is a unique one, and it will be over for me in 5 short weeks.  The lifestyle I have known, the friendships created, and the overall experience will be gone physically, and only remain as memory.  I chose a women’s college because it was right for me.  It gave me more than I could have expected.  In fact, it changed my life forever.  I would choose Cedar Crest again, in a heartbeat.

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Follow Your Passions!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I learned a great deal from the PLEN seminar in Washington D.C.  One of the greatest lessons I took away, that was echoed by many of the speakers, was that if you follow your passions, it doesn’t matter what path you take, you will accomplish great things.  Every speaker found their way into careers that were challenging, rewarding, and personally fulfilling.  They may have started on very different career paths from degrees in English, political science, history, and so much more, but they found their way to nonprofit, advocacy, or policy work.

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When I look at my path through education, knowing I am about to embark on an even greater adventure, I realize that the more I follow my passions, the more I will be fulfilled.  I have found that stifling passion merely leads to a life of monotony, and an existence plagued by regret.  I choose to never regret again.  I choose to take opportunities to make a difference in the world when I find them.  I choose to make opportunities where they do not currently exist.  I choose to initiate social change for the betterment of caregivers, even if it requires small steps to reap small rewards.  I choose to be an advocate for those who need one.  I choose to empower other women to lead, as these women have empowered me.  Most of all, I choose to be myself and represent my values and morals in the career decisions I make.

You have this power as well.  You can choose the person you wish to be and you can empower yourself to follow the passions that make up your spirit.  Be strong, be willing to make changes when necessary, and be open to the advice of others.  In the words of Caryl M. Stern, “Don’t be afraid of lateral moves today to get to where you want to be tomorrow.”

Make Time to Read, and You will Be Better Suited to Lead!

Society continues to rapidly change and advance with current technologies, and this has a profound effect on leadership.  As we rely more and more on our devices, picking up snippets of information from various sources, we move further away from reading larger works.  There are many people who rely on daily doses of data in small forms, and never tackle a book on industry analysis, a fiction novel, a biography of a truly accomplished and inspiring individual, or other great works.  This may not seem so bad as the bits of information form wholes eventually, but there are effects that may not be realized until later.

Reading is crucial to a greater understanding of the world around us.  There is magic that happens as we pour over pages full of information, and not just in Harry Potter novels.  This magic is an evolving of ourselves.  An informational book allows us to see a specific area, like business, from another perspective, and to gain valuable insight to the industry in which we work or hope to work.  It helps to provide skills, vocabulary, and a deeper understanding of that particular world.

Biographies and memoirs allow us to see a life, in its entirety, through transformation.  It reminds us of the nature of humanity, and the challenges that erupt for everyone, despite status, race, religion, gender, etc…  It is a chance to see how someone overcomes adversity, and how they build a future on blood, sweat, and tears.  It is an experience in itself because we can connect, even if just through the words that fill each page, with another human being and their journey of existence.  This helps leaders to become more socially adept, and to realize the complexities that make up each life.  This may lead to higher levels of empathy, and compassion.

Fiction stories, the ones that may seem the least valuable to those in a world of business, logic, and facts, may in fact, be the most critical.  The story typically takes the reader on a journey which reaches a conflict or climax, and a resolution.  There are variances, and those novels that change the rules, but there is a need for leaders to get wrapped up in novels with complex conflicts because it requires analytical thought.  Readers naturally attempt to solve the problems, and while the resolution is given, the reader can find other alternatives, and learn to accept the endings they cannot change.  There is also something that must be said of the need for escapism.  As we surround ourselves with an endless stream of facts, news, and critical information, the chance to become a part of another world, involved with fictitious characters, and relax a little, is much needed.

Every leader should create a small amount of reading time each day.  Even if it is just 20 minutes, it is highly beneficial in so many ways.  This is one positive change you can make in your life that will provide you with skills that may be unattainable otherwise.  It leads to creative thinking, social skills, and perhaps the patience that is needed to commit to something longer than 140 characters.   Make time to read, and you will be better suited to lead!

Need Inspiration? Take a Class!

I have found myself losing inspiration at various points in my life, but over the past few years, the inspiration has been growing.  I can honestly attribute this to the classes I have been taking.  Continuing my education was one of the best choices I have made in my adult life.  Of course, having two special needs children at home made this decision a little more difficult, but with my incredible husband as my partner in crime, we have been able to accomplish great feats.  On nights I am in class, he handles the daily duties, dinner, and helps the kids with homework.  He also handles the job of referee as the children are bound to fight.  The point is, we made this work, and it has been an incredible journey.

I am now about to graduate with dual bachelor’s degrees, and I have found the various topics of the classes I have taken have provided me with a wide range of perspectives.  I am more open to topics I would have never considered before.  I can see the world in many ways, and I am truly inspired.  I do not struggle to find topics to write about because ideas pour from me everytime I sit down to write.  I can write in various genres and I enjoy writing more than ever.  I have also found that attending educational  and leadership conferences, or really any conference, can incite even more inspiration.  I always walk away from conferences and classes invigorated and ready to change the world with my words.  That may be an exaggeration, but I do believe words have great power, and I believe in my ability to affect change, even if it begins on a small scale, is possible.

If you are struggling with your creativity, if you need inspiration, take a class, go to a conference, and surround yourself with new perspectives.  Look at the world through the eyes of another.  You can even do this through good literature.  Open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the world beyond yourself and you will find there is more to consider, to question, and to write about than you could have imagined.

Communication is Crucial!

To lead others, to inspire, to write, to speak, to manage, to work with, or to do anything, you must be able to communicate.  In fact, communication is a key aspect to success overall.  If you cannot convey your ideas to others, you cannot lead them.  From words, to writing, to body language, and facial expressions, we communicate our thoughts, needs, ideas, and perceptions regularly.  However, it is a skill to communicate effectively.  This type of communication takes time and work to improve.  It requires you to be able to read others, to know how to shift your tone and expressions for specific situations.

One of the greatest ways to improve your communications skills is to read a great deal, and to have conversations with a diverse group of people.  Attention to detail is critical to picking up subtle cues that will help you to reach an individual.  As a leader, or in a position at work, this will help you to work with the diverse corporate climate or to reach people you would have been unable to clique with previously.

Do not underestimate the power of the written word and the ability to edit your work.  Bad grammar can remove credibility quickly and create a problem for you in your career.  Know how to write well, and how to sound professional.  A good first impression often comes from a written communication, like email, and can make or break you in a professional setting.  The most important thing, is to seek improvement.  If you know your communication skills need some work, do not put it off.  Opportunities may open up, and you want to be able to present yourself in the best way possible.

How to Know if you are on the Right Path!

Sometimes, we hit a point in our lives where we wonder if we are on the right path.  Perhaps you have been let go from your job, maybe you are stuck in a position that does not make you feel valued or challenged, or maybe you are just feeling like you are not happy.  If any of this is true for you, you are probably ready to make a change.  In fact, if you are not happy or working on something that makes you feel like you are being true to yourself, you should consider making a change.

Now, this does not mean that you should impulsively leave a job that you have found security in because it makes you unhappy.  This means you may need to re-evaluate where you are in your life and where you want to be.  Once you know who you are and what your goal is, you need to make decisions on how to get there.  With the challenges in the economy and job market, security is important, but you can keep your job while making changes, gaining education, negotiating with an employer, or seeking opportunities.

The main thing is that you find what you are passionate about and pursue it.  It may take more work on your part if you have to start a book, build a business, or go to school while still working, but the people who find success are those who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and put in a hard day of work.  You will know when you are on the right path because you will feel proud, confident, and happy!

Pursuing Your Potential!

Many people live in the past, spending a great deal of their time regretting decisions, and considering where they went wrong in life.  Others spend time in the present, working to achieve short-term goals and to pay the bills.  Then, there are those who live in the present without truly living.  They barely get by, and they do not work towards anything.  Finally, there are the few who see the long-term goals, the potential they have to achieve something great.  These people are the ones who have big ideas, who dream big, who think big, and have success written all over them.  This is a great place to be, but without the motivation and drive to actually pursue your potential, you will never get to those beautiful long-term goals that shine like stars on a lonely night.

Depending on the goals you have, you may have a great deal of work to do, and if you plan to be successful, you should plan to have a lot to do.  It takes hard work and dedication to reach a goal, and it must be something you believe in or have passion for or else you are more likely to give up.  Here are the three steps you should take to begin when pursuing your potential.

1.  Determine what potential you truly have.  In fact, go beyond determining and decide if this potential lends itself to a specific goal you have, and if you are truly passionate about this goal.

2.  Make a plan!  Figure out what your goal is, and make a plan to help you reach it.  This includes timelines.  You need to know when you will start, what steps you need to take, and what your goal date of completion is.  You should think of the challenges that may be faced, and how you can best deal with them.  You need to determine if you need contacts, if you need money, and any other important elements that will get you there.  Sometimes, this may mean education, or work experience.

3.  Push yourself to take the first step.  Make the calls, enroll in a degree or certificate program, determine the loan you may need, seek investors, network with other individuals who could be helpful, and be ready to sell yourself.  Sometimes, you will need to boost your social media presence to reach a goal, and this can be time consuming.  Prepare for the amount of time you will need to invest and stick with it.

It can be difficult, and only a small percentage of people truly pursue their potential.  However, the work put into it can be incredibly rewarding in the end!