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Embracing the Squiggly Career: Harnessing the Power of Unlearning, Learning, and Relearning



In today's rapidly changing professional landscape, the concept of a traditional linear career path is giving way to a new reality - the squiggly career. In this dynamic environment, the ability to unlearn, learn, and relearn becomes essential for long-term success. Unlearning enables us to shed outdated assumptions and embrace new perspectives, while continuous learning expands our knowledge and adaptability. Relearning allows us to stay ahead of the curve and remain relevant in an ever-evolving market.


In this article, I will explore the power of unlearning, learning, and relearning in navigating a squiggly career, providing practical examples and techniques to help individuals thrive amidst change and uncertainty.


Embracing the Power of Unlearning, Learning, and Relearning

The ability to unlearn, learn, and relearn is crucial for long-term success. This adaptive mindset not only enhances our readiness to seize new opportunities but also builds resilience to overcome challenges along the way. Organizations value individuals who exhibit proactive learning behaviors, recognizing that investing in continuous learning yields substantial dividends for both personal and career development. Below I will explore a range of techniques and tools to help you integrate learning into your daily development journey.

  • The Importance of Unlearning: Unlearning is the process of letting go of outdated knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors that hinder growth and progress. In a squiggly career, where conventional career paths are no longer the norm, unlearning becomes a vital skill. It allows us to shed limiting assumptions and embrace new perspectives that align with our evolving roles and aspirations. For instance, an executive transitioning into a leadership role might need to unlearn the tendency to micromanage and instead cultivate trust and delegation skills. Unlearning is an ongoing process that requires self-reflection, openness to change, and a willingness to challenge deeply ingrained habits.

  • The Power of Learning: Learning is the cornerstone of personal and professional growth. In a squiggly career, the ability to learn continuously is paramount. It involves actively seeking out new knowledge, skills, and experiences that expand our capabilities and adaptability. This can take various forms, such as attending workshops, pursuing certifications, participating in webinars, or engaging in mentoring relationships. By actively investing in our learning, we position ourselves as valuable assets to organizations, demonstrating our commitment to growth and improvement. Furthermore, learning enables us to navigate the complexities of the ever-changing work landscape and seize emerging opportunities.

  • The Art of Relearning: Relearning involves adapting and updating our knowledge and skills to remain relevant in a dynamic environment. As technology and industries evolve at an unprecedented pace, relearning becomes essential for staying ahead of the curve. For example, a marketing professional may need to relearn digital marketing strategies to keep up with shifting consumer behaviors. Relearning requires a sense of curiosity, a willingness to embrace change, and an eagerness to explore emerging trends and technologies. By proactively engaging in relearning, we position ourselves as adaptable and future-ready professionals.

Practical Techniques and Tools:

  1. Reflective Practice: Take time to reflect on your experiences, identifying areas where unlearning, learning, or relearning may be necessary. What assumptions or beliefs are holding you back? What new skills or knowledge would enhance your effectiveness in your current or desired roles?

  2. Learning Goals: Set clear, achievable learning goals aligned with your career aspirations. Break them down into smaller, actionable steps to ensure consistent progress. Regularly reassess and refine your goals to stay aligned with your changing needs and aspirations.

  3. Seek Diverse Learning Opportunities: Embrace a variety of learning experiences, both formal and informal. Attend conferences, join professional networks, and seek out mentors who can provide guidance and insights. Explore online platforms, such as e-learning courses and webinars, to expand your knowledge base conveniently.

  4. Continuous Feedback: Actively seek feedback from mentors, colleagues, and supervisors. Embrace constructive criticism as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Regular feedback helps you identify blind spots and areas where further unlearning, learning, or relearning may be necessary.

  5. Embrace Failure: Embrace failure as a learning opportunity. Adopt a growth mindset that views setbacks as stepping stones towards success. Reflect on failures, extract lessons, and apply them to future endeavors.

In the era of squiggly careers, the ability to unlearn, learn, and relearn is not only essential but also a differentiating factor for long-term success. By embracing a mindset of continuous learning, we position ourselves as valuable assets to organizations and enhance our career development prospects. Unlearning allows us to shed outdated assumptions, learning expands our knowledge and skills, and relearning enables us to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. By incorporating techniques such as reflective practice, setting learning goals, seeking diverse learning opportunities, embracing feedback, and embracing failure, we can effectively integrate learning into our day-to-day development journey. Embrace the power of unlearning, learning, and relearning, and unlock your potential in the ever-evolving world of work.

How Unlearning, Learning, and Relearning Can Benefit a Squiggly Career


Here are some specific examples of how unlearning, learning, and relearning can benefit individuals navigating a squiggly career.


Unlearning
  • Letting go of hierarchical thinking: In a traditional career path, individuals often strive for upward mobility within a hierarchical structure. However, in a squiggly career, unlearning this mindset is crucial. Instead, individuals need to embrace lateral moves, cross-functional experiences, and project-based collaborations to broaden their skillset and adapt to changing industry demands.

  • Shifting from fixed roles to agile skill sets: In a squiggly career, roles become fluid and multifaceted. Unlearning the belief that success is tied to a specific job title allows individuals to focus on developing transferable skills that can be applied across various roles and industries. This flexibility enables individuals to seize new opportunities and navigate career transitions more effectively.

Learning
  • Embracing technology advancements: Rapid technological advancements are reshaping industries, demanding continuous learning. For example, professionals in the healthcare sector must learn to leverage telemedicine platforms and electronic health records to deliver patient care effectively. By actively embracing and learning new technologies, individuals can stay relevant and competitive in their respective fields.

  • Expanding cultural intelligence: In a globalized world, cultural competence is becoming increasingly important. Learning about different cultures, languages, and customs fosters effective collaboration and communication. This skill is especially valuable for professionals working in diverse teams or pursuing international career opportunities.

Relearning
  • Acquiring new marketable skills: As industries evolve, certain skills become obsolete while others gain significance. Professionals must consistently relearn and update their skill sets to meet changing market demands. For instance, a graphic designer transitioning from print media to digital marketing needs to relearn design software, user experience (UX) principles, and social media marketing strategies.

  • Adapting to evolving customer preferences: Customer preferences and behaviors continually evolve, requiring professionals to relearn how to meet their needs effectively. For example, retail professionals must adapt to the rise of e-commerce, learn about omnichannel marketing, and understand the impact of social media on consumer decision-making.

Unlearning, learning, and relearning play vital roles in navigating a squiggly career. By unlearning outdated mindsets, individuals can embrace new opportunities and adapt to changing industry dynamics. Through continuous learning, professionals acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to stay competitive in their respective fields. Lastly, relearning allows individuals to update their skill sets and adapt to evolving market demands. By integrating these practices, professionals can thrive in the face of career uncertainty and embrace the endless possibilities of a squiggly career.


Conclusion


In the era of the squiggly career, the path to success lies in our ability to unlearn, learn, and relearn. By embracing a mindset of continuous growth and improvement, we position ourselves as valuable assets to organizations and increase our career development prospects. Unlearning enables us to let go of outdated beliefs and behaviors, while learning expands our knowledge and skills, and relearning ensures our adaptability in a rapidly changing landscape. By incorporating practical techniques such as reflective practice, setting learning goals, seeking diverse learning opportunities, embracing feedback, and embracing failure, we can successfully navigate the twists and turns of a squiggly career. Embrace the power of unlearning, learning, and relearning, and unlock your potential in the ever-evolving world of work.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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