Learn an Industry to Make History
General education is necessary to gain basic knowledge to understand the world around you, but it may not do much for driving you towards a career. For the last few years I have had the pleasure of attending the number one ranked college in America*, Babson College, to study all things business that the undergraduate program has to offer. I sit next to two kinds of students every day; the ones that are helping themselves by extending their learning outside the classroom, and the ones who don’t. The ones who have taken the time to find their passion, are the students whose resumes are littered with big name companies or abbreviations such as CEO, CTO, CMO, etc. It’s commonly known that gaining industry expertise propels people to new heights and great successes within their chosen occupation. Here are some tips to help you on your quest for occupational mastery:
Learn the Basics: A child you learn from an early age that the alphabet is used to make words, combining words make sentences, and groups of sentences create media. The need to understand the essentials (the alphabet) is necessary before expanding into complex forms (books, articles, papers, etc.). Same would be true for an individual’s chosen field where having a deep understanding of the basics then generates the ability to build complexity in the future. It is important to learn the basics in any industry. From elementary field vocabulary to essential laws and principles, this knowledge is the foundation for everything you’ll need to know thereafter. Armed with this basic knowledge you will be well prepared to pilot toward specialist status.
Generalist vs. Specialist: Trying to learn everything about everything is impossible. In our civilized societies, people have developed specialties within every industry. Now instead of having one doctor for every type of ailment, patients typically have multiple doctors that specialize in each part of the body. You have to know something about everything, but you can’t know everything about everything. The key to learning about an industry is to deeply immerse yourself and stay focused on that industry. Stay on topic when educating yourself on specific topics, try not to deviate too much from your field. To truly be an expert or specialist, you must know the history, current findings, and future destinations of your market.
Learning Early Rather than Later: Just like in retirement planning, learning a specialty pays off in the long run by starting as early as possible. Try exploring fields until you find one that best suits you and then dive right in. The faster you jump into an industry and try to get a basic understanding of how it functions and operates, the better your chances are to find a niche or expose an opportunity that someone isn’t already fulfilling. And, age should never be a deterrent for helping yourself and your career. Remember – age is only a number.
Importance of Experience: There are many individuals in the workplace who are “book smart” but experientially naive. Classroom learning, web-based education or simply reading a library book can provide individuals with a rudimentary knowledge of a subject, but field work is essential to mastering any industry. Getting hands-on training and actual on-the-job experience within that industry is a far better approach for anyone trying to break into the work world. Exposure to experienced workers and industry experts is key to a fulfilling learning experience. Participating in an internship or part-time position within your field of choice will provide an array of learning opportunities that could never be captured in a book or classroom.
Importance of Connections: People often rehash the phrase “It’s who you know, not what you know,” but it is really a combination of both. While this phrase might be true if you want to get a job as an unskilled laborer, to become an industry expert you need to have both connections and knowledge. Connections are extremely influential in obtaining opportunities within your industry of interest. Young adults often find mentors who might show them the ropes of the industry and if they’re lucky, share important industry contacts as well. With proficient industry education in hand, networking within your field could land you your next business partner or your next paycheck.
Knowing where to start when you’re young can be confusing, but once you find the right industry it can be an amazing experience. As you start exploring your passions and studying that discipline, remember that becoming a master of something takes an incredible amount of time, so don’t lose hope too quickly. Whether your goal is to make millions or just introduce yourself as a leading expert, a solid foundation within your specialization will set you up for extraordinary success.
*As ranked by Money Magazine “Best Colleges” in 2014