When I was finishing grad school by the end of 2010, like everyone that leaves school, I had to build a career.
Instead of getting a management traineeship, like most of my fellow business administration students did, I started a business.
That forced me to totally reinvent myself. As an employee or student, you’re used to people telling you what to do. But as an entrepreneur, you’re the one who gives the orders and executes them.
Every year, I kept improving myself and acquiring new skills, one after the other. I learned how to build a website, write copy, and everything else you need to know to run your own business.
But after three years, I hit a ceiling. I never worked for a major company and I felt I needed that experience to become a better leader so I could grow my company.
So I reinvented myself again. I got a job at a major IT research firm in London. I developed sales, persuasion, communication, and leadership skills. But this time, it took two years before I reinvented myself again. In 2015, I went back to full-time entrepreneurship. But I also became a blogger.
The skills I acquired until then proved to be very useful. But I also had to acquire new skills: Article writing, storytelling, illustrating, and email marketing.
That was reinvention number three. And now, nine years after my first reinvention, I’m making something different out of myself again. This year I’m focusing more on video, which is a whole different beast (here’s my YouTube channel).
I’m not only working on improving my speaking skills, but I’m also learning all the technical things about recording video (which is A LOT).
Knowledge Has An Expiry Date
Why am I giving you my background? I was recently reading The Daily Drucker, which is a collection of quotes by Peter Drucker, one of the most respected management consultants of our time. In the book, I read the following:
“A knowledge worker becomes obsolescent if he or she does not go back to school every three or four years.”
I realized why I reinvented myself every few years; it’s because we risk becoming useless. I know that sounds harsh. But in the past two decades, the business has changed so fast that we need to improve our knowledge all the time so we can keep up.
The time when a person acquired knowledge and could rely on it for the rest of their career is over. Your diplomas and qualifications have an expiry date. Most knowledge becomes useless at some point.
We should constantly acquire new knowledge and skills, as Drucker says. He continues:
“In today’s society and organizations, people work increasingly with knowledge, rather than with skill. Knowledge and skill differ in a fundamental characteristic—skills change very, very slowly. Knowledge, however, changes itself. It makes itself obsolete, and very rapidly.”
Skills vs Knowledge
We all make the mistake of overemphasizing the importance of knowledge.
According to Drucker, knowledge is information and theory. For example, you could have had a lot of knowledge about corded telephones in the past. But since that industry is almost gone, that knowledge is useless.
So you needed two things to survive in the telecommunications industry: New knowledge about mobile phones and solid skills like engineering or programming.
The skills change slowly. But the knowledge changes quickly. That’s the difference.
As I have written before, knowledge workers increase their odds of success by acquiring more skills. I call that concept Skill Stacking. But that’s not the only thing one should do to become and stay successful.
We must take responsibility for our own development. We must adapt to change. Practically speaking, it means we must reinvent ourselves every three to four years.
What Steps Should You Take Now?
Look, you have a long career ahead of you. Especially if you’re in your twenties or thirties. Think about what skills and new knowledge you’ve acquired in the past three years. If you don’t have an answer, it’s time to make a change. Drucker says:
“If you talk of fifty years of working life—and this, I think, is going to be increasingly the norm—you have to reinvent yourself. You have to make something different out of yourself, rather than just find a new supply of energy.”
Life is long. And so are our careers: The age you retire will only increase over the years. Do you really want to become obsolete; decades before you retire?
We all know what it feels like to stagnate. Nobody feels better by being in a dead-end career. Look ahead of you and ask yourself: “What steps should I take now to stay a relevant professional?”
Acquire new skills. I think universal skills like writing, persuasion, and personal effectiveness will always be useful. When you acquire those types of skills, you will automatically increase your odds of success. I talk about Skill Stacking in this video:
Get better every day. And every three to four years, make a BIG change. Go in a different direction. Make something different out of yourself.
It’s not only better for your career; it’s also exciting!