Reflections on Susan J. Ellis’ “Continuous Learning Is Not Optional”

I have been seeing my GP for almost 30 years. I’ll see a local doctor for my flu shot or if I’ve caught a bug but for serious illnesses, I willingly travel to Wollongong to see my GP. Why? Because Dr L. dedicates one day each week to reading journals, conferencing with colleagues, attending training and seminars, whatever it takes to ensure he has the most current research to help his patients. When I see him, I know that his approach to my health is well informed and tested.

The standards and best practices for every profession change, be it volunteer management or medicine, otherwise continual improvement plans would not permeate every field of endeavor. According to Stephen Covey, the 7th habit of highly successful people is “sharpening the saw”. He shares a parable of coming across someone feverishly trying to cut down a tree. He’s been at it for five hours and is exhausted.

“Why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” says the traveler.

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I’m too busy sawing!” replies the exhausted man.

Taking the time to sharpen our skills not only increases our effectiveness at work; a dedication to learning refreshes how we see ourselves and what we contribute to the world. It is part of our own personal development to be our best selves.

While not everyone can commit a day a week to professional development like Dr L., everyone can find time to learn – if they want to. It’s about prioritizing and scheduling time for our own development.

When I progressed to an intermediate level of Iyengar yoga, my teacher encouraged everyone in the class to establish a home practice. She tried many approaches from promoting yoga as a way to relieve pain, to setting 30 day yoga challenges, to conceptualizing yoga as an ‘old friend’ who is there for us in good and bad times when we cultivate the relationship. But until I made yoga practice important to me and set aside time each day, nothing actually stuck. I had to:

(a) Commit to my yoga practice as a priority – more than sleeping in, applying make-up or reading the news

(b) Schedule it into my calendar – 6:15am after feeding my cat was the  most distraction-free time of the day

(c) Remove obstacles/ excuses by having my yoga mat already laid out

My practice started with just 5 minutes lying on the mat each morning for the first week. As I became accustomed to the 6am starts, lying down became sun salutes and before long my practice grew to 30-45 minutes. Four years on and I can’t imagine not having my daily practice. Once I released how good I felt during the day, more energetic, and more in control of my emotional responses, practice came easily. Recently I have added 20 minutes of reading to my morning development routine, poetry for creative inspiration, affirmations to boost my confidence and articles on design thinking and social innovation to enhance my professional toolkit.

For an introvert, personal study comes naturally to me. I enjoy time to reflect and absorb in silence. I’ve discovered though that growing and maintaining my professional network is just a vital, especially during times when the workplace feels unsupportive or good staff are leaving. Connecting with my networks of arts professionals, or multicultural officers, or leaders is a time to share achievements (and failures), test ideas, and to see how my peers are tackling sector challenges like funding cuts or policy changes. I can call on my professional brains trust to help me solve a problem, be inspired and bust out of my own way of thinking or borrow ideas and not have to reinvent the wheel. Maintaining a professional network means no one has to go it alone – we learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, share resources and support each other.

Cherishing a passion for lifelong learning is surely one motivation for becoming a volunteer. The manager of that volunteer therefore has a responsibility to keep that flame burning and to never let their own skills or passion become dull.

By Tiffany Lee-Shoy, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Leep

Referenced article: Continuous Learning Is Not Optional – Susan J. Ellis