Since the days of Socrates and Plato, philosophers in some form or another, have characterized life as a continual learning process. Guess what, they were right, it is. Learning takes place from the moment that we emerge from our mother’s womb right up to when we take our last breath.
Whether consciously or subconsciously our surrounding environment is changing constantly and in order for us to adapt we must always learn from those changes, take what we have learned and apply it accordingly. That is the basic component to survival of the fittest, learning to adapt to a changing environment. Ignorance and failure to do so will result in extinction. Continuous learning is also imperative to thriving. That is how new discoveries in science and medicine are made.
The quest for knowledge is the great antithesis to growing old. Henry Ford once said:
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” 3
The metamorphosis of aging takes its toll on nearly every fiber of our physical being, except for our will and capacity to learn. Yet too few people are not cognitive enough to realize it.
All of the blind ignorance in today’s society should be evidence enough of that. People are too quick to adopt the thoughts and opinions of others instead of thinking for themselves. Whether it is out of laziness or lack of ambition, when we allow others do our thinking for us, then our will to learn enters into a state of intellectual atrophy and as Henry Ford said, we will start to grow old.
In as much as learning to survive is a macro instinct present in all living creatures, learning to thrive is micro quest for knowledge emanating at the individual level. In the corporate rat race, those whose mere existence is to put in their 40 hours for a paycheck that lasts only until the next paycheck are part of the macro instinct of survival. Those who are on a quest for continual improvement through learning are focused to get beyond living from paycheck to paycheck. They are on the path to thrive in what they do and position themselves to run ahead of the survivors.
The opportunities to learn and grow in this great country of ours are available to ever person. The quantity and quality of opportunities will vary based on demographics, but nevertheless, they are there. It is the willingness to recognize and seize the available opportunities that sets the benchmark of thriving over surviving.
If your sights for growth and learning are limited, then as Henry Ford said, you will grow old, not only intellectually but also in your personal and professional endeavors. On the other hand, if your sights are set on a continually moving horizon, there will always be newness to your life and your career. Each opportunity that you seize will lead to a new discovery and each new discovery will lead to a new opportunity.
The opportunities to thrive begin at an early age starting with kindergarten. Each progression to the next grade is another opportunity to learn and grow to another level based on a choice to proceed or not. Even though in some respects early opportunities may be mandated either by law or by the will of a parent for a child to continue on, whether or not we come to a successful completion of a given opportunity is still a matter of choice and will. There is no law that mandates a high school diploma or college degree, only opportunities to seize if there is the will and desire to do so. Those who seize opportunities in education are desiring to thrive and those who do not, merely to survive.
The corporate rat race is full of opportunities as well. Corporations are all too aware that productivity is reliant on the continual learning of its workforce.
A company making plain old whizes may survive for a period of time, but as competition enters in, a new and improved whiz-bang may be necessary to stave off the competition. Additionally improved efficiencies in making new and improved whiz-bangs will be necessary as price competition enters into the equation of the whiz-bang industry. Then there is forecasting methodologies that may come into play as distributors and consumers demand just-in-time ordering capability.
The plain old whiz company cannot meet the demands of product improvement, competitive pricing and new inventory paradigms merely by flipping a switch. It takes investments in plant, machinery, technology and people to make it all work. Investing in a new bang to go with the whiz, the company is seizing an opportunity to thrive in a whiz-bang industry and also creates opportunities for the employees to seize based on a choice of whether to thrive along with the company or not.
For example, there are two employees who work on the whiz portion of whiz-bang manufacturing and are extremely good whiz makers. The company is looking internally for individuals to learn the new bang process, however, putting the bang into the whiz is a complex process and takes a great deal of additional technical training.
One whiz maker, who has been with the company for 20 years, decides that the whiz process has provided a good enough life for 20 years and has no desire at this time to move on to the bang. The other employee, who has been there five years, is excited by the new the bang process and decides to seize the learning opportunity to put the bang into the whiz. How will the company view each employee?
Let’s say that a year has passed and a position for a whiz-bang production supervisor opens up and only the two aforementioned employees apply. The requirements for the new position is that the prospective candidate have a minimum of five years with the company and experience in both the whiz and bang manufacturing process. If you were the decision maker in awarding the job who would you give it to, the employee who seized the opportunity to thrive or the one who up until this time just wanted to survive?
What opportunities are there to seize at the company that you work for? If you are unsure, a good place to start is with the survival basics of Know the Rules, Written and Unwritten. Buried within the volumes of company rules, procedures and guidelines you will also find opportunities. Training classes, certification programs, tuition reimbursements for continuing education, and the like are explicit benefits that companies make available to their employees.
The problem is, however, that too many employees are not viewing programs in the aforementioned as an opportunity, but merely a benefit. Why, because benefits are generally considered to be choices that employees can make to promote or enhance their well-being and not as a means of superiority or an advantage.
Categorically lumping opportunities as benefits may be out of expedience or convenience for a company as both can be considered workforce investments. It also can be attributed to the fact that benefits and opportunities are matters of choice that is left for an individual to make. Your well-being is served by the benefit and your advantage in the corporate rat race is served by the opportunity.
The difference is that the benefit of a health plan is considered a necessity and a continuing education program is not. Unfortunately, you cannot thrive in the corporate rat race by weighing the importance of choosing between the necessity of benefits and opportunities. To survive you can choose a benefit and ignore an opportunity, to thrive you need to take advantage of both.
Opportunities to thrive are not limited to the explicitness of training, continuing education and certification programs; there are implicit opportunities to seize as well. Examples of implicit opportunities would be offering to fill in for the boss while they are on vacation; volunteering to be the team leader of a new project; or finding additional time to spend with a new employee to help them get acclimated to their new job.
The implicit opportunity will never be found in the benefits manual or appear as a company or personal mandate for they are the manifestation in the form of a request from someone for assistance. Small or trivial things that are perceived as annoyance when you have your nose to the grindstone can also be implicit opportunities beckoning to be seized.
As with explicit opportunities, you can choose to ignore or seize the implicit ones. It is a matter of whether your interests lay in surviving or thriving. I your merely a survivor you’ll ignore implicit opportunities but as one who wants to thrive, you will seize them. Just like the lottery, you can’t win unless you play, so what are you prepared to do?
Repeatedly, it comes down to the choices that you make. No one is twisting your arm to take advantage of a program to go back to school for degree or certificate. You can choose to take the call from that pain-in-the-backside customer and solve his or her problems or let someone else do it. Each and in itself can be opportunities to thrive that you can choose to seize or not to seize. The choice is up to you. Survive to run another day and grow old or thrive to run ahead and stay young. What’s it going to be?