Part of the USITT 2012 conference.
Presented by: Jack Feivou, R. Michael Gros and Aaron W. Rowe.

USITT finally put together a session that was not only incredibly informative, but could have continued on for more than 2 hours. There was not an empty chair in the room, and this may have been the only session I have attended in which no one walked out. So please, excuse the length of this post, but this information is far too valuable not to share.

Welcome to the “gig” economy. More and more employers are hiring contractors, temps and freelancers. The idea of job security in the common sense no longer exists! So what can we, as the technically speaking self-employed, do in order to keep ourselves on our toes?! Lifelong learning! Here are 15 things to do on your own time to keep yourself and your career moving forward.

  1. Always have a book.It doesn’t have to be on you at all times, and it doesn’t have to be about your work… but you should be reading as much as possible. It will strengthen your vocabulary and broaden your knowledge base… Yes, this includesThe Hunger Games, it doesn’t matter as long as you are reading something.
  2. Keep a “to learn” list. You’ve heard of the “to do” list, maybe even the “to read” list… Keep one that lists out the different things you want to learn, and work to check them off the list.
  3. Get more intellectual friends. No, this does not mean dump your dumb friends! But if you find that your friends do not stimulate you intellectually or challenge you to learn and grow, then spend a few hours each week with people who will.
  4. Guided thinking. Don’t just learn, think! Once you’ve finished your reading for the day or have just learned something new, take the time to actually think about it. Allow the new information to settle in and form thoughts/opinions/ideas based around it.
  5. Put it into practice. If you have a skill, use it. What is the point of learning the piano, if you are never going to play? If you list the skill on your resume, make sure it is something you can do on the spot if asked.
  6. Teach others. Not only will you be helping someone else develop a skill or learn about something, but it will help show holes in your knowledge.
  7. Clean your input. Do your own research!
  8. Learn in groups. This will allow you to bounce ideas off of others, etc.
  9. Unlearn assumptions. Don’t approach topics or skills with any built in assumptions, walk in with a clean slate and learn from the ground up.
  10. Find jobs that encourage learning. Be challenged! Don’t settle for the job that does not offer a ladder to climb or new skill sets to be learned.
  11. Start a project. And finish it!
  12. Follow your intuition. About what job to take, what new skill set to learn, what current skill set to develop, etc. You will know what is right for you and when.
  13. The morning 15. Spend the first 15 minutes of your morning accomplishing something off of your “to learn” list. If you postpone it you are more likely to never do it.
  14. Reap the rewards. Enjoy it!
  15. Make it a priority.

Here are some quick final notes:

  • Know what skills matter most, and which competitive advantages have staying power.
  • Always be honest!
  • Always say YES! to new opportunity.
  • Do not limit yourself.
  • Figure out what you don’t want to do, even if you don’t know what you do want to do.
  • Focus on one path at a time.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback!
  • Network. Network. Network.
  • You are only as good as your last gig.