Not as much as you might think!
By Susan Rostkoski
Principal Consultant: Executive leadership, fundraising, & development
Opportunities for ongoing learning and professional development have burgeoned exponentially over the past five years. Keeping up with the latest advancements in your field takes focus, commitment, and time, the last of which can be difficult to come by. Yet, whether you are a grant writer, program manager, or an executive director, learning and growing in your field is not optional. Especially in a knowledge economy, it is crucial to the organizations we serve, the donors who count on our expertise, and our individual career advancement that we know the answers — or at least know where to find them.
I have accrued many of these learnings myself, but I want to share with you my “aha” moment, insight gained in a time and place when I was learning simply for the love of learning.
In 2017, there I was, on a beautiful August afternoon, sitting in a classroom. Not just any classroom, but one at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, United Kingdom. The building itself was beautiful, over 400 years old, the lawn outside the window was manicured and the hedges and roses well-tended. The topics were designed to appeal to age 50+ lifelong learners. I had spent almost two weeks immersed in what I feel is one of life’s true luxuries: learning for the joy of learning. Lectures and classes ranged across a variety of topics: architecture, science, political science, literature, biography, travel writing, cinema, and Brexit.
I marveled at how the Cambridge lecturers could hold lots of very smart and experienced people enthralled about sometimes esoteric topics. And then, on that sunny day it came to me, the lessons that one sometimes receives as a side benefit of learning. Here is what I want to share with you:
a. Lecturers put everything in context. While the topic might be Winston Churchill, for example, we also learned about the economic and social situations that formed him, who supported or opposed him, demons he wrestled with, and the sublime skills that helped him become the face of Britain during some of its darkest hours.
b. Lecturers were passionate. While they were steeped in knowledge in their field, sometimes in a narrow specialty, the instructors loved learning about anything ancillary that helped them further understand their topic. They had stories to tell about what they discovered that they hadn’t known before, all because they took a road less travelled in pursuit of their passion.
c. Lecturers continued to learn through teaching. Almost without exception, each lecturer would say the following: “I don’t know that I have ever had that question before. It’s a great one and I will try to answer it as best I can—and I’ll check further into it and let you know tomorrow.” While they stuck to the curriculum, they weren’t “I know it and you don’t” types.
So, what do you and Cambridge University lecturers have in common? My offering to you is that ongoing learning and development in your field is less about whatever topic you choose (Tips for a One-Person Shop, Capital Campaigns, Donor Needs and Wants) or whatever delivery mechanism presents itself (webinar, conference workshop, the latest book). It is about whether your choice provides context, passion, and continued learning through teaching or mentoring others. So, while gaining specific skills is crucial, don’t overlook those learning opportunities that might provide you with access to a wider world. Go forth and explore!