As I’ve written many times before, pretty much the only constant these days is change. And when change happens, nearly always the appropriate response is to update something in order to make it mesh well with the new situation and better handle the new requirements and opportunities.
The previous sentence has been an awkward way of leading into the concept that sometimes changes in your work and your life may call for you to re-evaluate your whole approach to the world in which you live.
To better navigate these difficult moments, you’ll do well to assess and consider several personal attributes to help identify when it may be time for you to cope with recent changes in your work and your life by updating yourself. These include:
I recently wrote about personal values here and here, listing some of the standards I consider worthwhile to pursue in search of a satisfying, meaningful life. Whether or not you agree with what I wrote, I encourage you to stay aware of your own values – both as you believe them to be and as you express them through your activities. This awareness puts you in a better position to reconsider and potentially update them whenever elements of your work and your life change significantly.
You don’t have to keep your values current and relevant to that deepest-level search for satisfaction and meaning almost all of us pursue. But if you don’t, you run the risk of spending time and energy on efforts that won’t lead you where you truly want to go.
In a world of almost infinite variety and possibility, each of us continually selects where we put the bulk of our attention, time, and energy. But as the world regularly changes, and as we change with it, some of our interests may fall out of step with the actual needs and opportunities we regularly encounter in our work and our life.
For example, we may enjoy certain stories on TV or the internet that draw our time and attention away from important activities we would benefit from pursuing. Or we may remain adept at a skill or activity that’s no longer as necessary or enjoyable as it once was.
That’s why it’s important we re-consider and perhaps re-calibrate our interests from time to time, in hopes of better reflecting and capitalizing on who we are or who we can become as we grow and develop over the years.
Your Mission and Goals
Research has shown over and over again that feelings of success and satisfaction emerge primarily from the meaning we find and make in the long-term goals we actively pursue. When our situation changes significantly, it’s all-too-common that previous goals can begin to feel less meaningful.
For example, you may once have fervently wanted to develop expertise at a particular skill or discipline. Later, you may find your efforts toward this goal no longer provide as much satisfaction and the goal feels less meaningful than it once did.
This is a clear sign it’s time to update yourself.
Your Skills and Knowledge
On a more practical level, the skills and knowledge on which you rely for daily convenience, results, and success are almost certain to need updates from time to time. When I started in engineering school (I almost immediately found it unsatisfying and changed schools), it was widely acknowledged that engineering knowledge had a “half-life” of five to ten years – that is, approximately half of what engineers knew became worthless or outdated in a relatively short period of time.
Today, the half-life of knowledge in many more specialties has become even shorter.
Of course, you may argue this isn’t true, particularly in areas related to “human nature.” But what if you’re wrong? It’s probably more fruitful not to bother arguing and just keep learning as much as you can, as fast as you can, in hopes of keeping up.
The idea of “updating yourself” may seem unnecessary or even foolish. But I’m convinced what’s really foolish, when all the world around you is rapidly changing, is to pretend you can remain (or become) fully satisfied and successful without some level of continuing personal growth.
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