The name of the game in the current economic climate is adaptability and focus. The sheer quantity of resources available over the Internet make knowledge and practical skills easy to acquire. It is more possible now than ever to completely reinvent yourself in the space of a couple of years. The potential for self-education is virtually limitless.
So why isn’t everybody doing it? People stumble upon fantastic opportunities all the time! Well, 50% of them won’t recognise an opportunity for what it is, 30% will be temporarily enthused and get very excited but lose momentum within a day or two, and 15% will persevere for a while until something goes wrong, then lose hope and give up. That leaves 5% that will grab the bull by the horns and set sail wholeheartedly into the unknown.
Back in the days before computers, the Web and mobile phones, it was often necessary to make a sizeable investment and take on at least some personal risk to develop marketable skills or invest in a training course. Today, the landscape is entirely different. Yes, the cost of a degree may be skyrocketing – but on the other hand, most major institutions are now offering free online courses and sites like Codecademy, Udemy and Treehouse provide free or low-cost training courses in everything from web design to app development via Photoshop and WordPress. The Internet is now a veritable goldmine of useful information ripe for the picking. All you have to do is use it.
And yet: there’s no point in having access to all these resources without a purpose. Hours whittled away on Facebook are testament to that. Have an idea of where you want to be in a few months/years from now and plan your self-education around that. Here’s a brief guide (inspired by leading UK entrepreneur Nic Rixon) to help you develop a focus and get started without delay. You’ll need a large, blank piece of paper and a pencil.
1. What do you want?
Take your blank piece of paper and sketch a small circle in the middle – leave plenty of space around the outside, as you’ll need it later. Now, identify a handful of key goals that you’d like to achieve over the next two or three years. Think carefully about the opportunities available to Generation Y; in-demand skills such as social media marketing, data analysis, web design and infographics are well on course to become central pillars of the digital economy. What’s more, you can become proficient at any of them almost entirely on your own initiative.
It might also be useful to think about things such as where you’d like to work, whether you’d like to be operating independently, how many hours a week you’d like to work, the lifestyle you’d like to enjoy, the connections you’d like to make and so on. Separate your circle into segments (like a pie) and write down a goal in each segment.
Good – now you know where you’re going, which is more than most people.
2. How are you going to get it?
Now draw another circle around the first one and extend the lines out to the edge of the new circle. Take a close look at each of your goals and write down, within the new segments, five things that you will have to either have, do or become to achieve them. If, for example, my goal is to be running an e-commerce business across three continents, the criteria for doing so might be:
Become a proficient web developer
Understand and apply the e-commerce business model
Minimise living costs
Obtain appropriate IT support systems
Design and market a digital product
Relocate to a country with the lowest barriers to entry
Be specific – and make sure you cover everything. What would you require to put yourself in the position you envisage for yourself within the context of the Generation Y digital economy?
3. What can you do already?
Now you’ve identified what you’ll require to transform yourself into the person you want to be. You should know which skill sets you’ll have to develop in order to carry out your dream project. Before moving on, draw a third circle and extend your segments outwards once more. Take stock of where you are at the moment. What skills, abilities or knowledge do you already have that you can use to your advantage? If you’re already on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, you’re doing well. If you’ve got any understanding of online retailing or have ever promoted or shared something on a social networking site, even better. It might well be that without realising it, you’re already halfway there.
4. What do you need?
Here’s the important bit. Draw one more circle around the outside of your existing sketch and extend the lines out to the edge one last time. Now that you know where you want to be and where you are right now, you should be starting to develop a more concrete idea of what stands between you as you are now, and you in a couple of years’ time.
Write down three to five specific actions that you can take in the next 24 hours that will bring you closer to each of your goals. This might include setting up an online blog, purchasing a LinkedIn premium account, or starting a course in basic website design. It could mean setting up ten meetings or deciding where to relocate to.
In my case, I began writing for this and other blogs, began training courses in WordPress, HTML, CSS and PHP, began teaching myself French, and decided to move to Colombia for two months the following summer. In less than a day, I’d made more progress than in the previous month. Caveat: it’s not good enough to stop here. You’ve got to follow up – continuously. If you’re keen on becoming a web designer, put two hours into it every day, no matter what. If it starts getting too difficult and your progress slows, don’t give up – that’s what most people do, most of the time.
5. When do you need it?
Excellent – you now know what you want, how you’re going to get it, where you are right now and where you need to be. You’ve broken down each stage of your future transformation into digestible pieces and you’re ready to get started. But you’re not quite done. Equally important as focus and purpose is a timeline; set yourself targets. You may aim to master blogging within two weeks, perhaps, or be able to design a simple website from scratch by Christmas. It’s entirely up to you, but make sure they are targets that require proactivity and work, but that you can stick to and realistically achieve.
A Final Bit of Good News
If you’ve followed the steps above, you’re in a great position to move into top gear and get moving. Chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re young, relatively tech-savvy and switched on. You might be a recent or upcoming University graduate facing mountainous debt and a tricky job market, but now that you’ve read this article, it should be increasingly clear that neither of the two should restrict the choices you have yet to make in life.
Information-sharing is experiencing astronomical growth, and the World Wide Web is crying out for people like you to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Models of higher education and training that require your physical presence are increasingly available in purely digital formats that anyone with an Internet connection (assuming you’re not living in North Korea) can access. The confines of academic institutions and offices are dissolving – and no one is better placed to shrug them off than you.