Learning Something New in the New Year

February 1, 2017

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Last month, we shared findings from the Future Health Index, showing that lifestyle choices and preventative practices can help us fulfill our New Year’s resolutions to be healthier in 2017. But being better in 2017 can also mean growing as a person and professional by learning something new.

I have to admit that when I arrived in New York last June to work at Ketchum Global Research and Analytics with my newly minted master’s degree from Florida State University, I thought I had the skills and knowledge needed to jump-start my career. After all, my professor at FSU, Dr. Jay Rayburn, APR, Fellow PRSA, had taught me a great deal about applied research, and I was following a whole stream of his students who have done well at Ketchum.

But quickly, it became apparent that learning and growing is a continuous process, not one that ends when you graduate or when you start working. In fact, this lesson was immediately brought home to me when I met my new office mate. Chris Erickson had recently come out of 10 years in the Army, the bulk of that time with Special Forces on highly classified deployments, and decided to join Ketchum as one of its analysts. He, like me, was beginning his career and learning at every step of the way.

Learning is all about grasping the opportunity, whenever it arises, to try something that may not be your expertise. Whether I am jumping into a creative brainstorm, taking a swing at a new project type or using a new tool, I value the opportunities I am given to grow and learn as a communications researcher and analyst. The key is to have a work environment and managers who are constantly challenging you with new projects and opportunities, as well as encouraging you to improve every day.

A 2013 study showed that learning new skills is key to staying sharp as we age, especially when the associated tasks are challenging. Overcoming a challenge gives us a sense of accomplishment, leading us to be happier and more productive.

Aside from the mental and psychological aspects, expanding your skill set can lead to increased opportunities and recognition in the workplace. By being open to a variety of project types and topics, you not only expand your personal skill set, but further the offerings of the company you work for and ultimately increase your worth as a researcher.

Inspiration can come from unexpected places. Being able to look at a client request with a broadened perspective can prove invaluable.

Here are some that I have confronted:

•  Is there a missed connection that can solve a business problem or fill a gap? If a client’s sales are dropping and they don’t understand why, then is it possible that the celebrity spokesperson they hired is a bad choice?

•  Can having a better understanding of XYZ deliver more value to my client? If a major franchise chain hires us to figure out what kinds of bread will help grow their business, then should I know a little bit about how to bake different kinds of bread in a restaurant environment?

So, it may be a little bold of me to offer career advice when I’ve been out of school less than a year. However, putting the right foot forward is not relevant to one’s age or career stage. We can all become more valuable to what we do and who we are by learning every day.

While mastering a project medium or becoming the resident expert on a business area is a great accomplishment, I challenge you to try something new this year.

Next time you hear about a project that piques your interest or you have the chance to work with people from a different department, take the extra step to be a part of that team. The worst thing that can happen is you fall more in love with what you are already doing.

Keep an eye out for next month’s column, which will move beyond how to get paid and into how to get paid well for what you do.

Mackenzie Sawyer
Mackenzie Sawyer is a research associate with Ketchum Global Research and Analytics based in New York City.
Email: Mackenzie.sawyer at ketchum.com.


Nikolay says:

Great Article! Thank you for this inspiration!

Feb. 10, 2017

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