Red firehoses

This is the second post in a series on how to be a self-starter. Post 1.

No matter how long you’ve been doing your job, there’s always something you don’t know. If you disagree, maybe you don’t know what you don’t know. To me, that’s scarier than admitting I don’t know something. Which I do, a lot. The more I read, the more I realize I don’t know. (And the more I read.)

How to be a self-starter tip #2: Learn New Things.

To self-starters (and Type A personalities), knowledge is power. We drink from the firehose and ask for more. What normal people might call information overload is part of many communications professionals’ morning routine. After much paring and automated email sorting to various news feed folders, I’ve gotten my morning news “download” down to about an hour. I could be happy reading news all day, but I do actually have to get work done too, thus the paring.

If you’re not reading news feeds, newspapers or blogs as part of your normal day as a communicator, you’re probably missing opportunities. If a reporter from your hometown paper calls you out of the blue, it’s nice to be familiar with some stories he’s written lately. Industry blogs, news feeds, Twitter and email digests are a great way to stay on top of trends, such as the latest social media platforms or gaffes. While I don’t advocate reading every newsletter in depth, scanning the headlines will give you an idea of what’s hot in your industry. You can even take this a step further and start a targeted commenting effort as part of your media outreach (thanks to @shonali for the link).

In addition to external resources, you might have access to online training. Larger companies often offer online training, or have partnerships with universities. Look at courses that will not only help you with the job you have now, but prepare you for the job you want 5, 10 or 20 years from now. Take courses that make you promotable. If you want to be a manager, take a course for new managers, even if you aren’t one yet.

If your company offers tuition reimbursement, go back to school part-time. A lot of reputable graduate programs are offered online now. Go for an MBA, which will help you understand more about business, or a specialized program, such as a Master’s in biotechnology, if that’s your field of choice.

You can also learn a lot on the job. Ask to sit in on operational meetings. (Note: observe quietly, but don’t butt in unless specifically asked.) These meetings will help you learn more about how your organization works, and may give you ideas for web or newsletter content. Take a notebook, and quietly jot down ideas that come to you while you observe.

“Self-motivated” often goes along with self-starter. It’s a different way of thinking. Instead of “what’s in it for me?”, ask what if? What can I learn today? How can I do a better job, even if no one notices but me? You can’t fake self-motivation–you have to really want it.

Next up: Oh, the thinks you can think.