“You are responsible for your own development and growth.”
This is the mantra of our generation as knowledge workers. Gone are the days when you could depend on the company to take care of you. It just doesn’t happen very often. However, training classes are typically expensive and they don’t tend to cover all (or even most) of what you really want to know on a given subject. In fact, if you’re looking for something outside of very specific skills that lend themselves to a training class, you’re likely going to come up empty unless you REALLY want to shell out some money. So what can you do? One thing you can do is read.
On most subjects there are an assortment of books to help you whether we’re talking Microsoft SQL Server performance tuning or how to carry on better conversations. Books often offer a low-cost alternative to training, even if you have to pay full price at retail for the hardback. Think about it. Which is cheaper, the $2500 5-day class that causes you to burn days of vacation or the $60 technical book + sales tax? Yes, there are obvious advantages to a class. Often you get to work with a demo environment for that time and you have an instructor available for answering questions and shortcutting the learning process for you. That’s what you’re paying for. However, if money is tight, and even if it’s not, reading is often a great alternative. At the very least, it should be seen as a supplement.
Once you commit to start reading more on the subjects you’re trying to develop in, the key then is to keep track of all the books you want to read. Most folks need to focus on a single non-fiction book at a time. Therefore, if you get a recommendation of five great books on being a better leader, you need some way of keeping track that you still need to read the four you’re not currently studying. Enter the reading list.
Most of us have seen these before. We had them back in school, especially for books we had to read over the summer for the forthcoming year’s English or literature class. As a result, many of us hear “reading list” and we cringe. Back in the day, though, those were the books you had to read. Those weren’t the books you wanted to read. And that’s a big, big difference. Reading lists keep us organized and help us to sort through what we want to read next. Over time your priorities will change, especially as you learn about new books. Reading lists shouldn’t just keep the books you want to read, but they should also help you prioritize in what order you want to read them. In addition, reading lists also serve to remind us when we need to get a book that’s coming up on the list. Otherwise, we’ll likely experience that scenario where we heard something was a great book, we make a mental note to get it, forget about it, and then are rudely reminded about it when someone else brings up the book. I hate that. That’s why I started keeping a list.
Lists don’t have to be fancy. I keep mine in Evernote in plain text. I used to use Amazon’s wish list for this same purpose, as the image shows. Now my wish list has been purposed back to being a wish list in case I have a relative or friend who is stuck as to what to get me. However, it’s a great tool for this purpose. You could use pen and paper. Just use something that works. I went to Evernote because it’s easy to get to on my smartphone, like when I’m in a bookstore or at the library.
Remember, this is about investing in yourself. This is about growing you, so it’s important. Keep the list, keep it in something you’ll actually use and refer to, and read. Read often. Read whenever you get the chance. Just read.