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The Commons: Boost your job prospects by “re-creating” vs recreating

Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? If you’re like millions of working adults (meaning, anyone reading this), of course you do. And, while most of us are referring to a lack of time between 9 and 5, the reality is that the most successful people are willing to sacrifice some of their “free time” on a weekly basis toward improving their career prospects. However, there can be little doubt that the temptation to not be disciplined has gotten significantly stronger the past few years.

What temptation am I referring to? The rise of streaming programs on Netflix, Amazon and other platforms. And with them, the urge to binge-watch. Americans have more leisure time than ever before, and we’re spending much of that free time looking at a screen.

Watching shows en masse can be fun, even satisfying in the near-term. My family is always happy to see new episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Peaky Blinders, or Grand Designs show up on our watch list. But what had once been reserved as a treat on a long-flight or an escape from a crummy-weather weekend has become a weeknight ritual for many. Research tells us it’s not great for our health. Watching more than three hours of television in one sitting is leaving us with less-focused brains – not to mention it’s sucking up time that we may have once used more productively.

Let’s change that. As a proponent of continuing education, I’m challenging Americans to reclaim some of that time as an investment in ourselves and our futures. I call it a “re-create” versus recreate decision. How can you plan to use some of your off time to invest in skills development?

Maybe you are a marketing professional and, instead of settling in for the first few episodes of (fill in the name of your favorite binge-worthy show here) on a Tuesday night, you enroll in an online data analytics professional certificate course and push the show to the weekend. Or, perhaps you’re currently employed in a less-than-rewarding role and you’re ready to take the leap to entrepreneurship. Netflix can wait; now is the time to be your own boss and call your own shots, so you engage an enrollment coach and evaluate your choices for the right program to put you on the path to success.

Rapid changes in technology and the role of automation displacing and even eliminating positions means it is up to us to own our professional futures with fierceness and intention like never before. Odds are that you are going to change your career –not job positions, but career– between three and seven times before you retire. And that number is only going to increase with longevity (did you know that an 18-year-old today has a 50% chance of living to 100?).

What do the factors of rapid change and longer lives mean for our relationships to education? As futurist Alvin Toffler told us, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” It means that walking across the graduation stage, diploma in hand, no longer symbolizes a walk away from our educational lives, but a walk toward the next step in lifelong learning.

It means that what you learned five years ago in college might already be out of date. It means that while you are a 25-year veteran of your trade, the new hire in your department has knowledge that you don’t have. It means that even with a master’s degree or a doctorate, our journey to mastery of our skill is never ending. It’s what we should expect of ourselves, and it’s what our employers are increasingly expecting of us.

So, what are some practical ways we can be intentional about re-creating our recreating time so that we can become the best version of our professional selves?

Get a handle on your free time. Take a look at a typical week and weekend and scrutinize where you spend your time. Once you have a clear handle on the breakdown of work vs. family vs. leisure, you can better assess how much you’re able and willing to dedicate to a continuing ed or career development program.

Talk to a career coach. With so many options available, it can be difficult to determine which course and modality (online, classroom, hybrid) is best for you. Enrollment coaching teams can help you think through your long-term career goals and evaluate your options.

Consider non-traditional education options. For many of us, a second degree isn’t feasible – it takes too much time and it costs too much. But there are options out there that can round out a resume´ or give you a competitive edge: professional certificate programs, degree completion programs, and bootcamps from reputable providers are all worth your consideration.

Don’t be a stranger to your network. No, not your television network – your professional one! The digital age has given us much more than great streaming TV options; it’s also given us the ability to create and maintain an expansive professional network. Identify an area you’d like to improve, search your LinkedIn network for someone with that skill set, and ask them to mentor you.

Cliffhangers keep us binge watching our favorite shows, but nobody like surprises when it comes to our lives and careers. Turning some of that recreation time into re-creation time will let you, not someone else, write your next episode.


Rovy Branon is the vice provost of Continuum College the University of Washington’s professional and continuing education institution and president-elect of the University and Professional Continuing Education Association. Follow him on Twitter.

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