Like many women, I have multiple identities - I am a professional, mother, wife, daughter, and sister. Each of these identities is important, and, over the last two decades, I have learned to juggle the different priorities each role demands. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley and Philadelphia to Mumbai, there have been daunting challenges, but nothing seemed impossible, as long as I invested in myself.
Embracing lifelong learning (even before I knew that was a ‘thing’!) has helped me manage so much: survive the terrible two’s, succeed in a corporate career, launch two businesses and nurture my children for an unpredictable future. Through personal examples, below I outline how other women can leverage avenues for learning to create value for a range of stakeholders.
Keep the neurons firing
When I was a stay-at-home parent to three under three, my husband was setting up his company’s Southeast Asia office. To maintain my sanity between diaper changes for my twins, I rounded out my knowledge of the region’s history by brushing up on facts using Wikipedia and reading articles in The Economist so that I was clued into the cultural and political dynamics my husband was navigating. This research also primed my re-entry to the workforce when we relocated to Singapore, where the availability of live-in help made working and parenting more doable.
While taking a break from formal work, it is easy to become complacent – kids, home, spouse and myriad other responsibilities make it easy to focus on the immediate, hampering your own growth. Resist the urge! It is important to always be learning, whether understanding blockchain, the impact of climate change on local shorelines or the current state of political regimes around the world.
Even if you just read an article or two or view some TedEd videos on your phone, you can contribute to cocktail party conversations, help your children with homework or simply better contextualize requests. And then, when you are ready to re-enter the workforce, you’ll have the confidence to re-skill in your actual field of expertise.
I try to understand the ‘why’ behind, well, everything. While not all topics sit in the bullseye of my interest zone, by exploring wide and far, I am able to draw connections between disciplines, topics or issues. And those connections deepen my understanding of the world and of potential opportunities.
Recently, a friend told me how inspired she was after reading Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime. Since my daughter had read I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and was reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, I suggested she put Mr. Noah’s book on her list. The common thread of these books – maintaining grace in the face of oppression, rising above pettiness and having faith in opportunity – offers multiple examples of resilience, a quality critical in a world fraught with uncertainty and shifting allegiances. By having my daughter read all three books, I want to spark a conversation about impact as well as help her form a framework for living a life of meaning.
From a more practical perspective, as an employer, I often find that employees offer suggestions with little evidence to support their viability. By learning to find common connections between disparate ideas, you are forced to support assertions with data and examples. And, that is a skill that is timeless.
Play to your strengths
It is just as important to upskill in your area of expertise. If you are an accountant, then make sure you are up-to-speed on the latest regulations and software used in the industry. Staying current is as easy as subscribing to email updates from an industry journal.
Another way to keep your knowledge fresh is by taking online courses. Platforms such as Coursera and EdX offer high quality university-created classes, delivered right to your laptop, usually on a flexible schedule. Since these courses are current and include the latest research and data, they represent your best opportunity for continuous learning. Below is an excerpt from the EdX website:
An estimated 27 percent of women who hold engineering and computer sciences degrees have left their professions, most commonly to care for family. According to the STEM Re-entry Task Force, bringing technical workers back into the fold could be an effective pressure relief valve for the current talent shortages in engineering and science. Online learning can be regarded as a meaningful credential for professionals returning to the workforce after a career break, and a great opportunity for serious updating.
Beyond the big names, there are many platforms that have niche offerings. Try MasterClass, Simplilearn, Upgrad or find new options on online course discovery platform Lore.online.
Network, network, network
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of building and nurturing my networks, whether from my work, community or educational experiences. I regularly connect people with common interests, provide updates to contacts and lend a helping hand when possible. Across life in four countries, networks have helped with professional opportunities, childcare options and raising venture funding.
So, even if you aren’t actively looking for a new role, attend local networking events for your industry, educational institutions or cultural groups. These events offer a chance for stimulating conversation, building knowledge and just enough exposure to keep you in the game, before you actually return to the game.
Learning is something we do every day. Just being a bit more cognizant and purposeful about it can go a long way in making your world more interesting and your opportunities more robust.
Kavita Mehta is a thought leader at the intersection of education, skill-building, technology and impact. Her 25-year career across financial services, digital media and entrepreneurship is firmly grounded in her belief that education is a right, not a privilege. Her focus on mentorship empowers others to magnify impact and increase confidence through a keen awareness of their own potential. She is the founder of Caymus Technology Ventures, co-founder of The Red Pen and author of Acing Admissions, published by HarperCollins.