Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

How To Reskill For Change By Learning How To Unlearn

Originally published in: Forbes

Reflecting on the importance and art of reskilling — learning and unlearning — comes at a timely moment. The Covid-19 pandemic has permitted us to learn how important soft skills are, and, more importantly, increased our capability to adapt as fast as we can — which requires both the patience to learn and the humility to unlearn what we knew before. And as more jobs are opening up and more people are leaving jobs and launching new companies, it’s time to invest in our unlearning capabilities to reskill for change.

But how do you do that when things continue to change?

While the elements of patience, empathy, creativity, curiosity, courage, listening and humility will all be important in the process of reskilling and upskilling any skill, here I want to highlight some key tips for how you can expedite your reskilling capabilities by learning how to unlearn as fast as you learn.

1. Clear Motivation: Understand Why You Want To Reskill

While change is inevitable, constant change without purpose is hard. Imagine how it would feel when you’ve just taken hours of training to learn how to do a workflow when your manager comes by to say that everything is changed again. For most of us, our gut reaction is to feel upset. I took all this time to learn something new, and now you want me to do something different?

This is why it’s so important to have a clear understanding and motivation to want to reskill. For instance, when I did not even know how to host a Zoom meeting, because I wanted to find a way to create a safe, inclusive, engaging workshop online, I did everything I could to adapt, learn and unlearn. Since I couldn’t pass around creative physical prompts, I had to rethink how to use chat, whiteboards and messaging to make people feel they were using creative prompts. If I didn’t have a clear motivator, I would have felt burnout by the constant change and feedback that seemed to say I wasn’t good enough.

2. Know Yourself: How You Think, Work, Learn And Unlearn

Next, you want to assess how your learning and unlearning are accommodating your personal learning style. When do you feel most eager to learn? When do you have the time and energy to reflect, digest and unlearn? If learning takes a certain amount of listening and reflecting, then unlearning — the process of letting go of what we thought we knew was right or of a certain way of doing — takes more patience, humility and listening. Schedule and plan your milestones for a timeline and process that works for you instead of forcing yourself to learn when you are tired. Even if the deadline is the same, you will find that process more enjoyable. This is because when we are tired, we face decision fatigue, and no matter how motivated we are, our minds are not at the best state to learn nor digest. Take a look at your calendar, the learning options and how you recharge, and plan for it.

3. Knowing What Progress Looks Like: From Small Wins To North Star

All skills, though different, will have a path to growth. But it’s up to us to both measure and celebrate the journey of reskilling. While learning how to handle ambiguity does not feel as easy to measure progress compared to learning how to code, it’s possible to map out your progress by starting with these questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? When do you want to get there by?

With these questions in hand, then backtrack your calendar goals and milestones. For instance, to learn how to manage my time and emotional resilience better, I gave myself different goals for three months. The first month was getting more comfortable eating healthier in my kitchen that I barely used and blocking my calendar time to eat. The second month was getting more comfortable designing my meetings and workflow to not be at the same time so that I could be present but not overbooked. These milestones made my abstract learning more tangible and doable as I could see how I progressed each week. I was able to manifest growth because I could picture where I wanted to go.

4. Be Curious When Things Change

The beauty of agile reskilling is that everything you’ve learned, you may quickly need to unlearn and learn again. That means at times I’d have to let go of the presentation I spent hours working on because there was a technical problem. I couldn’t pull up my slides, but the show must go on. So instead of letting frustration be the end of the narrative, I got curious. How could I rechannel the slide message while participants couldn’t see it? I wondered how people could feel more connected because we couldn’t do the breakout session we originally had in mind.

Asking these questions makes us not only feel more comfortable to face change, but also more at ease to know we can learn on the spot.

Of course, all of these will be more fun if you enjoy the process. A career is never just an end goal. It’s a journey. And when we take a step back to where we are, where we want to go and why we want to go there, we may realize that jobs, careers and titles are only part of the picture of how we find our best selves at work. At least with these tools, I hope you also realize how your capacity to learn, unlearn and upskill for any job is possible as long as you are willing to try to stand back up again. Nothing is impossible.

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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