Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

These days, there are ALL KINDS of classes out there — promising all kinds of results for all kinds of people needing all kinds of skill sets. When it comes to professional development, it’s tempting to think that any and all education is good for our career, but that’s not always the case. Before you sign up and pay for a class, figure out if it’s really more valuable than simple experience, or another, better option. A good way to figure that out is to ask yourself one question: Do you really know why you want to take it? This may be hard to ask, and even harder to answer, because we tend to rationalize our choices in a way that makes us look and feel good. But those choices may or may not be actually moving us forward if our only reason is:  “I’m buying a class! See? I’m serious about my career!”  

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Well, duh! Who takes a class just to look good?” You would be surprised. And many more of you would be surprised the answer is you. How do I know? Because we all waste time watching videos, reading books, attending Udemy classes that we NEVER apply to our lives. And in most cases, they aren’t even satisfying a curiosity! It’s not like I’m taking an AstroPhysics class because I’m curious about Quasars, even though I will never go into the field of study. That would be cool, because it satisfies an internal curiosity that brings pleasure. But when you consider most books, educational videos or web classes you take, it’s not a genuine curiosity; its a desperation to further our career. You just need to know if its really doing that. Can you look in the mirror and honestly say, “I’m taking this class to seek specific knowledge that will move my career forward or solve a specific problem”?

For some of us, if we’re honest, it’s more like, “I don’t know what to do, I’m lost, and I’m just hoping this will give me some answers.” If that’s the case, remember: hope is not a strategy.

There is nothing wrong, by the way, with exploring options and testing the water of things you know little about. Curiosity, after all, is a powerful teacher. The point I’m getting at, however, is whether the investment of your time, money and mental energy — things we have far too little of — is really worth it? That’s the question you need to answer. 

Consider your life plan; where do you want your career or life to go? What’s the next desired step? Is there a role, promotion or opportunity you are striving for? How do you want to grow, who do you want to be, how do you want to impact the world, what things bring you joy, what ways do you like to spend time or would like to spend more time, where and how you get energized…? Then ask yourself: will this class/book/video help you achieve any part of that? 

When you really get down to it, you’re looking for education that fills a gap you can’t cross without specific knowledge. That makes your education laser-focused. Education is a brilliant, wonderful thing, but unapplied knowledge can be a waste of time, energy and money. Never neglect your education, inspiration, or motivation. Study the people who’ve gone before you. Do all of this. 

Just make sure you’re applying it, and moving forward with your goals.