Why I Have Snapchat… And Other Tales of Continuous Learning

A few months ago, I asked my reverse mentor (I also call him my son) to set me up on Snapchat. I’d heard teenagers and young adults talk about the social media platform, and although I already use Facebook and LinkedIn and even know who to follow on Twitter, I had no idea how to use Snapchat. And truthfully? I also had no idea why I would even use it.

And that was exactly why I wanted to learn about it. Snapchat, the mobile social networking app, allows users to send and receive photos, videos and comments that disappear seconds after being seen. The concept is to share moments as they happen, and that idea is very appealing to Snapchat’s main audience, 71% of whom are 34-years-old and younger. Of which I, clearly, am not.

But it wasn’t FOMO that made me want to learn about Snapchat. I didn’t really have a fear of missing out—but I had a fear of missing an opportunity—an opportunity to learn something that wasn’t necessarily intuitive, convenient or even useful to me, but that I was curious about anyway.

In many points of our lives, learning is planned out. We follow a curriculum in school or fulfill a list of requirements for our major in college. For work, we may take tests to acquire credentials or take courses to expand professional skills. But even when that learning isn’t prescribed—if your company doesn’t have a budget or plan for it, or if you’re not working outside the home, continuous learning shouldn’t fall by the wayside.

Why You Need Continuous Learning—Now

Our fast-changing world requires us to keep up or get left behind, whether it’s preparing for a future career or enhancing personal development. But just as disruptive technology can make current skills obsolete, it can also create new opportunities. Staying on top of these changes is key, especially if you’re working or considering returning to work.

My Own Learning Through reacHIRE

In 2015, as my youngest child started her senior year of high school, I contemplated returning to corporate work after being at home 20 years, raising four children. Although I’d done freelance and entrepreneurial work during that time, business processes and technology had changed tremendously. Would my skills and knowledge be up to date?

Fortunately, I found reacHIRE, an organization designed to connect corporations with professional women who have been out of the workforce. reacHIRE gives attendees a career refresh (examining motivators and barriers to working, determining career direction, developing elevator pitches, revamping resumes, etc.) to prepare them for the business world. Part of the program focuses on technology and business; specifically, coding and project management methodologies. I’ll admit it: as an HR/communications specialist, I got a bit grouchy when we delved into the Ruby programming language. For me, it wasn’t intuitive and I knew I’d never need it in my type of job. But in retrospect, those hours of trying to code gave me a high level of understanding of how coding works and how it is used. In the same vein, I may never use agile for project management, but when I got a corporate job, many business units did use agile, and it was very helpful to be familiar with it and to learn even more about project management processes and their abilities to create not just structure, but change in an organization.

The topics I learned through reacHIRE, whether about newer business trends or how to re-define my strengths as I updated my resume, significantly increased my confidence as I started a new working adventure.

Create Your Own Continuous Learning Plan

But learning isn’t just for preparing for or doing a job. Learning can be used to enhance your life. Studies show correlations between education and longevity, stress reduction and cognitive health. Those involved in lifelong learning are more likely to be curious and open to new ideas—plus, learning—especially when it’s of your own volition—can be fun.

Ah, but what to learn, and how? The plan can be simple (like my foray into learning about Snapchat), or more complex, but it should nudge your development forward. You can make a learning plan that is structured or casual. A more structured option could include a college course—for credit or not, held onsite or online. MOOCs (massive online open courses) like Coursera and Udemy, or other online platforms like Lynda.com offer a variety of short-term and long-term classes.

You don’t have to go to a traditional academic class to reap the benefits of education. Sign up for golf or tennis lessons. Visit a new museum each month. Take piano lessons. Join a neighborhood book club. Go to a Meetup group. Set up Google alerts on a topic and read the updates. Curate a list of experts in an area of interest in your Twitter feed and follow their tweets. Watch YouTube videos from a channel you like.

Be Intentional About Your Learning

Although your learning doesn’t have to be complex, it should be planned out—otherwise your development can get lost in the busyness of life. Every three months or so, create your curriculum for that period and review it periodically to stay accountable.

As you pursue your education, give yourself permission to be flexible. Maybe you’ll find that platform tennis is more fun than learning traditional tennis. Or that coding isn’t your thing, but learning project management skills inspires you. What’s most important is cultivating the habit of seeking new information and experiences. Doing so can help you be more open and prepared for any changes that come your way.

As for Snapchat? I realized it wasn’t as useful to me as the social media I was currently using. Other than my kids, I had few connections, and for some strange reason, my kids didn’t want to share their “snaps” with me. Although it didn’t work out, I’m still glad I explored it and now have the experience.

So. Does anyone know how to use Instagram?