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Why learning matters

“The brain is designed for homeostasis,” say neuroscientists who study human capacity of learning new concepts. If you’ve ever worked in a place where people clung to outdated workflows because “we’ve always done it that way,” you know exactly what that means – while familiar and comfortable patterns help avoid stress and effort, staying with tried-and-true principles for too long also has a downside.

Translators and interpreters are confronted with new materials and topics all the time, and daily use of more than one language is known to promote healthy aging. Our familiarity with research gives us an advantage, but a conscious approach to learning can do much more to balance our business activities with wellbeing. Here are three work-related beliefs that can turn into traps:

Success means being overworked

Freelancers frequently equate unrealistic and unreasonable workloads with success. If you find yourself hustling from one project to the next, with few breaks in between, you probably feel too busy to attend to a healthy lifestyle or to learning new concepts. Filling every available time slot with work is not the most effective way of running a business. If we use output volume as our measure of success, we’re leaving significant business potential and money on the table.

A client base must be stable and growing

While retail business benefits from growing and retaining a large customer base, the same is not necessarily true for a freelance work model. If your goal is to add profitable new accounts and find clients who treat you with respect, it doesn’t help to stay with clients that offer large volumes and mediocre conditions. Treating your client base as a portfolio that can be adjusted and maintained will help you leverage growth without having to work excessive hours.

Work-life balance is for later

While we’re in the bubble of processing one project after another, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that fun is for other people and that meeting friends or going on a bike ride will, yet again, have to wait. Foregoing work-life balance may be acceptable in exceptional circumstances, but sacrificing the things that make life more enjoyable – socializing, eating well, spending time outdoors – cannot become a permanent state.

 

Dedicating time to learning offers solutions for breaking out of these traps. As linguists, we need to constantly adapt to new demands and new discussions to remain relevant in our marketplace. Our knowledge about specific developments in defined subject areas is our expertise, which can be leveraged to attract more profitable clients and emphasize quality over quantity. However, experts don’t acquire their knowledge overnight. They study, read pertinent publications, engage in peer discussions, and strive to understand what is happening in specific fields. The truism that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has been thoroughly disproven. Our brain’s ability to create new connections (at any age) is the key to breaking out of patterns that no longer serve us.

What can you do to adopt a learning mindset? The first step is to revise your own views about learning. Old-school approaches with negative feedback and scolding for errors are not a good fit for adults. In contrast, curiosity (“I wonder how this works”) is a much better guide. It is also useful to know how you learn best, which depends on your preferred processing mode. Perhaps book learning is hard for you because you prefer to listen to content, or you need to move around as you explore new concepts. In the Internet age, we have a wide array of content formats and offers available, including the right match for your learning style.

Here are a few pointers for integrating learning into your workday:

– Start small. Make a list of areas to investigate and spend a few minutes exploring at least one of them every day. Keep it light: there won’t be a test.

– Play around. Click on a new feature in your software, attend a conference session in a field you know little about, or listen to a random TED talk. What makes you marvel?

– Have fun. Learning as an adult should never be drudgery. Pick materials, courses or fields that truly interest you and offer new insights. Give yourself permission to quit presentations that keep droning on or are poorly designed, but stay with your effort to continue learning.

– Find others. Another benefit of the Internet age is that you can find other people who share your interests.

 

Chances are, you used to have hobbies and interests that have not received much attention lately. Perhaps this expertise is worth revisiting and expanding? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

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