Ongoing learning, professional development, continuous education. Whether you’re a service member or civilian, professional development is likely on your career to-do list. But how do you find the right opportunities, how do you pursue them, and what kind of mindset makes that investment of time worthwhile? Those are the kinds of questions we’re discussing on the latest episode of the Security Clearance Podcast in our conversation with Steve Leonard – aka, Doctrine Man. Leonard is a retired Army colonel and the program director for the Master of Science program in Business and Organizational Leadership at the University of Kansas. He’s also the creator of the popular Doctrine Man, a humorous military cartoon that blossomed into an online brand with nearly 200,000 followers.

What is Ongoing Learning?

Lifelong learning is frequently touted as an important attribute of professional and personal fulfillment. With mission a critical factor driving employee happiness, employers – including the U.S. military and federal government – offer a variety of ‘professional development’ opportunities. But service members and professionals know lifelong learning is more than an online class or a one-time-per-year milestone. It takes many forms.

“There are learning opportunities around every corner,” emphasizes Leonard. “We just don’t always look at them that way.”

Day-to-day learning takes a variety of forms – professional development, civilian education, “and everyone’s favorite, ‘self development,'” notes Leonard. “None of those are offered as much as discovered.”

How do you discover new learning opportunities?

Professionals shouldn’t expect new learning opportunities to fall into their laps, or simply be course selections in a catalog. Mentors can be a critical resource to help you find the right learning opportunities, and identify those that will help advance your career – and that you don’t waste your time with those that don’t.

“You really have to look at what you want, what you need, and have someone who can find those things that are right for you,” advises Leonard.

Also, be open to finding learning opportunities in unexpected places.

“Wednesday mornings at the motor pool were incredible learning opportunities,” he remembers. “How to supervise people who were doing something that they didn’t necessarily want to do, but they had to do anyway.”

What does Ongoing Learning Look like?

As the motor pool example highlights – a learning opportunity can come from the unexpected assignment. But Leonard also highlighted a few different examples of lifelong learning to consider:

  1. Vicarious learning – learning through the experiences of others.
  2. Starting a blog.
  3. Pursuing an assignment that’s outside of your comfort zone.
  4. Learn something new – then master it.
  5. Pick up the book you have to read twice to really understand it.

“Expanding your horizons, and expanding your perspective helps you pursue lifelong learning,” said Leonard.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.