When your work team needs you at a crucial juncture, will you be the one to step up? When an opportunity comes calling, will you be in the position to seize the chance?

How do you put yourself in a position to succeed?

Answer: Invest in yourself to sharpen your thinking.

It’s tough out there. The globalized job market has young professionals competing against international competition, and rapidly changing technology has us constantly adapting to the next industry change. Getting better isn’t just a choice; it’s a necessity.

I may be a recent college graduate, but I’ve learned a lot of things that are applicable to those who want to build themselves up. I’ve learned that getting better isn’t about adding an accomplishment to your resume, but being able to continually learn. It’s about looking at things from added perspectives, so when a problem arises, you could be the one to solve it. Moreover, getting better is about keeping a consistent, confident attitude—without a resilient mindset, you would fall to the obstacles that populate your journey.

That being said, here’s what I’m doing to sharpen my thinking and make sure that I’m waking up a better person than I was yesterday:

I’m teaching myself Photoshop. Not too long ago, our team needed to design a brochure for prospective clients at upcoming events. The brochure needed to exude our brand and list our services while looking aesthetically perfect. As the liaison between our marketing committee and the graphic designer we hired, I learned about the many nuances that need to be considered before sending a brochure to print. From discussing lighting schemes to masks to feathering, I realized that learning Photoshop would prove fruitful even if I do not master it—if I just know the basics, it could become a functioning part of my work.

Since the brochure project, I’ve spent every Saturday afternoon on Youtube learning how to edit images, revise graphics, and combine pictures. Not only will this help my team next time they need someone with Photoshop capabilities, but it also gives me another angle on how to critique and evaluate different kinds of images. The more I unlock Photoshop’s potential, the more I realize how much I don’t know; the more I’m aware of how much I don’t know, the more I want to learn. The cycle reinforces itself.

I now train Brazilian Jiujitsu as much as I can. In college, I made sure to train Muay Thai and BJJ as much as my schedule allowed. I fought in the ring, but due to my internships, papers, and exams, I didn’t have much time to dedicate myself to martial arts after that. Now that my work ends at 5:00, I practice six days a week. More important, my long-term project is to add more offense and wrestling to my game. I want to take the fight to my opponent.

How has this affected my work? Attack. Attack. Attack. The more I focus on offense at practice, the more I attack my duties at work.  This means I perform media sweeps well in advance and complete my tasks well before the assigned deadline. Much like in BJJ, if I complete my attack early, it leaves room to add an extra measure or step back and rectify any mistake I might have made.

I go skydiving. With proper budgeting and small sacrifices, even a young professional can go skydiving a few times during the summer. What’s the allure? When your skydiving partner opens the door of the plane, you hear the engines roaring. Down thousands of feet below, you see the world as an eagle would. And the moment you jump, you suddenly comprehend how insignificant you are—in between the plane above you and the Earth below you, there is only you. No street cars, no buildings, nothing.

How has jumping out of a plane sharpened my thinking? When you are falling, you let go of your inhibitions and grasp the profundity of the planet below you—you are one part of everything around you. And in the end, the problems I might face are ultimately nothing to the massive landscape around me. When I am at work, I am one part of the team, one component to a much larger body. Any time I feel discontent, I just tell myself to get the job done, because any issues I face at work shouldn’t affect the team. I let go of my inhibitions and fall to my tasks.

In the end, sharpening your thinking is not about being smart; rather, I’ve learned that it’s about self-awareness. This means admitting that you don’t know everything about your industry, constantly learning, and appreciating the journey toward mastering a skill.

Jason Patel is the digital media and administrative assistant at Lumix CPAs and Advisors. He is a graduate of the George Washington University and currently studies political management. He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, outdoorsman, and aspiring entrepreneur. You can add him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or view his profile on LinkedIn.    


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