Upskilling UnLimited = Version Infinite.Zero of Yourself
Principal “Virus” may have been initially portrayed as the villain of the film - 3 Idiots (2009), but what he said was very true indeed, “Life is a race; if you don't run fast, you'll get trampled.” With every second passing by right now, someone, somewhere, is coming up with a new invention or idea. After all, time and tide really wait for no one.
There are 8 billion people on this planet. In 2020, there emerged, out of nowhere, a deadly virus which none of us had seen coming, and that shook the lives of each one of us in some way or another, forever. What could we do about it? Adapt. Upgrade. Upskill. These are the only possible solutions, we have to the challenges that life unexpectedly throws at us. So, we started wearing masks and carrying sanitizers; we started taking online courses and invested the money we had saved for a new briefcase, in a stable internet connection instead; some of us may even have had to learn how to use Zoom and Teams. Why? So that we are not left behind in this never-ending rat-race that we call ‘life’.
This process of constantly trying to keep up, by learning and upgrading our ways, knowledge and abilities, is known as upskilling. One thing to keep in mind about it is that it is a process, and not an end-goal. This basically implies that the moment we become complacent and feel that we have attained the desired level of upgradation that we thought we needed, we will be surprised to see just how many miles we still have left to walk, before we can peacefully go to sleep. You may have mastered the English language by studying it all your life. What if, tomorrow, you get a call from a company offering you your dream job, paying you more than you could have dreamt of, but it is located in China and has Mandarin as a required skill to be considered for the position? In all likelihood, the first thing you will do after hanging up is look up Chinese courses online. Knowledge is power, and any skill acquired is never wasted, for who knows when it will come to our rescue in the most unexpected of ways.
Thanks to the ever-changing times and rapidly pacing economy, upskilling has a major role to play in organizations too. It can make or break any and every deal. If any of us is asked to describe the business environment of today, most of us are likely to use adjectives on the lines of - dynamic, complex, turbulent, uncertain, in a constant state of flux, and so on. Beautifully encapsulating this concept is the acronym, VUCA, gaining popularity for obvious reasons of late. It stands for - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. In essence, it suggests that as the world becomes more multifaceted and paradoxical, it becomes more and more difficult to predict or plan anything beforehand or go by the “one size fits all” belief as it is more likely to backfire rather than help us anymore. This way, this acronym which was once used to describe a war situation now also largely applies to management and leadership. As a result, companies have to be proactive and can no longer afford to be reactive. They have to stay updated about technological advancements, corporate social responsibility, and a hundred other factors and if anything goes wrong, it can cost too much. Such an environment causes fear and confusion, as human beings do not like feeling powerless, or accepting that we do not have control over the things happening around us or impacting us. This can result in erosion of motivation and creativity.
With the new normal of work-from-home culture in place in most companies, as we spend most of our day sitting at one spot and staring at a screen for hours, it becomes challenging to not feel exhausted, if not physically, then mentally, as the boundaries between work and home are disappearing. It is not easy to be at our productive best, when we are constantly worried about what we saw in the news, the safety of our loved ones, the threat to our livelihoods and a hundred other things. Thus, the organizations that, in the attempt to extract most out of their employees are knowingly or unknowingly turning insensitive to their most precious assets, i.e., their employees are not only losing out on them, but also the probability of long-term success. It is now more important than ever for managers to emotionally upskill themselves to become approachable and empathetic, and co-workers to be understanding and sensitive.
Does upskilling, however, refer to acquiring new skills only? The simple answer is ‘No’. Intelligence is no more defined as only the ability to learn, it now focuses more on how we adapt to various situations. With this broader definition in place, it means that for us to be able to succeed, we require not only cognitive abilities such as memorization, concentration, etc., but also inter-personal skills and emotional intelligence. Emotional Upskilling, thus, is just as important as upskilling, if not more. If we are the most talented person in our office group, but do not have the social skill, assertiveness or confidence to portray it in front of our manager, we may not be able to get the promotion we deserve. On the other hand, even if we are not perfectly prepared for a presentation, but are able to notice the feedback reflected in the subtle body language of the audience, we may still be able to ace it by spontaneously adjusting it accordingly.
The purview of emotional upskilling is broader than only our professional life. It largely applies to our personal life as well. For example, while dealing with this deadly pandemic, we did not only require better technological skills, but also higher resilience. When we find ourselves snapping at everyone, or crying without being able to find a specific trigger, it is our mind indicating to our body that it is getting overwhelmed and overburdened, and needs to be catered to and recharged. What we need more than anything else in the most challenging of situations, is the emotional strength to persevere. There is no shame in taking a day off from work just because you do not find yourself able to concentrate. Taking a break, giving yourself a little extra care and time than usual is not a luxury but a priority now. Without the emotional upskilling that difficult times demand, every aspect of our lives is likely to get impacted severely.
With passing time, new discoveries, evolution and developments, it is now essential to not just learn and adjust but also to unlearn and relearn. Growth is diversified and unlimited. At an individual level, we have to make sure that we are living not only physically but also psychologically in the present time. For this, it is important to give up old stereotypes and prejudices, faulty beliefs and traditions that have been passed down generationally and make ourselves aware and sensitive citizens of the nation and the world. For example, even if some of us used to look at females as the weaker gender, menstruation as a sin or homosexuality as unnatural, as that was the culture we had been exposed to or what we were taught, it is now our responsibility to change the narrative for the coming generations. Grandparents may have a lot to learn from teenagers, and it may help CEOs to take the suggestions made by interns seriously. There is no upper ceiling to grow in order to blossom into our most beautiful versions. We do not know what will come next as the future is unknown and uncertain, but we do know that we have to prepare ourselves for it, in every sphere of life, whether it is professional or personal.
Hence, the aim is no more to be our best self, but to become an infinite version of ourselves that is patient and resilient, and open to change. The only way to reach this goal is to upskill ourselves, both in terms of knowledge as well as emotional tenacity, and to do it continuously. The process of upskilling can never end, because there can be no limit to acquiring knowledge and abilities. No human being can ever say that they know everything there is to know. All we can do from our end is acknowledge that change is the only constant and the only way we can keep up is by constantly upskilling ourselves. Perhaps there was more to the comment made in the ‘Fault In Our Stars’ by amiable Augustus Waters, “We are on a rollercoaster that only goes up”.