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How to Stay Relevant and in Demand

By Janice McDonald, M.A.

Janice McDonald is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with leadership training from Harvard & INSEAD. Janice was awarded a World of Difference 100 Award in Washington from The International Alliance for Women and a National Leadership Award in 2011 from Canadian Women in Communications. She is also Chair of the National Board of Canadian Women in Communications and of the International Women’s Forum Ottawa Chapter, as well as President of the Organization for Women in Trade, Ottawa Board.

Dr. Melissa Forgie, Vice Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education at the University of Ottawa, says that we must “accept that change is the new constant.” I couldn’t agree more and, as an entrepreneur, I thrive in this environment.

Changing times are when the greatest opportunities present themselves if you are brave enough to get out there and find them. And to see any opportunity through, you have to stay relevant.

So how do you stay ahead, stay relevant and in demand in a world where 140-character stories fly around the globe in record time, and are seen by millions in mere seconds? A world where what we learn today can almost be out of date tomorrow?

The best way to stay in demand is to commit to life-long learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean the pursuit of a post-grad degree or professionally focussed designations. Some of the most transformative — and professionally rewarding — learning will happen outside a formal classroom.

Seeing art, listening to live music, attending a lecture on an unfamiliar topic — these are all ways to keep you engaged and ahead. And with so many available resources, there are limitless opportunities to stay that way.

Some people transform their commute with audio books, taking in the latest business titles, best sellers or practicing a new language.

Dr. Forgie has integrated the humanities into the medical curriculae at the University of Ottawa and believes it makes for better physicians. If exposure to art makes better doctors, the rest of us could certainly benefit as well. When was the last time you visited a gallery or museum in your own city?

With speed and change constant factors in our lives, it’s essential we are informed, curious and continuously upgrading our skills. Jackie King, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Hill and Knowlton Strategies in Ottawa has an effective strategy for doing that. She reads everything: books, research reports and magazine articles — to ensure she is perpetually learning. Like Jackie, I read all the time and the phrase I coined to best describe my reading habit is “broadly and oddly.”

I think you can propel yourself forward by staying fresh and relevant. Reading widely is a simple step to achieve this. I still put myself in a classroom from time to time, though. Recently, I spent the day at The Institute for Corporate Directors, studying “Boardroom Financial Essentials.” It was an immersive, one-day program designed to help directors better execute their core responsibilities and I left informed about linking financial discussions to strategic oversight of an organization. This will make me a better board member, but it will also improve my strategic thinking in my own companies.

I am also in the midst of the ICD course that offers a designation. I was drawn to it because it meets my strategy of constantly staying fresh with the latest thinking around board governance and it also has me planning for my next career moves.

On the advice of a friend, I discovered an amazing program at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. After one level, I was hooked and continued on. Although I didn’t take it specifically to benefit my work, it has proven to be invaluable in all aspects of my life.

Still, informal settings, where the learning potential is high, are appealing to me. What’s next? I’m taking an art class in the fall because I’ve heard that art feeds analytical reasoning and problem solving. When I was speaking at a conference in Rome, Dr. Nancy Adler from McGill gave a moving keynote on Arts and Leadership and the powerful connection between the two, and I am a believer. Although her own art is in collections around the world, my plan is to make something good enough to put up on the fridge.