When I qualified as an actuary, it was made clear that qualification was not the end of the journey. It was stressed that just because we’d passed some exams, that didn’t mean we knew everything: we’d continue to learn throughout our careers. Obviously, this isn’t uniquely actuarial – pretty much every profession requires its members to carry out continual professional development (CPD). This is intended to make sure that, at the very least, professionals are aware of current developments in their field of practice.
Sometimes, CPD goes further, encouraging people to learn skills to improve their broader ability to perform as professionals. Courses on leadership skills, communication and the like fall into this category.
But learning of this type typically involves deepening one’s knowledge in a particular area. At best, any increase in breadth is usually to an area of direct relevance to one’s core skills. It’s also worth noting that even when doing a broader course, you’ll typically be with people like you, particularly in terms of seniority.
Now, these courses are certainly useful, and often essential – and not just because they are a professional requirement. But it struck me that if I never swim too far from my professional shore, and I’m always swimming with the same demographic, my perspective is unlikely to be challenged.
So a few months ago, I took up karate.
In this class, I’m at least twice as old as the next oldest student, and almost three times as old as many. I’m also the only white belt. Everyone else is far more accomplished than me, and probably will be for a while. But I’m treated – I believe – like any other beginner, with no more and no less expected from me than any other learner.
I’m sure that taking up something like karate can have important health benefits, both physical and mental. But I think there’s another more important aspect worth mentioning. Starting something like a martial art from scratch means you’ll (a) know nothing, and (b) be with a completely different group of people than your professional crowd. And it can be good to remember what it’s like to be the new kid again – a complete novice surrounded by relative experts. Remember, this is how many non-experts you come into contact in your professional life with will feel when they meet you. Starting a new interest and being the beginner once again is a great way of bringing you back to earth and reminding you that no matter how much continuing professional development you’ve done, you really don’t know it all.