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It can be tempting to become complacent after achieving success, but focusing on continuous learning can help you avoid this trap and sustain that feeling over time.

Achieving success is an amazing feeling. And while celebrating your achievement is important, it’s also crucial to avoid resting on your laurels and view this milestone as a springboard for further learning and growth. 

Complacency can lead to stagnation

It’s easy to fall into the trap of complacency after an initial win, assuming that your success will always come effortlessly. But skills and knowledge have a “use it or lose it” quality. Regular practice and learning are required to maintain expertise. 

Past wins don’t guarantee future success. Markets, technologies, and competitive landscapes evolve rapidly. By standing still while others push forward, you run the risk of stagnating.

For software engineers, stagnation could mean your skills becoming outdated as new programming languages, frameworks, and methodologies emerge. A programmer who is an expert in older languages like COBOL or FORTRAN may find their career options limited if they don't take time to learn modern languages like Python, JavaScript, and Go. The fast pace of change in tech means developers need to dedicate time regularly to learn new skills rather than relying on what made them successful 5 or 10 years ago.

There are always more skills to develop

No matter your field, there is always room to hone your craft. Even very senior engineers, with decades of expertise, haven’t explored the full spectrum

Take the opportunity to assess any gaps in your skill set after completing a project, like releasing a new product. Reflect on what went well and what you could improve on; focus your learning efforts on the latter. 

Pursuing new skills at this point is critical for several reasons. First, your understanding of the product deepens, giving you the perspective to identify its weaknesses. It also allows you to identify opportunities for the product’s improvement, opening doors to learn adjacent skills like user interface (UI) or user experience (UX) design. 

Second, expanding into new areas makes you more adaptable and well-rounded. Improving upon a product after initial success increases the value of the product and yourself. Diving into new technologies like machine learning or blockchain broadens your competencies and opens new possibilities for your career.

It keeps you motivated and engaged

Continued learning brings a sense of progress and momentum that can reignite motivation, giving you new goals to work towards. By stretching yourself with ongoing challenges you’ll be able to combat the complacency and boredom that can come with getting too comfortable.

As an engineer, learning new skills is critical to staying engaged. Focusing on the same technology stack and workflows year after year leads to burnout and a lack of interest. Learning new languages or tools can be a great remedy to get the creative juices flowing again, presenting interesting problems to solve as part of a learning curve. 

Opening up new possibilities

Developers and programmers sometimes resist learning new languages or platforms because they don't immediately see how this new knowledge will directly benefit their current work. However, exploring cutting-edge and experimental technologies expands possibilities down the road. While the hot new language may not become mainstream, studying it could provide exposure to novel programming paradigms or architectural patterns that inspire innovative approaches in your work. Rather than focusing on learning specific skills for immediate application, spend time exploring the horizon for new, innovative tech that will help long-term.

Setting a strong example for others

As a manager, continued learning sets a tone of growth and improvement that inspires your team. By refusing to rest on laurels, managers can show determination and grit that others can rally behind. 

Stagnant managers who act like they have nothing left to learn can demoralize teams and stifle progress. And on an organizational level, a culture of complacency hampers innovation and adaptation.

Leading by example may be the most meaningful way to influence others, so take the time to attend courses, read books, and experiment with new technologies. Make learning a visible priority to motivate junior developers through actively sharing what you’re currently learning during team meetings or standups. Leaders could additionally schedule public “learning hours" on their calendars to signpost when they are dedicating time to learning something new. Posting updates about courses, books, or conferences you attend also demonstrates an ongoing commitment to skill development. What's more, senior engineers can actively mentor junior staff, providing hands-on knowledge transfer of new technologies.

Tips for lifelong learning

Here are some best practices for continually expanding your skills and knowledge:

  1. Set aside regular time for learning. Don’t let your calendar get swallowed up with routine obligations. Dedicate at least one hour three days a week for reading, taking classes, etc., and guard that time.
  2. Reinvest success back into learning. After a major win at work, I reinvest that sense of accomplishment and enroll in educational programs or industry events that can further expand my skills and knowledge. While the achievement is still fresh, I seize the opportunity to dedicate time and resources towards leveling up.
  3. Learn by teaching. Explaining concepts to others reinforces what I already know and reveals areas where my own understanding is lacking. I volunteer to mentor new hires to benefit both of us.
  4. Take notes and review. I keep a running Google Doc to capture key ideas and revisit them weeks later. Surprisingly, a lot has faded! Reviewing reminds me of impactful lessons.
  5. Rotate through different mediums. I try to get learning experiences from books, podcasts, online courses, in-person workshops, and more. Different formats keep things interesting while expanding my perspectives.
  6. Accept discomfort. Picking up new skills inevitably means struggling through beginner frustration. I remind myself that tolerating discomfort leads to growth.

The progressive journey never ends

Lifelong learning may sound like an overwhelming undertaking. But approached iteratively, it simply means always striving for progress over perfection. View yourself as being on a never-ending journey. Bit by bit, learning new skills and ideas will enrich your life and career. See each achievement as a platform to expand your skills, open up new possibilities, and set an example for others.