Let’s Hear From an Expert: Kathy McDonald, Adult Learner Advocate
You’ve been in the field of adult learning for the last 17 years. Why is learning important, especially as we age?
Labor economists predict that by 2025, 60% of all jobs in the US will require some form of postsecondary credential, and most jobs will be disrupted by technology. Look at Panera: They have a bank of tablets to order from now; soon they will need someone to maintain that technology rather than simply take your order at the counter.
For many of us who are mid-career, we may have developed an expertise over years of working, and yet most fields are constantly changing. For instance, the marketing field has mainly moved to digital, so if you only deal in printed media, you will find your skills are less valued over time.
Seeking out learning opportunities, and at times additional certifications or other forms of credentials, demonstrates you are staying up-to-date with the trends, whether in your current field or the one you hope to enter.
What are the challenges and opportunities you see women facing in midlife and beyond, as they seek to continue to learn and grow?
Many times, I see people looking for the one answer, as if the clouds will part and their future will suddenly become clear. It usually doesn’t work that way. It takes the ability to try new things, meet new people, and experiment to find the breadcrumbs that begin to look like direction. If you are needing a definitive answer about your future, you might settle on something just to move forward, and miss out on a future that might have led to a calling.
What advice do you have for these women?
I like the idea of starting with several possible futures and conducting what author Herminia Ibarra calls mini-experiments. Try little ways to get information on whether any one of these futures is worth exploring further. For instance, you could go to the local chapter of the professional association for a future you are considering to see if the topics they discuss are interesting to you, whether you feel like you “fit” with people in that field, and whether your energy goes up when learning more about that field.
Be open to the idea that this journey is not linear. For example, let’s look at the last several moves I’ve made. I knew I wanted to focus on adult learning and thought that meant going into higher education. But I went from working for a firm that helps universities bring their programs online, to working for a small liberal arts college supporting adult learners to where I am now, with the Florida College Access Network (FCAN). FCAN is a social impact organization that works to mobilize multi-sector collaborations in communities throughout the state to level the playing field and open doors for more students, including non-traditional students. At the start, I never could have envisioned that this was my “calling” because I didn’t even know work like this existed. But through my meandering path, each step gave me more clues. Now I know I want to stay in the social impact space because it gives me the opportunity to do work that positively changes lives while supporting my own growth in the social impact space. I really enjoy the people this work attracts, who are interested in taking on very complex, community-wide challenges.
What resources do you recommend?
My go-to guide for mid-career explorers is Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra
I also recommend Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. This book also encourages exploration and mini-experiments.
Jon Acuff’s Do Over: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career is a funny and informative way of rethinking how you approach your career, by encouraging readers to invest in 4 things: relationships, skills, character, and hustle.
For creative types, I recommend the podcast The Accidental Creative, because Todd Henry shares some great tools and resources for those—inside and outside organizations—who need to be creative and solve interesting client challenges while remaining productive.
I’m also a big fan of assessments to help people better understand what makes them tick. StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an obvious choice, but one that’s off the beaten path that I really like is Mind Time Maps, which helps you understand whether you are predominantly a past thinker, present thinker, or future thinker, and helps you understand how to speak to the other two.
Kathy McDonald is the Associate Director of Network Partnerships for the Florida College Access Network (FCAN), an organization that ensures college and career readiness for under-served populations including adult learners. She is also co-author of Creating Your Life Collage: Strategies for Solving the Work/Life Dilemma (Three Rivers Press), a book that shares work/life balance tips and strategies from nearly 1,000 women. She has delivered workshops for Fortune 500 companies including Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Accenture, and for leading conferences including Working Mother magazine’s Work/Life Congress. Kathy has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show and Fox News and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and the LA Times. Prior to joining FCAN, Kathy held increasing levels of responsibility in finance and marketing at Oracle and Kraft Foods and has spent the last 17 years in talent development, helping individuals and leaders make smart choices about their career plans. She is a Certified Leadership Coach and holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.