I don’t know about you, but when I was at school I thought “only a few more years and then it will be over!” I just couldn’t wait to finish school.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed learning (most) things, and knew I would go to university etc., but somehow, I had this thought in my head that all that learning would eventually stop, and I’d get a job and that would be it. Yes, I heard all the ‘exams never end’ and ‘the day you stop learning is the day you start dying’* malarkey, but I just smiled, nodded and subconsciously filed these under the clichés junk folder.

Fast-forward a few years and here I am, a handful of jobs and qualifications later: a healthcare communications professional – of all things – in a language that isn’t my native Italian. “So, you kept learning…”, I hear you say? So I did. But I’m not sure I was fully aware of it.

Something wonderful has happened recently: a sort of magic that opened my mind and suddenly I am tuned into more shades of learning than I ever knew existed! I can’t quite explain how or why, it just feels like more ‘active and integrated’ learning as opposed to ‘passive’.

I find myself spending 30 minutes or more in a book shop taking pictures of books I like the look of and buying a couple at a time. One book leads to another and maybe even to a podcast, related or not. I’ve always loved reading (on-and-off), but this is different. Yes, I am reading – or listening – but in a totally different way. Not only am I learning about subject matters, but also integrating the author’s way of thinking into mine, and therefore letting the learning shape my own thinking – and applying it to something different entirely.

Here I share the top-four of my ‘shades of learning’ from unlikely reads and how these are shaping my healthcare communications thinking:

A must-read. When we take democracy and its pillars for granted, that’s when things start to go terribly wrong for our society. I feel everyone has a civic duty to read it and be aware.

Learning: mind the rabbit holes and go back to basics.

I was recently researching evidence of health inequalities in older adults and ways to address them. Wouldn’t it be great to play a part in closing the health inequality gap! But where do you start…?

It’s such a vast subject, riddled with big data, multifactorial socioeconomic influences and underpinned by the inadequacies of underfunded healthcare systems. I noticed that for every question I had, another three followed. I thought about The Secret Barrister and realised that there was no way to find a single solution to the problem. By steering clear of rabbit holes, I made sure that my research could support global strategy thinking without getting lost in rabbit-hole details which would have distracted from the overall quest.

Enchanting. Storytelling meets hard-core economics in this father-daughter conversation. It explains so much about our modern society and how we’ve come to think and feel the way we do in 2019.

Learning: if you can’t explain a concept to someone with no technical knowledge of it, then you don’t understand it either.

This is an invaluable lesson in our line of work: if we don’t understand what a client wants to communicate to their audience, there may be some gaps in the client’s thinking that require our attention. It’s not, as I used to think, that we aren’t good enough at our job: being a good communicator requires the humility to say: “I don’t understand” and dig deeper, guiding the client to further explore their thinking and formulating a strategy.

Fascinating. Aside from the subject at hand, it’s worth listening to the first lesson/podcast for the learning technique tips alone!

Learning: fake it before you make it (shhhht: don’t tell anyone!).

It’s so true. Whether you read it in a self-development book, you heard it from a colleague or just do it instinctively: a mindset shift – or creating a new persona – sometimes is the only way to learn something new the right way.

Alright, I said ‘fake it before you make it’ for effect here a little, but it’s not too far from the truth, is it?

I found myself giggling on the train this morning listening to the Accelerated Spanish podcast describing how I had to pretend to be Joel the bee to learn Spanish. A language is not a vocabulary: it’s a personality – and I feel the same is true of many aspects of our job. How many ‘work personalities’ do you have, and which will you use next?

Empowering. Written for 8-year-olds, yet so meaningful to read at any age – so much so that I bought a copy for my big brother and sister to remind them of how awesome they are to me!

Learning: I am awesome. I rest my case.

It sounds silly, but sometimes you just need a little reminder. If you put your mind to it and are happy to continue learning (see what I did there?), you can be awesome at (almost) anything.

Every book you read, podcast you listen to, person you meet and conversation you have could trigger your next lightbulb moment. Allow yourself to read between the lines and see if you can pick up on a new way of thinking that could change your own thinking and influence your approach to the next project you work on for your client.

*Fun fact: it seems impossible to determine who coined this phrase… try to Google it like I did and see if you have better luck (or skill) than I had!