3 Ways To Stay Smart Even When You're Working Like Crazy

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
By Emily Pope

“You'll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” ― Julia Child

After graduating from Temple University in the summer of 2012, I couldn’t wait to step out of the library and into an office. Preferably, it’d be one with an open layout and fabulous people traipsing around — but, you know, I wasn’t picky.

Soon after graduation, I got my big break: I was a social media manager for an online pet-supply company in New York City. While it wasn’t as glamorous as I’d (naively) imagined, it was in my dream city, and I was grateful.

For the next two years, I worked tirelessly, learning everything I could about social media and marketing. I conducted my own research and attended networking events and conferences, and as much as I learned through those means, I learned even more from my amazing coworkers.

I missed learning.

Although I had gained valuable experience, by the end of 2014, I’d started feeling stagnant in my position. I was becoming restless and unhappy. I missed my undergraduate days of studying for hours in the library, or regularly participating in lively class discussions. I missed learning.

In a fortunate coincidence, my boss at the time had just announced that she was leaving to work for an education startup called General Assembly, which taught relevant skills in business, tech, and design.

I was intrigued. What was this school that taught all of the topics I was interested in? After some research, I soon signed up for my first evening class at GA, called “Introduction to Campaign Tracking.” It was taught by the talented folks at Nine Lines, a digital agency out of Brooklyn.

The class was informative and fun, and the lessons were actionable. I left buzzing, already planning which class I would take next. A few days later, my previous boss reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in a content marketing position at General Assembly.

The rest, as they say, is history.

One of the best perks about working here is that I get to take our classes for free. While in theory I would love to take them all, taking classes while working full-time is hard. It takes time, dedication — and sometimes, a little extra caffeine. But the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Since starting at GA, I’ve taken a number of short-form classes and a part-time business course. Most recently, I helped teach our Digital Marketing course two nights a week. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help balance working full-time and taking classes.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Find A Course That Works With Your Schedule
From MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to meetups, there are plenty of ways to continue your education without taking on the commitment (or debt) of grad school. The trick is to be honest with yourself about a few key factors: the amount of time you have to dedicate, your reasons for taking the course, and your willingness to learn.

If you’re just looking to gain a few new skills to integrate into your professional or personal life, then a free or inexpensive online course may be the way to go. However, if you’re looking to seriously move forward in your career, or shift gears altogether, you might want to consider enrolling in a part-time or full-time class that meets in real life.

Think seriously about your needs, expectations, and schedule before signing up for a class of any kind.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Venture Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
When I was first deciding which part-time course to take at General Assembly, I was immediately drawn to the Digital Marketing course. After all, I’d worked in marketing for a few years and thought that I would probably both do well and solidify my current skills.

However, after speaking to a few women I admire, I realized that if I took this class, I would be falling back on a tendency to only pursue something if I knew I’d be successful at it. So, instead of Digital Marketing, I took Business Fundamentals And Tactics — a topic in which I had no previous experience, and which (quite frankly) I found more than a little intimidating.

Fortunately, taking a business course kept me challenged and engaged. It wasn’t easy, but after completing my final project, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt since my college graduation.

This newfound confidence inspired me to apply for a teaching position in the Digital Marketing course that initially interested me — which I’m proud to say I got!

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Hold Yourself Accountable
While undeniably rewarding, taking a three-hour class twice a week definitely took some getting used to. Before the class had even started, I rearranged my schedule and let my friends and family know that I would likely be busier than usual. Weekends became less about relaxing and more about catching up on homework and preparing for my next class. Guess what? I loved it. My newly regimented schedule helped me feel more productive at home, and more engaged and excited at work.

In balancing work and class, I felt accountable — to myself, my instructors, and my peers. Even if I didn’t feel like completing a particular reading or assignment, I did it anyway. This unanticipated bond was one of the best parts of taking a class that met in real life. The energy and commitment of the group kept me feeling motivated to keep learning and moving forward.

If you’re feeling restless or stagnant in your current role, don’t worry: Nothing lasts forever, and taking a course (whether online or in person) is an amazing way to keep you motivated and remind you why you love your chosen field. Or, maybe it will inspire you to change careers altogether.

Continuing your education isn’t easy, but if you find the right format, push yourself to venture outside your comfort zone, and hold yourself accountable, you’ll get through it — and maybe even learn a thing or two.

Next: How To Win At The SEO Game


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