Very often, we get so busy making a living that we forget to live a life. The woodcutter story never fails to drive home in me the importance of self cultivation. The story goes like this:
One day, a timber owner advertised for a helper to help him cut the trees. A very strong woodcutter applied and got the job. The pay was good and working condition was excellent. Eager to impress his boss, the woodcutter was determined to do his job well and so started work the next day.
In his first day, the woodcutter was extremely motivated and managed to cut 20 trees. The boss was delighted and praised him “Good job and well done!”
On the second day, driven by his boss’ praise, the woodcutter tried even harder but surprisingly could only deliver 10 trees. The third day, he tried his very best but managed to bring in only 5 trees. The next day, he could not cut a single tree and began to panic.
The woodcutter went to see his boss and profusely apologized for not delivering in his job. Curious, the boss asked him “Did you sharpen the axe?”
“Huh? Sharpen the axe? Gosh no! I have been busy cutting the trees that I have no time to sharpen my axe!”
In today’s context, most of us are so busy in our daily work that we sometimes forget to sharpen the “axe” in us and do self cultivation. Like the woodcutter, we all want to impress our boss so that we can get our work noticed and get promoted. There is nothing wrong with that because as a wealth builder, our goal is to make money and build a better life for our loved ones.
But in the midst of our busy schedules, we must have the will for self cultivation and make the commitment to constantly upgrade our skills to stay ahead of the game.
Unknown to many people, we actually have two jobs – one involves the daily tasks that we are expected to accomplish while the other one entails solving problems for the organization. Most employees tend to focus on doing their job well and thus try their best in completing the daily tasks assigned to them. However, star employees prove their value by not only doing their jobs well (because that is a given), they also solve problems for their companies.
To illustrate my point, I shall use the woodcutter as an example. Assuming that he realized that the axe was the problem instead of his ability, he could have offered to institutionalize a company procedure that guided all woodcutters to sharpen their axe on a daily basis. Doing so would potentially yield at least 30 trees from each good woodcutter. He had helped the timber owner solved a problem.
But what if he realized that he could do better and helped his boss made more money by upgrading his skill? In learning how to use a chain saw, he could convince his boss that his productivity would enhance tremendously. Of course, the boss needed to consider the trade-off – in terms of investment cost of the equipment and the time taken away when he went for upgrading courses. But if enterprises think of the long-term benefits, training employees to upgrade their skills do make sense.
Many of us have commitments that consume our precious time but we owe it to ourselves to make time for self cultivation. In today’s fast-changing environment, not upgrading our knowledge means standing still, something which we cannot afford to do so. Singaporean’s mentality is that our employers should sponsor our upgrading courses and provide time-off for attending the courses.
However, let’s not forget that there is no free lunch in this world. If your employer sponsored you, there is obviously an expectation of return on investment (ROI). In this regard, start empowering yourself by developing new skillsets through the SkillsFuture Framework.
All Singaporeans aged 25 and above have an opening credit of S$500 from January 2016. Your credit will not expire and the government will provide periodic top-ups, so you may accumulate your credit. Hence, start to sharpen your “axe” and invest in yourself. The $500 may not be enough to cover all your course fees and you probably need to fork out some of your own funds. Nonetheless, think of it as an investment that will enhance your income ability rather than an expense.
According to government data, 126,000 Singaporeans have used the SkillsFuture Credit to up-skill or re-skill themselves. As of today, there are more than 18,000 training courses eligible for SkillsFuture Credit. Interestingly, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the most popular area of training, across all age groups. Younger Singaporeans enrolled for courses on emerging ICT skills such as data analytics, an emerging field that is relevant to the new economy.
Of course, nothing can beat passion. If you have no passion for learning and upgrade for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder, you may want to rethink your motivations. Ultimately, your interest and skill competency should be aligned, only then can skill upgrading raise your game to another level.
In short, always take some time away from work to do some self cultivation. You would realize that life is good and it is only a matter of how well you want to play the game. Don’t wait until retrenchment hit home then you start taking actions to enhance your value. Trust me, in today’s context, you are never too far away from being retrenched. Stay in control and enjoy the ride.
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