“Get out or get better”: 3 Lessons I learned about Upskilling


Let’s face it; if you’re only relying on in-service training in your workplace, you’re probably stuck attending those yearly snooze-fest workshops or webinars on Respect and Cultural Diversity. Let’s be honest, those sessions contribute as much to upskilling as a rubber ducky does to space exploration – not a lot! They’re just boxes your employer needs to tick, and most employees dread them like a Monday morning meeting.

So there is no way around these sessions. You have to attend these because your employer actually does want you to learn something, even if you feel like you don’t.

But what are you doing in your own spare time to upskill yourself? If we go back to basics, what does upskilling mean to you? What do you truly want to learn or do but haven’t figured out the ‘HOW’ yet? Perhaps you’ve considered a course or program, but time and costs clash with your daily grind.

Been there, done that. I once believed that my learnings only counted when backed up by official documents like degrees. I was so paranoid about being caught as a fraud that I ended up with severe tunnel vision and overlooked all the real opportunities to enhance my own learning and professional development. If this feeling resonates with you, then at least know that you are not alone. To a certain extent, everyone experiences the fear of being a fraud at some point in their life, even if they are considered an expert in their field. It is just human nature to self-doubt, and that doubting Thomas lives rent-free in everyone’s mind.

What I have learned in the meantime, are three things. And oddly enough, I experienced these learnings during the year that I completed an MBA. Talk about feeling like a fraud, as a nurse joining a group of students from various business backgrounds and being expected to contribute efficiently was rather uncomfortable. But this was also where I learned these lessons that stuck with me even years later, and these are in actual fact, just a mindset that I adopted from lessons learned along the way:

  1. Your perception of yourself changes according to the environment you are in. So make sure that you are in the right environment, and if you’re not, either get out or get better. As a nurse, working in a hospital ward, I felt bored and unchallenged, like a caged bird. I knew I could do more but not exactly HOW. Then I sat in an MBA class on day one and stats slapped me in the face like an icy breeze. I walked out to have a little cry in the bathroom because I felt SO lost and convinced I made a massive mistake. Turns out, it was all about perception and what you measure yourself against. I had the choice to either break free from nursing (get out) or level up by doing more nursing courses (get better). I didn’t want to stay in nursing so I got out. And then decided while I’m at it, I might as well get better in another field. And in the end, I can honestly say it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected it to be, the hardest part was managing deadlines and not actually regression analyses.
  3. Here’s a wake-up call: no one is truly special. Yes I know your mother probably told you how special you are and I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but there will always be someone better than you at something (and also someone that doesn’t know as much as you do). The problem with thinking you’re special is that it leads to complacency. Special treatment might seem sweet, but it won’t get you far. You want that shiny opportunity? Work for it! “Lucky breaks” often come from hard work and preparation. If you adopt the mindset that you are not special and you have to work for things you want, it automatically gears your thought processes to finding solutions to getting what you want. And eventually, your uniqueness and your specific skills do make you special but it is a status to maintain and not a milestone to reach/
  5. And the last lesson, or mindset change, that I learned was to acknowledge and accept my abilities as much as my limitations. This is not about strengths and weaknesses, it is the fundamentals of your being that I am on about. Everybody is born with a tendency to be better at certain things while other things don’t come as natural. Have you heard anyone say that some kid will be the next Usain Bolt because of how fast he/she is running? Or perhaps that another kid will definitely become an engineer because he/she loves taking apart their toys instead of playing with it? There is the ideation that you have in your head of what natural abilities or limitations you have and these are often, not very accurate unless you actively spend time working on it. So what am I on about? Take me, for example. I had a creative flair since birth; artsy stuff was my jam. But numbers and math? Not so much. However, I rolled up my sleeves, studied hard, and nailed it. But I never thought about it much until I sat in that statistics class, feeling like the biggest fraud. While I was still making sense of the questions, others were shouting the answers and it was a very uncomfortable situation. Self-doubt flooded my mind. The problem was not the school though, it was my own understanding of my abilities. But I first had to acknowledge that I had certain limitations and that it was not a poor reflection of me, my intelligence or my commitment, but it was something that required more effort on my side if I wanted to improve. On the other hand, I also learned that if I had a natural inclination toward a certain subject or concept, the sky was literally the limit.

Now, let’s tie these lessons into upskilling.

You cannot rely only on external factors to improve yourself such as in-service training at work; it’s like expecting a donkey to win a Formula 1 race. Only when you put yourself out of your comfort zone, do you actually start learning new things.

Since completing that year, I have upskilled myself ten times more without a single extra degree or even a certificate. It was a mindset shift to look for opportunities to learn. Any opportunity. Say yes to any challenge and figure out how to do it later because you never know what you might learn along the way.

Imagine now what you could do if you understood your abilities and leveraged that while improving on the areas that don’t come as easy? Well, paradoxically, you might just end up being quite special. 😉

-Liz Füzy

More blog posts