For the Pro, School Is Never Out

Recently, I casually mentioned in my e-newsletter that I was taking a writing course. One of my readers, JN, was absolutely shocked.

“YOU are taking a WRITING course?” she asked incredulously.

Her implication was that, for me – given that I have been a writer for three decades – taking a writing course is either frivolous or silly… a waste of time and money.

JN could not be more wrong. “School is never out for the professional,” I answered.

It’s my observation that folks who are really at the top of their field are constantly reading, studying, learning, and attending lectures in their specialty. Why? To raise their mastery and skill to an even higher level.

On the other hand, those who are at the bottom seem to feel they have learned everything they need to know at college, trade school, or on the job. And they exhibit little or no desire to spend more time learning any of it better.

This attitude seems lazy and counter-productive at best – and dangerous at worst.

Can you imagine going to a doctor who didn’t keep up with the latest medical research? Of course not. So why is the idea of a writer taking a writing class so surprising?

JN’s reaction reminds me of an American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) weekend writing conference I attended many years ago. The person sitting next to me and I were both studying the curriculum in our conference brochures.

“This looks good,” I said, pointing to “A session on how to write book proposals.”

She sniffed haughtily. “I don’t need to go to THAT. I am ALREADY an author… and I have written a published book.”

At the time, I had written 30 published books. But I didn’t tell her that. I went to the session, and I learned a lot – enough to publish 45 more books (and counting).

Maybe JN thought that, seeing as I presumably know how to write, I would be better off taking a course in flower arranging or bookkeeping or PowerPoint. But, as busy adults, you and I have extremely limited time. We can take only so many courses. And you will get a far better return on your investment in education by taking courses in things you are already good at – your strengths – rather than areas where you are weak.


Your strengths are what make you successful. The other stuff doesn’t much matter.

In his book Strength Finders, Tom Rath writes: “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” Yet, notes Rath, 77 percent of parents think that a student’s worst subjects, those they get the lowest grades in, deserve more time and attention than the subjects they are best at.

Think about it this way…

In a horse race, the winning horse can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than the horse that “places” (comes in second) or “shows” (comes in third). Yet often, especially in major races, the first-place horse beats the second-place horse by only a fraction of a second. Therefore, if the horse and jockey make a massive effort to improve in speed and beat their previous time by only a second or two, they can win instead of place or show – and make the owner and the jockey a lot richer.

On the other hand, a racehorse is a lot less powerful than a Clydesdale (those humongous horses that pull the Budweiser beer wagon in TV ads). If you strength-trained the racehorse for years, it could probably get stronger. But it would never get even close to the Clydesdale in strength… and it wouldn’t earn a dime more on the track.

Many things about success are counterintuitive, and the notion of training is one of the most counterintuitive of all.

Most people, when they see classes being offered, gravitate toward those on subjects they are weak in… hoping to improve their skill level from minimal to acceptable or to learn something new. For instance, I am not an expert in search engine marketing, which is a hot topic in my industry. So, to correct the defect, I signed up for the Direct Marketing Association’s Certificate Program in Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

I am taking the class now – and, yes, I am learning a lot about search engine marketing. But I have also learned something else. Namely, that no matter how much I study search engine marketing, I will never know more than a small fraction of what the top gurus – like the ones who wrote the DMA program – know about it.

So does that mean I quit the program, give up learning SEM… and never optimize my website? No. I am still learning SEM. And my website will be optimized. But not by me. I did something a lot smarter than trying to learn how to do it myself. I went out and found a top SEO consultant, who (with my assistant’s help) is optimizing the site for me.

As you can tell, I am a big believer in being a specialist and hiring specialists.

I have found that, with rare exception, most people are only really good at one thing. In particular, I am wary of freelancers with hyphenated expertise (e.g., “writer-designer,” “illustrator-photographer”). I find that these folks are usually good at only one of their two skills and mediocre at the other.

There is so much to know, no one can know it all. And trying to do so is futile. As Thomas Edison once said, we don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything. Given the overwhelming amount of information in the world today, and our increasingly limited time to master it, I am convinced that we get the best ROI on learning and training by focusing on our strengths – and learning to do what we do well even better.

I agree with the late direct-mail consultant Dick Benson, who said: “Do what you do best in-house; buy everything else outside.”

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 70 books. To subscribe to his free e-zine, The Direct Response Letter, and claim your free gift worth $116, click here now.

You may already know a lot about making money on the Internet. But no matter how much knowledge you have, you can always learn more. Get Bob’s expert guidance in how to make money online right here. And hurry – the price goes up $100 at 5:00 p.m. today.]

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