High Performance

The Only Skill You Need to Master to Be Wildly Successful

BY Donna Sherriff

self-education pie chart graphic by bossbabe

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Self-education is the secret to growing the life and career you've always dreamed of.

The most successful people in business and life are constantly learning. Whether it’s through formal education, self-directed learning, gaining new experiences or even through failure learning is a constant for success.

The key to self-education is ensuring that like all parts of your professional development plan it is specifically targeted at your strategic goals. What are you trying to improve? Your commercial skills, your C-suite credentials, your coding or just your people skills? Do you need to ditch some old habits and cultivate some new ones? Either way, your self-development plan should be built around your goals for yourself.

Self-education comes in many different forms and you can pick and choose the best combination that suits your learning style, budget, timeframe and interests…

The Best Resources for Self-Education

Formal Education Online

The most time-consuming and expensive option for self-education is formal education through specific learning institutes. 

This is a good option if you are trying to fill a large gap in your experience or qualification is required for the next step. There are endless options available both in campus formats and online. If you are keen on higher education but don’t want the whole diploma or degree some organizations Stanford and MIT offer auditing style courses on a range of subjects online.

If it’s an MBA you’re after, again they come in campus versions, online versions and now even super intense condensed versions.

Short Workshops + Training Courses 

If you need a short immersion into a subject, a short workshop or course could be your thing. There are myriad training providers out there providing everything from conflict management training to customer service skills. Just get online and see what’s around. 

Digital Short Courses (LinkedIn Learning / Coursera)

If you’re just looking for some snippets, a refresher or want to find out if a subject even interests you, digital short courses could be your thing. Platforms like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera offer subscriptions that allow you to learn at your own pace on an endless range of subjects. On completion, you can also receive a record of learning if you choose.

I personally use LinkedIn learning. It has a great range of leadership, business and self-development courses. It also has a range of more technical and specific subjects.


Who doesn’t love a good conference? The advantage of conferences is that they provide opportunities not only for learning but also for interaction with like-minded people. You can form great contacts at conferences that can lead to further learning and other opportunities down the road. They can be expensive and do require a block of time commitment. My advice would be to choose carefully and make sure your conference is going to deliver to your expectations. 

The other advantage of conferences out of town is that they give you an opportunity to spend some time in another environment which you can use to your advantage. Whenever I’m at a conference, I always make time to schedule other activities around the conference dates. This could be supplier or customer visits or to arrange tours of best-practice companies. The more learning you can cram in the better.

Books + Journals

Back in the late 90s when I completed my degree and started working, the internet was in its infancy. Not only was there not a lot on it, but it was also hard and slow to access. My only source of endless information was through books. Before e-books were invented, it was a choice between paperback, hardback or journal. 

woman sitting on a couch reading a book for self-educationBooks are probably still my go-to medium when I want to learn something thoroughly. There are many timeless books that are still relevant today when it comes to business and success. There are also many new authors pioneering new approaches. Here are a few of my best picks:


I think one of the best inventions of the last decade is the Podcast. It’s talkback radio but without the talkback and about subjects that are actually interesting. The trick is to find a podcast that really speaks to you and that you learn from more often than not.

My current favorites are:

The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim is into life and bio-hacking. Fascinated by successful people, Tim interviews as many as he can on his extremely successful show. His podcast with Jim Collins of Good to Great is inspiring.  

pair of headphones with rose gold detailThe Minimalists Podcast. Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus are The Minimalists, two guys who climbed high on the corporate ladder and realized that they didn’t want anything at the top. Since then they have redefined success and have a successful blog, documentary and podcast.

The BossBabe Podcast. The BossBabe podcast is the place where BossBabe co-founders, Natalie Ellis and Danielle Canty, share the real behind the scenes of building successful businesses, achieving peak performance and learning how to balance it all. The guests on The BossBabe podcast are truly inspiring and offer incredible opportunities to learn. Listen to the latest episodes.

Blogs and Vlogs

The best thing about subscribing to educational blogs and vlogs is that the posts come directly to your inbox. I like this format because it means I can read the ones that interest me and delete the stuff that’s not going to add value right now. You can learn a lot through the experiences and learning of others. Good blog and vlog posts often inspire and motivate which is definitely key in your learning journey.

TED Talks + YouTube (yep, not joking)

We all love a good TED Talk video and the best thing about them is that the ideas are often pretty cutting edge. A short-form learning option, you can take in a lot in a very short amount of time (20-40 mins).

You might think that I’m kidding about YouTube but I have learned so much from watching it over the years. It’s a great place to go to find out information on just about anything. If it wasn’t for YouTube I would never have found a lean mentor who inspires me every day. His videos on YouTube gave me a whole new perspective and direction on lean.

The only thing I would say is take everything with a grain of salt and watch multiple videos on the same subject. You also need to avoid going down the rabbit hole with all the sidebar links.

How to Get Started + Succeed

Failing to have a solid self-education plan is not an option for someone that wants to learn, grow and get results quickly. None of us have time to waft around the edges of education, dabbling in a lot of different areas and learning not much about a lot of things. 

My personal self-education program is made up of a combination of books, conferences, online short courses, podcasts, TED Talks and YouTube. I love podcasts because I can learn while walking or driving. LinkedIn short courses are great because I can speed up the dialogue and learn 1.5x faster. YouTube is on my favorites list because I can see what other people are doing in the spaces I am interested in, it’s Benchmarking on steroids. I love conferences because it's where I can recharge my batteries with people who think like me and have the same passions and challenges as me.

woman's hands opening black leather journal for self-educationI use a lot of the options above and you may be thinking OMG how does this person find the time? The trick is to develop a learning mindset, to love to learn for its own sake and to know that you don’t have all the answers. 

I may appear to learn randomly on the surface but there is always an underlying theme. Right now my focus is on two things. I want to get better at developing good habits and ditching the old ones that aren’t serving me. In my working life, I am fascinated by the development of improvement culture and the creation of high performing front line teams. Everything I choose to learn is centered around these focus areas. This way, I get the most impact for the time I have to spend learning.

If you have just been reading the odd book and watching TED Talks that others have recommended, consider spending some time to work out what your education goals are this year. Following this, put a self-education plan together for yourself and get learning. You will not be disappointed with the results.


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Currently creating the woman I want to be. Excuse me if I become extremely protective of myself, my time, and energy.


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