In our Learning Diaries series, seasoned HR and business leaders share how they make time for a critical but often overlooked aspect of their jobs: learning. It's an inside look at how successful people navigate their busy schedules to continuously improve their skills—and advance their careers.
Summer Salomonsen lives and breathes learning and development. The Head of Cornerstone Studios and mother of two has built her career experimenting with different types of learning strategies and educating people about the power of L&D. But with a busy work and home life, how does she make time for her own learning and development activities? Salomonsen breaks down how she adds a daily dose of L&D into her schedule and how it empowers her to succeed as a mother, a colleague and a manager.
Best Advice for Approaching Learning: Be curious! Curiosity is the catalyst for learning. I find that the best kind of learning happens from a place of questioning – why is this thing the way it is? What might make it better? How can I impact my own learning and development?
Biggest Struggle with Learning: There are three "A"s that can stand in the way of my learning: arrogance, abstention and apathy. Simply put, you can miss out on an opportunity because:
1) You don’t think you have anything left to learn
2) You don’t have the effort in you to keep learning
3) You just don’t care about learning
This past week, I struggled most with abstention. I kept fighting that feeling of, "Is this really worth my effort?"
Total Time Spent Learning this Week: ~12 hours
My Learning Diary
I identify as a "lifelong learner." However, I don’t use the phrase often to describe myself. That’s because the word "learner" can imply a narrow scope, focused only on career growth and professional development. But for me, lifelong learning isn’t just about my job. Instead, it’s the exploration of ideas in every sense of the word. I learn through the lens of film director Federico Fellini’s famous advice: "Live spherically, in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm —and things will come your way."
To me, lifelong learning means applying that sentiment of living spherically to learning and development. By following my curiosity about any topic or idea, I can make discoveries and develop connections between seemingly disparate things.
In my life, no two weeks of learning are the same. But, it’s my desire to learn – my curiosity – that pervades all.
Day One: Spherical Learning in Practice
6:30 AM-9:00 AM
I’m awoken by my two daughters laughing uncontrollably in their room. I grab my phone and do a quick scan of articles curated for me. Today’s headlines include information on advanced technology, a local ice-creamery, learning in the workplace and where to vacation next. After a quick scroll through my emails, slacks, IMs, and LinkedIn hits, I get out of bed and start the day.
9:30 AM-12:00 PM
Today one of my teammates is leading a strategic project, and I know he’ll need some extra support. I brainstorm some ways I can give him the guidance and encouragement he needs to be successful. I open up my company’s LMS and complete a lesson, jotting down the phrase I want to reiterate: "Grit drives success as much as talent and intelligence." I communicate this sentiment to my team, and sure enough, the meeting goes well. I am reminded of how powerful learning can be when we deliberately dovetail it into our daily work.
5:15 PM-8:00 PM
The day is starting to wind down, and my youngest daughter, Autumn, has just returned from errands with my husband. She is frantic and just plain exhausted. Autumn came home to us just 9 months ago—we adopted her from Southern India at 2 years old. She is just acclimating life with us: our routine, our language and everything that is different between the orphanage where she has spent the majority of her life thus far. As an adoptive parent, I am in some ways tasked with rebuilding my child’s brain from the ground up—laying down tracks, establishing conversation and communication, and reinforcing appropriate responses.
While adjusting to life as an adoptive parent might not be considered learning and development in the traditional sense of the term, it has certainly taught me a lot about my priorities. With a social worker we love like family and an amazing library of books (I recommend The Connected Child and Parenting from the Inside Out), my husband and I have learned to be good parents to our children. And this knowledge has pushed us to encourage our daughters to be effective learners, too.
One key way we reinforce language and appropriate behavior is through music. PBS’ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has helped us master these lessons–and given my husband and me endless banks of songs that we can use to teach Autumn good behavior and life skills. In this instance, as Autumn retreats deeper into her amygdala, my husband and I start singing, "When you feel so mad that you wanna roar – take a deep breath...and count to 4 – 1, 2, 3, 4." Immediately she smiles, breathes deeply and the mounting crisis is averted—this time.
Day Two: Putting Learning into Action
10:30 AM-2:00 PM
Nothing like a formal "Q3 strategy" call with your boss to get your nerves up. What’s especially daunting is that during this call I’ll be speaking to someone who is more business-minded than I am. He speaks "sales language," which is very different from the L&D language I speak. The process of translating my team’s goals into financial acumen has been tough, but throughout the years I have worked hard to do it right. First, I have forced myself to keep a running list of business terms that I am either unfamiliar with or (even scarier) assume I understand. I then vet this list with a trusted colleague to get at the meaning behind phrases like "lighthouse account," "green shoots" and "blocking and tackling."
Armed with a better vocabulary for the job at hand, I conduct some informal learning conversations. I call up a colleague and present her my message. Then, I gauge her reaction. "Does this make sense to you?" I ask. And then, "Does this align with what you know to be the strategic direction of this team?" This approach helps me gain confidence in my message before I have to present it to internal stakeholders.
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
When I am not working at Cornerstone or singing to my daughters, I enjoy gardening and planting trees. But unseasonably rainy weather has put my 10 recently-planted Norway Spruce trees in danger. I just learned online that too much water on bare-root trees can bring on a rot. And my trees are planted below ground-level, so they’re at an even greater risk of standing water and mulch suffocating the base. I visit the Arbor Day Foundation site to see if I can get some assistance. After watching two videos on tree maintenance and skimming the site’s "Tree Book," my eldest daughter and I head outside to physically inspect the trees and move the mulch outward.
Day Three: Let’s Do This
I’ve always loved words. There’s something about language, whether it be written or spoken, that gets me excited. So when podcasts rose into existence a few years back, I couldn’t have been more thrilled and whenever I am asked to make a guest appearance on a podcast, I embrace the opportunity.
Today, I join Mike Montague’s "How to Succeed" podcast for the second time. Mike is the VP of online learning at Sandler Training, who has partnered with Cornerstone to offer nearly 125 bite-sized sales training lessons. Our discussion focuses on "How to Succeed at Online Sales Training." I enjoy the opportunity to geek out on the marriage of sales training and learning content—and learn a lot from the conversation.
We finish the podcast on a personal note. Mike asks me, "What’s next for you, Summer?" After a moment’s consideration, I respond: "Something big! I want to solve more workplace problems and bring about meaningful change to organizations and teams through powerful learning." I admit it sounds cheesy, but I wouldn’t have said it if it weren’t the truth.
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