Here is a typical call I get about twice a month:

“Hello, Mr. Doyle. You don’t know me, but I am ‘so and so.’ I know you are a professional speaker. I want to become a professional speaker and was wondering if I might have 30 minutes of your time.”

I think I am (at least I hope I am) a nice person. I like to give back to the profession I dearly love, and I like to reward people who have initiative, hustle, drive, chutzpah, boldness, or whatever name you may have for it. A few weeks later, we have a phone conversation.

Such callers want me to tell them how to become a professional speaker. I give them some ideas, tips, and techniques. The next question I have is: “What have you read or studied about speaking as a profession?” The answer is, of course, “Nothing.” They just called me. They then say, “I wouldn’t really know how to find information on that.” Huh? This is the problem. We have people in the world who want to have information and knowledge handed to them, but it doesn’t work that way. Ironically, we live in an information-rich society in which information and data are abundant and almost free.

There are people who have only built cars for 20 years. That’s all they know. There are people who work for banks; banking is all they have done for 20 years. That’s all they know. There are people who have built microchips for 20 years, and that’s all they know. Then they get laid off. They are in desperate trouble because they know nothing else. So what do they do?

Each one of us has an obligation to be ready for change, and each one of us has to learn and develop new skills so we won’t be at the mercy of an economy, a company, or an industry. We need to all get ready to be free agents. The secret weapon for surviving and thriving in the new economy is learning. Because most people don’t or won’t learn new skills, those who do immediately separate themselves from the competition. How? There are some myths you have to get over and some paradigm shifts you need to make now to prepare for the unexpected.

Myth #1: My Company doesn’t provide the training or learning I need.

Maybe they do. Maybe they won’t. Find out. Many people I meet don’t tap into resources that are available to them because they don’t bother to find out. My brother-in-law worked for a city in Georgia as a gas man and hated his job. He met with the City Manager and said he wanted to be a police officer.  The city paid to send him to the Police Academy, and they paid him while he was going.

Ask. Many companies have educational reimbursement programs and other learning benefits that are buried in the back of an employee handbook. There are also many great internal training programs that are offered and don’t have to always be job related.

Myth #2: My company doesn’t provide it, and I can’t afford it.

Can’t afford to learn? Well, I don’t think you can afford not to learn. Besides: how much does a library card cost? How many books, videos, and CDs can you get from the library? How much is the Internet once you pay your monthly fee?  How much is a mentor’s advice?  How much does it cost to borrow materials from friends and colleagues? Most people think of learning as some expensive conference or training seminar. It is often inexpensive or free. You just have to have initiative and imagination.

Myth #3: It’s too late to change what I do now

It’s never too late to change. In my professional lifetime, I have been a lifeguard, veterinary technician, retail store manager, salesperson, sales manager, trainer, training director, vice president of training, and now, an entrepreneur.  I believe everyone will have multiple careers in their lifetime. But be ready by learning the necessary skills that will prepare you for that change.

Myth #4: I can’t control what happens to me.

True. But you can be ready for a change instead of sitting and waiting for it to happen. As Andy Warhol once said: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” That is the remarkable difference between being proactive and reactive. So have a plan. What do you want to be and do and have in the future? Make it happen by creating a learning strategy.

I recently met a young man at a meeting who told me he worked for the company, but he had his own “long-term plan” as he put it. He had started five Internet radio stations and was building up the number of listeners, which was at 900,000. When he reached three million listeners, he said, “I can then generate serious advertising revenue.”   I asked why he was doing this, and he said, “Because I am in control of me, and if the economy goes south and I get laid off, I’ll have revenue.”

So here is the deal. It’s your bus, so take the wheel! If you do not have a plan, one will be provided for you, and it won’t be your own.

Myth #5: All this networking stuff is time consuming and pointless.

You get tons of invitations for LinkedIn, Facebook,  and many other networking sites. You think it is a waste of time. You could be wrong. I am not suggesting you join all of them. I am saying that being connected to someone on LinkedIn might help you find resources you need to learn something. Someone out there may know a resource, a connection, a source, which otherwise you would have never known about or even considered.  Live networking at Chamber functions or other business-related networking events can have the same impact. Go ahead, and build your resources now.

The way to make yourself less “fire-able,” less “downsize-able,” and less disposable is to be smarter. This makes you more hirable, valuable, indispensable, and invaluable to the people you work for.

So learn. Invest in yourself, and invest in a brighter future.