I write it in my social media profile bios. That I’m a life long learner. I’m not exactly sure what you’re supposed to write in your bio or whether or not there’s an ideal criteria, but it’s in there because it’s been the foundation of my life for the past few years. It’s ironic. The past few years have been the first years of my life when I haven’t been in school, yet this is when I’ve learned how to learn. On top of that, I’ve learned that if I’m not learning, I’m not progressing in anything.
When it comes to being a lifelong learner, it has nothing to do with how long you’re enrolled or involved with a school. By no means do I intend to get as many degrees as I can in my life. In fact, I never did enjoy the process of traditional schooling. Being a lifelong learner is a mindset, one that I didn’t always know existed. This mindset was brought to my attention when I first read a book called “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, maybe you’ve heard of it. Reading this book opened my eyes to a world completely unfamiliar to me. You likely know that this book is primarily considered a book about finances, and it is, but more than that if you ask me, it’s a book about how to think differently.
An entire ecosystem of thoughts and ideas flooded my mind in the months after reading the book. I figured that if this one book can provide this kind of momentum, reading books all the time must be a fast track to anywhere you want to go. So that’s what I did and that’s what I still do. I require of myself completion of at least two new books every month, and I have no intention of stopping. The thing about reading books all the time is that there is a constant flow of information into your mind, usually from quite brilliant people. I would say that it’s not even important to remember everything you read or to take notes or write book reports. To me, it’s about intentionally feeding your brain with something by choice, rather than by chance.
For me, it was books about business, finance, personal development, real estate, psychology and philosophy. The more you read about such topics the more you come to recognize both similar and opposing patterns. You recognize that not all authors offer the same opinions about the same topics. You recognize that there are more than several ways to approach more or less identical circumstances. Some better that others, but likely none being ‘correct’. This truly began to shape the way that I think. When you’re collecting strategies and ideas from a large variety of authors coming from a large variety of backgrounds and era’s, you can piece together bits from each and apply it to your own life.
This is where being a lifelong learner really fits in with reading books. A constant influx of new information breeds constant growth and thought patterns. As mentioned previously, being a lifelong learner does not mean going to school your whole life, it means an ever evolving life, one where few things are fixed and anything is possible. Being a lifelong learner is to have a growth mindset.
There are cliche sayings like “there is no failure, only opportunity to grow”. I never used to even read these quotes, but now I practically live by them. If I read them before, I’d roll my eyes. It was a fixed mindset problem. In a fixed mindset, one assumes that the world is the way the world is and you can’t do anything to change it. In a fixed mindset, the trajectory of your life happens by default, not by choice. When I learned that life can happen by choice, I made some big decisions.
I decided to stop letting life ‘happen’ to me and start living by design. I went beyond the paperbacks and actually applied the lessons I was learning. One particular instance always comes to mind when thinking about when I started reading and changing the way I lived. Firstly, I was so excited about my new world that I would talk about it all the time. One day, I was talking with a client of mine about something I had read in a Stephen Covey book. It had to do with empathic listening and how to converse with those close to you. I told my client that I had tried a technique discussed in the book with my wife during dinner and it worked like a charm! I exclaimed that there is a particular way to converse that can make a person feel a lot more special. My client’s response is a perfect illustration of a fixed versus growth mindset. He couldn’t believe that I used a “technique” on my wife and he said that if his wife ever found out he was trying that with her she’d be ticked off. So I thought to myself, I just learned a better way to talk to my wife from a book, used it and conversation was much better, and I’m being criticized for it? Why would I not use the technique?! If you can read about a strategy that improves your life and the life of others, should you not feel obligated to use this strategy even though it’s not the one you’ve always used?
People with a growth mindset lean in to opportunities to learn. They show up to events wondering what they can absorb from it, then after the event they thoughtfully decide if there are elements of any lessons learned that they ought to apply to their lives. It’s more that just reading books, it’s about approaching life with a ‘how can I get better’ attitude. It’s accepting that you don’t have it all figured out and you never will. It’s not knowing how to do something and being excited by the fact that you get to learn something new. It’s a constant pursuit of wisdom, knowing that you’ll never be wise.
A great saying to keep in mind when thinking of being a lifelong learner is “you don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know it”. Think of all the things that you don’t even know you don’t know yet. I don’t care how long you’ve “been in the business” and there’s just no way that you’ve “seen it all”. I also don’t care how many letters you stamp behind your name in your email signature. There is no excuse to ever stop accepting that you have things to learn. This being the case, I urge you to look for opportunities to grow. If you’ve been set in your ways for a while, explore new ideas, try out some things that feel uncomfortable and don’t assume that you’ve learned enough.
When you commit to letting yourself learn new things, I can assure you that you will get better at your job, you will become a better spouse or parent and more opportunities will find you. The way that things are right now is not the way that things have to be just because that’s how you’ve been doing it. Just think of the last 2 years of all our lives. Don’t let life happen to you, learn what it takes to design the life you want.