It's fair to say that in some ways we take learning for granted. Lifelong learning is the first step to becoming an outstanding performer. In today's fast-paced world, if you don't keep learning, you're not standing still, you're falling behind.
One of my favorite quotes from Gandhi nails it when it comes to lifelong learning:
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
He's right – none of us should ever quit learning. I have a thirst for knowledge and do my best to quench it through learning. I try to learn something new every day. Remember the old cliché, Every day is a school day! It's not so much a cliché these days because it's actually a factually-correct statement. Sometimes my learning is trivial, sometimes it is profound. Regardless, I keep on learning.
At the heart of your career should be an unquenchable desire to learn – a mindset that stays fluid and facilitates personal growth. It is the learners, those willing to open their minds and augment their skillsets, who will be poised to succeed in the future.
On days when I feel as if I haven't learned anything, I turn to a little book that I have called Live and Learn and Pass It On by H. Jackson Brown. The synopsis is, People ages 5 to 95 share what they've discovered about life, love, and other good stuff. I usually find something in there that satisfies.
Here are a few of the learnings in the book that have helped me:
- If you wait until all conditions are perfect before you act, you'll never act.
- If you want to get promoted, you must do things that get you noticed.
- 90% of what happens in my life is positive and only about 10% is negative. If I want to be happy I just need to focus on the 90%.
All of the people I know who are committed to lifelong learning have several traits in common. They all:
- Are humble. They admit what they don't know. This is the first step in learning what they need to know.
- Question the status quo. They realise that because something is right today, it may not be right tomorrow. They know that doing things 'the way we've always done them' is not good reasoning.
- Are intellectually curious. They truly want to learn and find learning fun, interesting and stimulating. They see life as a journey in which they are constantly learning.
- Are willing to try new stuff. They experiment and see what works. When things work, they use them.
- Are not afraid to fail. They see failure as an opportunity to learn. Just as they incorporate what works into their repertoire, they use failures as stepping stones to other experiments.
- Are tolerant of ambiguity. Learning creates ambiguity. These people are willing to let go of past ways of doing things in order to come up with new ways of doing things in the future. The gap between the past and future can make for an uncomfortable present.
- Focus on staying ahead of the pack. They are early adopters of new technology and new ways of thinking. They realise that knowledge has a short half-life today. They keep learning to stay ahead.
- Plan. They don't assume learning will just appear. They go out and find the next thing they want to learn. They seek out the opportunities far and wide. And most importantly, they change this plan on a frequent basis. After all, if you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you've arrived?
The common-sense point here is simple – successful people are outstanding performers. Outstanding performers remain outstanding performers by becoming lifelong learners. They continually expand their knowledge in order to get out in front of the pack and stay there. Begin your lifelong learning journey by focusing on your strengths and working to improve them every day. Building on your strengths is easier that overcoming your weaknesses. When you build on your strengths you can make incremental improvements. However, if you have a glaring gap in your skills, address it now. Don't wait to take necessary quantum leaps. What do you need to learn in 2017/2018? How do you plan on learning it? Remember what Ben Franklin had to say: An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.