It’s a simple concept; education equates to more earnings and more job/life satisfaction. This idea is how many of us end up with student loans and the key to an entry-level position.
How your career goes from here largely depends on a number of circumstances. But endeavoring upon a lifetime of learning is a surefire way to increase your chances of success.
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Are you a Lifelong Learner?
The answer to this question is quite subjective and really it just boils down to whether you are engaging in educational activities on a regular basis strictly for the purpose of learning.
This can include things like reading books, listening to podcasts, watching TED Talks, or taking online courses.
If you are doing any of these items regularly, semi-regularly, or even are just considering them more often, then you probably already have a grip on what constitutes a lifelong learning.
The Importance of Lifelong Learning
Knowing things allows you to perceive situations and opportunities in a new light. And continuing to learn through life helps you stay in tune with emerging industry trends and technology. Thereby, giving you the power to control your own destiny.
So how does lifelong education pay dividends in both your personal and professional development?
The value of lifelong learning has many personal benefits. This includes increased mental acuity, improved emotional control, and can even lead to a longer life.
Furthermore, lifelong learning can open up new doors in your social network. Through the process of discovery, you will begin to connect with like-minded people in online forums and on social media.
This can lead to more learning opportunities and increases your circle of influence.
Career-wise, the benefits should be obvious; increasing your skillset through education can lead to promotions, higher pay, and increased job satisfaction.
Similar to personal benefits, engaging in lifelong education oriented toward your career can lead to an increased professional network.
Measure Your Current Skill Set
This is a tough one, and it’s going to require that you be honest with yourself.
What are your strengths? What would you say are your shortcomings? This will take some thought, and I’d suggest writing these down in two columns as shown in the example below:
After going through this exercise, the logical conclusion may be that you should focus on improving your weaknesses, but this may not be the best course of action.
Where Should I Start?
As much as you may want to dive in and start fixing your weaknesses, this may result in a frustrating experience. Instead, you may find it to be more rewarding if you focus on improving your strengths.
The reason for this is that your strengths are reflective of areas where you already have natural interests or inclinations, and will make learning easier and more rewarding.
Instead of working to “improve” your weaknesses, you should devise strategies to mitigate or manage them. This will allow you to excel even further in areas that bring the most value.
If you need an example to help frame this idea, imagine if a baker was great at making pastries but terrible at making pies. Rather than focusing on making better pies, the baker would be better suited to focus on being the best pastry chef around.
Obviously there are some “what ifs” with that scenario, but you get the general idea.
Over the course of building on your strengths, you will find the confidence and competence you gain will overlap into your areas of weakness, and these weaknesses will organically improve as a result.
Learning How to Learn
This may seem like a silly notion, but there is value in brushing up on your learning skills.
In grade school and college, we’re given lectures, assignments, and homework, but ultimately it falls on us to figure out how to study and retain the material. This often results in lengthy sessions of reading, creating flashcards, and working through problems.
Your spare time is limited as an adult, and you don’t have time to dwell away on study materials for hours on end. That is why it is important to learn efficient study techniques.
Fortunately, Coursera offers the perfect class for this. Learning How to Learn is presented by Professor Barbara Oakley Ph.D. and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski and provides a comprehensive toolkit for dealing with illusions of learning, procrastination, memory techniques, and research-backed best practices.
If you would rather read a book on this, Professor Oakley has written A Mind for Numbers, which is oriented toward STEM learning, however, it covers a lot of the same principles as the course. This is valuable reading material for anyone, even if you are not in a STEM field.
How to Learn for Life
There are countless ways to build your lifelong learning skills, and many of them are absolutely free. Likely, you are already aware of some of these methods:
Learning from Your Professional and Social Networks
Growing your professional and social networks opens the door to many learning opportunities.
To be clear, your professional network includes co-workers, managers, colleagues from previous jobs, and other professionals you’ve met along the way both online and in person.
Similarly, your social networks include friends, family, and associates from various clubs or online communities.
Your network will be a valuable source of information for industry trends, mentorship, and career advice.
Take advantage of your professional network by staying active on social media and regularly attend networking events. Networking events can include seminars, meet and greets, and informal happy hours. Just be sure to maintain a professional demeanor at these events, because nothing sinks professional opportunities like inappropriate behavior.
Expand your social network by joining Facebook groups, getting into a hobby, or volunteering.
If you’re not sure where to start, do some research on professional organizations within your industry, online forums, or review events on a website like meetup.com.
Learning from Books
This is an easy one, find an interesting topic and research the top books (or audiobooks) in that category with your favorite internet search engine.
There are a ton of books out there, and many of them hold a great deal of value. However, quite a few just regurgitate old ideas and don’t provide strategies for taking action.
If you’re new to reading self-help books, stick with the highly-rated options that have thousands of reviews to start. You’ll find many classics that people swear by with this approach.
Also, don’t feel compelled to finish a book just because you started it. If it’s boring and doesn’t provide value, drop it and move on to the next one. Life is too short to waste time on boring nonsense.
Learning from Blogs
Blogs are a great source of information to help you along your learning journey.
Successful bloggers are expert researchers and their survival depends on being well-informed on the latest trends in whatever niche they serve. So you can greatly benefit from this information by subscribing to their newsletters or following them on social media.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to your favorite blogger! Bloggers are normal people like you and me, and they love to hear from people. And this is another way to grow your network.
If you’re having trouble finding a blogger, go to one of your favorite news websites and look for articles that pertain to your area of interest. From there, look into the article author and see if they have a blog. If not, ask them if they’ll share their favorite bloggers.
Worst case, do a google search for “career development blogs” and start weeding through the results until you find someone who is relatable. I would also shamelessly encourage you to subscribe to the Office Prosper email newsletter on the sidebar.
Learning from YouTube
YouTube is a great source of free information. And subscribing to your favorite content providers, you have an ongoing and active learning experience.
To maximize your YouTube learning, take advantage of some helpful tricks.
First off, if you have a YouTube account, you can create a “Personal/Career Development” playlist and start adding videos. This is very helpful for keeping track of the videos you watch. Otherwise, you will inevitably remember a video with valuable insight, but not remember how to find it.
Another useful tip is to click the “share” button and create a link with a timestamp. This can be pasted to a tracking spreadsheet with notes, or you can link it in a social media post if you feel the information is of particular interest.
Additionally, YouTube automatically creates video transcripts, and you can access this by clicking on the 3 dots to the lower right of the video and selecting “open transcript:”
From there, you can highlight the transcript and copy and paste it into a document. This is helpful if you like to keep notes on videos or track the timestamp for reference later on.
One last tip is that you can adjust the playback speed to watch the video more quickly. Setting the playback speed to either 1.25x or 1.5x generally does not make the video unwatchable, however, it lets you shave minutes off of the watch time.
The key to using YouTube for lifelong learning is to not allow yourself to be distracted by other videos as they show up on your feed. If you do happen upon a video you want to see, open it in a new tab to watch later, or add it to another playlist.
Learning from Podcasts
Podcasts have been around for years, but it is now easier than ever to tune in due to the rise of streaming services and smartphones.
The easiest ways to listen to podcasts are on your computer or phone. The benefit to using a phone is that you can take podcasts on the go. Many of the popular music platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, and Audible carry podcasts that you can subscribe to.
If you’re not already listening to podcasts, it may be tough to know where to start. The easiest approach is to browse through the listed genres on whatever listening platform you are using until something catches your interest. Or look to see if some of your favorite self-help gurus or celebrities have a podcast.
Most podcasters will create show notes that are available on their websites. This is handy if you’re driving and can’t take notes. They’ll often include links or reference materials as part of the show notes as well.
Podcasts are perfect for commuting or breaks throughout the day. Don’t feel compelled to listen to every episode for a show you’re subscribed to either. And don’t be afraid to go back through the podcast history to find old episodes.
Learning from Courses
Online courses take many forms. This can include university degree programs, certifications courses, technical proficiency courses, and continuing education.
Unless you’re pursuing a post-graduate degree, it’s likely that you’re currently in the realm of the latter options.
Fortunately, there are several organizations offering courses online. Some of the most popular include:
- Khan Academy – A free and personalized learning resource for all ages. Khan Academy covers the bases from K-14 and also includes courses for life skills such as finance and career development.
- Coursera – Coursera features classes from over 200 leading universities and companies such as Yale, Duke, ASU, IBM, and Google. Coursera also offers degree and certification programs along with free classes.
- Udemy – Udemy covers a wide variety of course topics, and the instructors range from doctors, lawyers, professors, and other professionals. Be sure to keep an eye out for sales when many of their courses see very steep discounts.
- LinkedIn Learning – LinkedIn Learning (formerly lynda.com) courses are focused on career development and best business practices. LinkedIn Learning requires a membership to access their courses.
- Skill Share – Skill Share is a similar learning platform to Udemy, though not as popular. Where it differentiates itself is in the subscription structure for course access.
There are several other options for online courses, and universities and colleges offer access to some of their courses online for free. So don’t be afraid to research and see what the internet has to offer!
Learning from Outside Your Comfort Zone
Imagine if you sought to improve your physical fitness by only doing exercises that require no strenuous effort because you don’t want to deal with the physical discomfort or accept the reality that you may be weak.
The result is that you won’t see much in the way of gains.
Similarly, if you don’t challenge your preconceived notions, you will fall into the trap of only seeking information that falls into the category of “confirmation bias.”
People get stuck in this trap because they fear being wrong, do not want to put forth the effort, or are afraid to jump off the bandwagon.
The truth is, confirmation bias stifles creativity, innovation, and growth. This leads to sayings such as “we’ve always done it that way,” “I don’t see any reason to change things,” or “that’s too confusing.”
To get past this, you should seek out various sources of information and challenge yourself to develop a well-rounded understanding of the topic. It’s also helpful to accept that you may be wrong before doing your research.
Over time, this will lead you to develop a more objective mindset and you will come to see that there are more than two sides to every story. This is an important leadership skill.
Learning from Your Interests or Hobbies
Pursuing your passions in life doesn’t have to be some grand and life-changing experience. It’s enough to simply acknowledge interest in something, and casually pursue it.
This can be an artistic endeavor, a charitable cause, recreational athletics, or pop culture. The key is to find something that sparks self-motivation and ignites your internal flame.
Hobbies can teach you discipline, expand your social networks, and develop leadership and teamwork skills. All while doing something you enjoy!
Keep in mind, the benefits gained from a hobby stick with you whether you maintain or lose interest. So don’t be afraid to call it quits when you’re no longer enjoying it. There is no harm in moving on to a new one.
If you currently do not have a hobby and aren’t sure what to get into, there are a few approaches that might help:
- Get Nostalgic – Think back to the days of your youth and remember the things you were into. Is there anything that you would enjoy as an adult? Maybe bicycling or a musical instrument?
- Ask Your Friends – What are your friends’ hobbies? If you don’t know, ask. If you’re interested in their hobbies, they can show you the ropes and save you time and money.
- Look Around Your Home – Is there anything hanging on the walls or on your shelves that you have a particular fondness for? How could you further explore this item?
- Go to a Craft or Hobby Store – This is simple; walk around and see what catches your eye.
- Start a Side Hustle – Read down further for more information.
Give each hobby a good try, but don’t hang on for too long if it’s boring. Eventually something will stick.
Learning from Challenges
We’re not talking about TikTok challenges, although the effort needed to nail some of these would certainly result in a learning experience.
However, the challenges that we ARE talking about are oriented around self-improvement.
For example, you could challenge yourself to get to bed every night by 9 pm for 7 days. Or, you could challenge yourself to not consume any refined sugar for 30 days.
The idea is to identify a habit you would like to change and commit yourself to a designated length of time.
To keep things simple, start with an easy one, like not drinking coffee after lunch, and do it for 5 days. Once you’ve tackled a few easy ones, ramp up the difficulty a bit.
By constantly trying new challenges, you are teaching yourself self-discipline and realizing the benefits of better habits firsthand.
What makes these challenges even more effective is if you have a “challenge buddy.” This is a person who does the challenges with you and adds accountability, like a gym partner.
If you need some inspiration, do a little google research on “30-day challenges” and don’t be afraid to customize challenges as you come across them. 30-day challenges are the most popular, but there’s no harm in dialing these back to a week.
Learning from Growing a Side Hustle
Maybe you’ve heard of side hustles or thought about starting an internet side business. If you haven’t, you should know that we’re not talking about MLMs or any kind of get-rich-quick scheme. We’re also not talking about part-time jobs like ridesharing.
Side hustles are legitimate businesses that take real work and have a steep learning curve. That’s not to say they’re super difficult to get started, but you will have to put in some effort if you hope to have any level of success.
Some of the more popular side hustles that you can try in your after 5 time include:
- Affiliate marketing
- Online courses
By undertaking a side hustle, you will gain a crash course in how to run a business and learn many valuable marketing skills.
There is a ton of free information on the internet about side hustles, so a good old-fashioned google search is the recommended starting point.
However, if you’re looking for a shortcut to a formalized and comprehensive overview, I recommend Adrian Brambila’s Side Hustle Academy.
Keep a Learning Log
Let’s be clear, this is not a journal where you document your feelings and narrate your experience with the learning process. If you’re into doing that, that’s cool, but a lot of people don’t have the time or interest in journaling.
So instead, get yourself something like a moleskin notebook, and use it to jot down notes, thoughts, or even doodles. This isn’t a deeply personal exercise, it’s just a method to help you retain things to memory and review later.
Realistically, you should be comfortable with leaving it lying around for easy access. So keep the notes in your learning log simple and specific to the course material.
Embrace Change with an Open Mind
By undertaking a lifetime of learning, you will discover that you know a lot less than you think and that you are wrong about a lot of things.
But that is totally okay.
The purpose of lifelong learning is not to prove how smart or capable you are. The goal is to open your eyes to new ideas and challenge your preconceived notions. This is how growth is achieved.
Take Care of Your Body and Brain
This is one area that a lot of us could do better. Whether it’s not getting enough sleep, eating too much junk food, or not exercising… don’t forget the old saying, “healthy body, healthy mind.”
You don’t need me to tell you to get 8 hours of sleep or to hit the gym. But this is your reminder.
Taking a step back, this is a good area to start a challenge. 30-day sleeping challenge? 30-day pushup challenge? The options are limitless. So consider starting with something easy.
Need a Break from Learning?
Lifelong learning is a journey, not a destination. So don’t set lofty goals or expectations for yourself, just take it at your own pace.
If you’re getting a bit overwhelmed by life, don’t be afraid to take a step back, you can always jump back in later.
What are your favorite ways to learn? Please drop a note below. Also, check out our post on top courses for career development.