It’s easy to assume that learning ends when you’re in your early twenties. You finish university, and go into the “real world” of work. No more term papers, no more exams. A lot of people hardly ever pick up a book again – except perhaps to read on vacation.
But really, whether you want to or not, you’re going to carry on learning throughout your life. You’ll learn new skills at work. You might learn how to be a parent. You may take up DIY, or simply learn enough about your home to maintain it in good condition. You might well have a hobby which means mastering a new skill.
Some people never give learning much thought. They pick up bits and pieces in an unstructured way, learning just enough to get through the job at hand. Often, they just shrug and give up – calling out a handyman for every little thing, or asking a colleague at work to do something “difficult” for them.
If you ignore the important of continuous learning, you’ll find:
- You waste money. You keep needing to pay for professional help – when it’s a task that you could’ve learnt how to do yourself. Maybe you “can’t cook” so you always eat out.
- You miss opportunities. You get passed over for promotions, because you don’t show any interest in picking up new skills at work.
- You lose a great source of fun and fulfillment. There’s enormous satisfaction to be found in learning things and really getting a new concept or skill. Don’t let any bad memories of school put you off.
So how can you keep on learning throughout your adult life?
Find a Career Which Matches Your Interests
If you’re in a so-so job which doesn’t really engage you, you won’t be very motivated to keep growing your skills and knowledge. Look for a career which hooks into the stuff which interests you: it’ll be more rewarding in itself, but it’ll also be an easier, faster way for you to progress.
You might already know what you’d love to do. What’s holding you back? If you’re not sure how to get from where you are to where you want to be, then a great starting point for your learning journey is to map out the path!
Look Into Training Courses at Work
Many larger employers offer formal training opportunities, ranging from in-house courses to financial support with a college degree. Talk to your HR department to find out what’s on offer, or mention to your manager that you’re interested in learning more about a specific area. If you work for a small employer, don’t rule out the value of informal training. Perhaps you can get a colleague to teach you a new software package, or maybe you can get some books on expenses.
Attend Conferences and Seminars
It’s often hard to find time to sit down and read a book, work through a guide or practice a new skill: life just seems to get in the way. By heading to a conference or seminar, you’ve blocked out time on your schedule for learning and networking.
When you’re signing up to attend particular panels, don’t just go for familiar topics. Pick something which falls outside your comfort zone: even if some of it goes over your head, you’re almost certain to pick up some fresh new ideas.
Get Into a Habit of Regular Reading
One of the most powerful ways to learn is to read regularly. Ask friends or colleagues for recommendations, and buy or borrow some books. Get into the habit of reading at a particular time of day – perhaps on the train to work, during your lunch break, or before dinner in the evenings. This doesn’t need to cost you anything – use your local library, download free books onto your Kindle or ask to borrow from friends.
If you drive to work, how about getting audio books to listen to? These are a great way to fill up time where you’d otherwise be a bit bored but when you need your hands and eyes for what you’re doing. (A lot of people like to listen to audio content in the gym or while doing chores, too.) Again, you don’t have to spend money: try this list of free audio books for a good starting point.
Finally, give yourself a challenge or two. Next time you say, “I can’t”, stop and think. Maybe you really can’t cook … yet. There’s nothing stopping you learning.
Sure, you might find that you just don’t enjoy cooking. But at least you’ll know that you could put together a meal if you had to.
We start at a zero skill level for everything in life. Just because you can’t currently play the piano doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to. With the internet, there’s a huge amount of content on every topic you can think of – and loads of it will be aimed at beginners.
What would you like to learn? What’s stopping you?
by Ali Luke