How to be a life-long learner

Do you often learn things, just for fun?

Do you get a thrill out on exploring the unknown? Peeling back the curtain on an interesting concept or idea. Or diving head-first into a new and exciting challenge?

Then congratulations. You can consider yourself a life-long learner.

Not bound by the limitations of your existing knowledge or abilities. Being a life-long learner means that you gain gratification from constantly seeking out ways to upgrade your skills. Meet new challenges, and reap exciting benefits.

But life-long learning isn’t just about meeting the challenges posed by an ever-changing world. It is the idea that peoples abilities, knowledge and opportunities are a culmination of their current learning and understanding.

Advancing a career, a hobby, or even your own understanding is best done by actively seeking out and gaining new knowledge.

Relying on other circumstances such as an employer, or an outside entity to guide you towards a path to learning a new skill isn’t the most optimal way to grow as a human being.

The world is a university and everyone in it is a teacher. Make sure when you wake up in the morning you go to school.

 T. D. Jakes 

See yourself as a business

I was first introduced to the concept of life-long learning by the motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy.

I often like to listen to audiobooks when I’m working. I find that I can easily concentrate on what I’m doing, while passively listening to an author speak words of wisdom into my ear. Thus turning a work-day into not only a productive session. But also an opportunity to learn.

In his book Eat That Frog! I was first introduced to the concept of life-long learning through Brain’s retelling of how he first started his career in sales.

After a number of labouring jobs, he pivoted into the world of sales and soon started asking himself, “Why is everyone else doing better than me?”

After speaking to more experienced colleagues and people who were more successful than he was. He identified the areas of improvement that he needed to work on. And over time he successfully implemented the changes he needed to move closer towards his goal.

“There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your own thinking.”

Brian Tracey

You may have a job right now. You may be comfortable with your current level of skills. But to keep yourself marketable and keep yourself up to date in this fast-moving world. You need to keep your finger on the pulse of innovation.

But it’s not just about what you can offer.

Learning forces us to grow

In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport introduces the concept of deliberate practice (aka intentional practice by some authors). In which you seek out work that is hard. Challenges you to complete and strains your current skills and understanding.

People rarely become masters at a particular skill by doing things that are easy or don’t stretch their abilities. Instead, by pushing through the boundaries of their own understanding of a concept, an idea, or a toolset. They are exposing their mind to new ways of learning, understanding ways of thinking.

The 10,000-hour rule is often mentioned when it comes to learning a new skill. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about. It is often claimed that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to be able to crown yourself as a master of a newly acquired skill.

So let’s give the example of learning the latest JavaScript framework. It would take years until you could claim yourself as a master.

The flaw that I see with this rule is that while it states that a certain period of time is needed to practice. It doesn’t mention the type of practice that is required to be put in.

If you are trying to learn the keyboard for example and you can already play ‘Three Blind Mice’ really well. Is it practise if you just play that one tune over and over?

Are you learning anything new at that point?

Why would you want to learn new things?

In addition to the benefits for your own career and keeping your toolbox up to date. From a personal point of view. It is also really satisfying when that penny finally drops and the ‘ah-ha!’ moment finally hits.

Of course, this learning isn’t just limited to one medium or format. Some people like to read books, attend conferences, or are guided by their own interests.

For many of my early years in technology. I wasn’t a learner. I used to come home from work and set my laptop down and vow never to touch it until the next day.

But after hearing about the learning opportunities I was missing out on. And the chances I had to better myself that I was passing up. I switched my ways and now there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t learn something new.

We all have the opportunities to shine a light on those topics that interest us. And we have a responsibility to our future selves to not pass those by.

But most of all. With all the free learning materials on the internet these days.

Can you really afford not to?

Posted by Kevin Tuck

Kevin Tuck is an ISTQB qualified software tester with nearly a decade of professional experience. Well versed in creating versatile and effective testing strategies. He offers a variety of collaborative software testing services. From managing your testing strategy, creating valuable automation assets, or serving as an additional resource.

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