The Impact of Lifelong Learning on Your Success

Success takes work.  If you want to succeed, you need to develop four basic, but very important, competencies.

You need to know how to:

  • create positive personal impact;
  • become a consistently high performer;
  • display dynamic communication skills; and
  • become  interpersonally competent.

In this post, I want to focus on high performance.

High performers have several things in common.  They have mastered their technical discipline; and stay current in their field.  They are excellent at managing large projects.  They are well organized and manage their time well.  They never settle for good enough.  Most important, high performers are lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning is an important, but often overlooked, component of life and career success.  The other day, I came across a great quote from Louis L’Amour, the great American writer of stories about the old west.  It captures the essence of lifelong learning…

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.  That will be the beginning.”

I know a lot about life and career success.  I’ve written several books on it.  I give lots of talks about it.  I’ve coached hundreds of people – helping them build the life and career success they want and deserve.  I write a blog.  I mentor college students and young professionals.  At one point, I thought I knew it all.

And you know what?  Every time I write about life and career success, every time I speak about it, every time I coach someone offering my career advice, I gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to create life and career success.

I begin anew every day, doing whatever I can to learn about life and career success so I can pass on this knowledge and wisdom to others.  I choose to keep learning.  So should you.  I’ve learned that if you don’t keep learning, you don’t stand still – you fall behind in the game of life.  I’ve also learned that what I learned after I thought I knew it all was some of the best and most important of my learnings.

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.  Sometimes my learning is trivial, sometimes it is profound.  Regardless, I keep on learning.

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.  The subtitle 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 learning in the book that have helped me…

  • I’ve learned that if you wait until all conditions are perfect before you act, you’ll never act.
  • I’ve learned that if you want to get promoted, you must do things that get you noticed.
  • I’ve learned that 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%.

Thomas Carlyle once said, “What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us.  The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”

Even though I’m a college professor, I agree with him.

Carlyle lived in the 19th century.  If he were alive today, he might have amended his statement to say, “Books and the Internet are the greatest university of all.”

Today, so many of the great books, as well as other life and career success information, are available on line.  The Internet is a great way to access this information.  One of my friends is fond of saying that, “Our phones give us access to all of the accumulated wisdom of the world, but we use them to watch stupid cat videos.”  That’s true – but it doesn’t have to be this way.  You can use your phone to educate yourself.  The important thing is to keep learning – how you do it and where you get your information is secondary.

I admit that I’m a book guy.  I have a huge collection of books on a variety of subjects: business, success, careers, history, biography, politics and fiction.  Detective novels are my secret pleasure.  These books are the first place I turn when I am looking for information to post on my blog, when I am working with my career success coaching clients, when I am preparing a speech, when I am designing a training program, and when I’m preparing one of my University of Denver courses.

Even though I’m a book guy, I find myself increasingly searching for information on line.  I’ve found that the information in books has a somewhat limited shelf life, so I find myself using on line resources more and more these days.  I get more up to date information that way.

Reading is key to becoming a lifelong learner.  Don’t just read books.  Read technical journals.  Read trade magazines.  Read business publications like “The Wall Street Journal,” “Business Week,” “Fortune” and “Forbes.”  If you think they’re too stodgy, read “Fast Company.”

Read your company’s annual report.  Read your competitors’ annual reports.  Read your local newspaper and “The New York Times.”  Read news magazines like “Time.”  Read business and industry blogs.  Read ezines and eBooks.  Reading is the best way to stay up with what’s happening in business, in your industry and in the world.

There are other things you can do to keep learning.  Attend seminars.  Join the major groups or trade associations for your industry.  Attend their meetings and participate.  Volunteer for committee work.  Become known locally in your field.  Take a class at your local university.  Use your company’s tuition reimbursement program to get a free undergraduate or graduate degree.

Your education doesn’t stop when you graduate from college or get an MBA, it begins anew.  There are many ways to keep learning.  Decide which ones work for you, and then follow through.  Outstanding performers stay competent because they are lifelong learners.

Albert Einstein, who most would agree was a pretty smart guy, said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong learning attempt to acquire it.”

Finally, 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 realize 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 realize that knowledge has a short half-life today.  They keep learning to stay ahead.

How many of these traits do you have?  What will you do to develop them?

The point here is simple common sense.  Successful people are lifelong learners.  They treat each new day as an opportunity to learn.

They stay open to new people and new ideas.  If you do this, you’ll come to realize that you are never finished learning — and that what you learn after you think you know it all is the most valuable knowledge you’ll develop.

Begin your lifelong learning journey by focusing on your strengths and working to improve them every day.  Building on your strengths is easier than overcoming your weaknesses.

When you build on your strengths you can make incremental improvements that will lead to quantum improvements over time.

Remember what Ben Franklin had to say about lifelong learning, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

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