The world's most successful people come from diverse backgrounds and industries, but one thing they have in common is a passion for learning. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk are among those who credit lifelong learning as contributing greatly to their achievements. The practices of a lifelong learner are assets that can be used in all areas of life, whether your goal is to advance in your career or to become a more well-rounded person.
Here are the 4 key practices of successful lifelong learners:
1. Self empowerment
Being a lifelong learner is a choice that anyone has the power to make. Living in an age where information is more accessible than any other time in history, there is no reason to be part of the 42% of graduates who never read another book after college. Lifelong learners are self-empowered individuals who take the initiative to learn without external direction. They maintain control of their learning to work towards achieving goals they set for themselves. Lifelong learners are driven to keep learning because they believe it is worthwhile to invest time in their personal and professional development.
Many influential people credit their continued success to their appetite for knowledge. Co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates has said he will often read Time magazine cover to cover, not just the articles that interest him, so he can be sure to learn something new. Investor Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger are well known for being voracious readers, citing this practice as essential to growth. In Munger’s experience, it is not the smartest people who rise to success, but the ones who “go to bed smarter than when they woke up”. Buffett applies this philosophy well into his eighties, choosing to spend his time reading 500 pages a day accumulating knowledge “like compound interest”. Clearly, making a conscious choice to take charge of your available time can make a big difference in developing your potential and abilities.
2. Change is expected not feared
Lifelong learners are always seeking to learn something new. They know that the world is changing, and they need to keep up with the latest developments to update their skills and knowledge. Bill Gates’ curiosity and willingness to learn is inspired in part by the highly competitive industry he works in, where it is essential to innovate to survive. In today’s economy where tenured long-term employment is no longer guaranteed and technology is rapidly advancing, eight out of the ten most popular job titles on LinkedIn didn’t even exist seven years ago. Ten years ago people couldn’t have imagined how integral smartphones have become to how we learn, work and carry out our daily lives. Rather than being intimidated by an unknown future, lifelong learners do not engage with the fear of change that paralyzes many people and keeps them stuck in one place. By habitually exposing themselves to new information that expands and challenges their minds, lifelong learners can more readily adapt to new environments and are less afraid to take risks, opening them up to diverse experiences and opportunities.
3. Play the long game
Lifelong learners foresee the bigger picture, knowing that what they learn now can set them up for future gains. Making learning a habit that eventually becomes second nature requires persistence to stay motivated over the long term. This tenacity to not give up and take the easy road is a crucial practice for anyone hoping to be successful in life. Benjamin Franklin was a very early adopter of lifelong learning, well before the term was coined. Franklin devoted 1-2 hours a day to studying at the library, something he saw as a way to make up for his brief formal education as a child. Regularly setting aside this time to learn was an investment that helped Franklin become a celebrated polymath - an accomplished writer, inventor, and politician to name but a few of his areas of expertise. Charlie Munger made a similar resolution when he started out as a lawyer. He came to the realization that his most important client was none other than himself, and set aside an hour each day to learn. His rationale was that the time he invested in himself for that hour would be worth more in the long run than the money he would lose from not taking on work for clients, and he was right - Munger’s net worth today is over a billion dollars.
4. Continuous improvement
Lifelong learners adopt a growth mind-set. They believe that intelligence and ability are not pre-determined at birth, but instead can be actively developed and improved. They strive for continuous improvement without a finish line, always wanting to learn more and improve wherever possible. Mistakes and setbacks are taken in stride, seen as lessons not failures. This growth mind-set means that lifelong learning goes beyond knowledge acquisition to positively inform learner's decisions and view of the world. Lifelong learners do maintenance learning by keeping up to date with advances in their industry, as well as growth learning by adding new skills and new knowledge areas to their learning toolbox. Growth learning could be as simple as stepping outside your comfort zone into an unfamiliar subject to expand your horizons and spark new ideas.
Founder of Space X and Tesla, Elon Musk has degrees in physics and economics, but branched out to teach himself rocket science and engineering from textbooks. Musk’s visions of building rockets and colonizing Mars started out as fantasies inspired by the science fiction stories he read in his youth. Musk says the best advice he can give is to “constantly think about how you could be doing things better”. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see everything as an opportunity to improve, and to cultivate new knowledge areas. You might be working in an entirely different industry to what you majored in in college, picking up new skills on the job. By the same token, the critical thinking, interpersonal and time management skills you learned in your unrelated degree may give you an advantage over your peers in your new field. Demonstrating that you have transferrable skills is extremely attractive to employers as this illustrates a willingness and capacity to develop and progress.
Never stop learning
Being a self-empowered lifelong learner opens your mind, expands your horizons and enhances your perspective of what you can make possible in life. This growth oriented mind-set can help you view every experience as an opportunity to learn something new and develop your abilities. Invest in yourself and set the sky as the limit for your capacity to achieve your goals. In the words of entrepreneur Jim Rohn, "formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune."
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