Learning Doesn't End with Graduation
At this time of year, students everywhere are counting down the days until they get to stop learning for the summer. Most of us grew up with that mindset: The months of September to June were for learning, and the summer months were not. And we looked forward to the time after graduation, when we would never have to learn again!
But is that really true? Graduation ceremonies, after all, are formally called “commencement.” And commencement means beginning. I believe that’s accurate. When we graduate, we need to look at it as a beginning. After formal education ends, we begin an education in life. What we do with the learning opportunities that we encounter will determine our success and progress for years to come. We need to be lifelong learners.
Over the years, I’ve concluded that lifelong learning doesn’t just happen. We can’t just “expect” to learn. We need to “intend” to. That means taking action. If you haven’t come up with a plan for learning and personal growth, now is the time.
Here are some practical tips to keep learning for a lifetime:
1. Take responsibility for learning.
When you were in school, your instructors provided the curriculum. The grades that they gave provided motivation. (And your parents probably offered some motivation of their own!) But as adults, we need to be responsible for our own learning. For me, that meant creating my own plan for personal growth, and taking steps to implement it.
Bruce Springsteen said, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” What are you waiting for? No one else is going to make you learn. Embracing responsibility is the first step.
2. Prepare to be wrong a lot.
In my first job after college, I thought I needed to know all the answers. If I didn’t know an answer, I pretended I did. And I didn’t like to be wrong. I believe a lot of us want to be perfect right out of the gate. But you can’t learn until you admit that you need to. I soon discovered that I wasn’t going to grow with a know-it-all attitude. We all need to allow ourselves to be beginners and make mistakes. That’s how everyone learns.
3. Set aside time to learn.
A little bit of learning happens in every life. But without intention, it mostly happens by accident. If you’ve taken responsibility for your own learning, you need to go after it with a commitment of time and effort. For most of my life, I’ve set aside a time and a place for thinking and reflection. During that time, I would consciously ask myself what I could learn from the experiences of the day. I would write those lessons down, along with plans to practice and grow in those areas. Schedule learning into your calendar. Then spend that time wisely. That leads to the next tip…
4. Evaluate your experiences.
You’ve probably heard of “learning from experience.” But I think that experience alone isn’t enough. Just going through something doesn’t necessarily teach us what we need to know. We need to examine what happened, what might have gone wrong, and what we could do differently. That kind of reflective thinking turns experience into insight. Then the next time you have a similar experience, you go into it with a different set of skills. You will have grown.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” Are you getting wiser every day? Whether you graduated this year or many years ago, don’t let the end of formal education equal the end of your own learning journey. If you embrace learning, you’ll keep growing. And you’ll be able to perform to your potential throughout life.
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