Iknow the meaning of life.
Ok, I don’t know the reason we’re all here on this planet, hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour.
But I think I know what we’re supposed to do with the time we have here. And it’s really quite simple:
We are supposed to grow.
We start out in this world as squirming, squealing little helpless babies. And from the moment we arrive until the moment we pass on, we are growing.
I don’t mean growing physically—for most of us, that thankfully ends by the time we hit our mid-20s. I mean growing mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
This idea goes against what much of society wants you to believe. According to some very boring, power-hungry people, life should go like this:
- Childhood is for playing
- Teens and twenties are for learning
- Late adulthood is for working
- Retire and die
I’m on board with this model of life for the first half, but I don’t think our adulthood after school has to be simply about working, nor do I think old age should just be about puttering around the house and going to doctor’s appointments.
The opportunities for living a full life, growing, and learning extend well beyond the day you graduate from school and start looking for a job.
In fact, if you play your cards right, you can become what’s known as a lifelong learner—someone who never stops growing, evolving, and… well… learning.
But how do you manage to be a continual learner when you have to work full time, navigate relationships, and do all the other things that come along with “adulting”?
I’ve got some tips in this article that will help you transform into a lifetime learner.
Why should you want to be a lifetime learner?
If you’re currently finishing up your schooldays, you may be thinking:
Why the heck would I want to keep learning? I’m so tired of school!
Here’s the good news: To be a lifelong learner, you don’t have to go back to school. (You can if you want, but it’s by no means necessary, especially if college isn’t for you.)
You don’t have to do homework.
You don’t have to sit through boring lectures.
You don’t have to remember arbitrary dates or equations.
As a lifelong learner, you get to decide what and how you learn. You can make your continuing education as formal or relaxed as you want.
Being a lifetime learner isn’t about locking yourself in a library or classroom for the rest of your life. It’s about changing your perspective so that you see the ample opportunities you have to learn new and exciting things every single day.
If you give up trying to learn new things, life will become very boring.
You’ll wake up, go to work, come home (or log out), veg out on your phone. Rinse and repeat, until you’re suffering a full-blown quarter-life crisis.
Lifetime learning saves you from this bleak and boring existence. It literally gives you something to live for other than just making money—and that’s worth a lot.
So how do you do it? Here are some tips.
5 ways to be a lifelong learner
1. Identify your passions early on (and chase them for life)
As a lifetime learner, you are in control of what you learn. And if you really want this lifestyle to last for your entire life, then you need to focus on learning about things that fill you with excitement and joy.
In other words, you need to steer your learning goals towards your passions, whatever they may be.
It can be hard, especially if you’re a young adult, to know exactly what your passions are. You may not have come across your passions yet—but that’s okay.
For example, I had no idea one of my passions was public speaking until about 7 years after I graduated from college.
Try not to worry about the passions you don’t know—they will reveal themselves in time. For now, reflect on the things you’ve done in life so far that have already brought you joy. What are some of your happiest memories? What are you doing in these memories?
Make a list of these “passion patterns.” My list would look like this:
- Reading fiction
- Traveling to new destinations
- Making new friends
- Engaging in politics and activism
Those are big topics, each with a deep well of learning opportunities buried underneath. Exploring these passions has been part of my lifelong learning mission. They might translate into learning opportunities like this:
- Reading new and exciting books, and discussing them with loved ones
- Picking up a new language, visiting museums and cultural events
- Inviting new friends to a trivia night, booking a short vacation with someone I want to be closer with
- Listening to political podcasts, volunteering with an organization I care about
Those learning opportunities are all exciting to me because they’re rooted in my passions. You can find your ideal learning experiences by starting with your passions and building out from there.
2. Diversify your surroundings and the company you keep
Continual learning is often about stepping out of your comfort zone. If you aren’t experiencing new things, how will you ever find something new to learn about?
To live an enriching life full of growth, you must be willing to experiment with the people and places you encounter.
I’m not here to tell you that you have to go on a soul-searching journey through a foreign land. But I will say that spending your entire life in one place will limit your opportunities for learning—especially if that one place is the same town in which you grew up.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to expand your horizons, even if you don’t have the means or funds for travel. The phone or laptop you’re using to read this article is a window into new worlds; it’s a connection to all sorts of people who are living different lives than you.
You can start expanding your horizons right now simply by reading articles about things that interest and intrigue you, by using forums to engage with people you don’t know who live different lives than you—even by watching movies and series about different cultures and people.
If and when you get the opportunity to travel—even if it’s just a few states away—I urge you to take it. Experiencing other people, other cultures, and other places is by far one of the best ways to live a life that’s full of learning opportunities.
3. Align your career and your goals for learning
Starting your first job after college can be both exciting and depressing.
You’re launching a career, meeting new people, and learning new things every day.
But the shine can wear off, and you wouldn’t be the first 20-something to feel anxious about the path ahead of you. Where will your career lead? Will you get stuck in a job that makes you unhappy? How healthy will you be when you can finally retire?
Shifting your mindset to one of a lifetime learner can ease some of that anxiety. Instead of thinking of your job as just one more brick in the wall of your life, think of it as a stepping stone—each role you take on, even the ones that make you want to pull your hair out, is an opportunity to learn something new, pick up a new skill, and use that to leverage you to the job of your dreams.
My very first job after college was at what amounted to a content farm. I was strapped to a computer and had to write rapid-fire, boring-as-heck articles about stuff I didn’t care about—for an insultingly low salary.
I suffered through it for two years, but I also learned a lot—like learning how to write quickly and turn boring subjects into something interesting. I also learned how to work with clients, make friends with colleagues, and even negotiate for higher pay.
As a result, my next job was better paid, I had a more important role, and I had more control over my own work.
Fast forward a decade, and now I’m working at a job I love (freelance writer, if you couldn’t tell). I’m still using those lessons I learned way back at my first job. The speed I developed there helps me earn more money now. My ability to write about anything allows me to create fun articles like this one. And the client skills I picked up back then helps me win new clients all the time.
Lifelong learning has knock-on effects. If you can see your job as an opportunity to learn, there will always be a silver lining, even if you’re unhappy at work in the moment.
4. Get comfortable saying “I don’t know” and asking questions
There are few requirements for being a lifetime learner—anyone can do it, as long as they have an open mind.
But having an open mind means you must be willing to admit you don’t understand everything and that your perspective is limited. These aren’t bad traits—they’re universal traits.
When someone shares a new or unknown piece of information with you, it can be tempting to smile and nod or just pretend you know what they’re talking about. But doing this slams the door on a learning opportunity.
Continual learners admit when they don’t know something, out of a desire to learn more.
So get comfortable saying things like:
“Actually, I don’t know about that. Can you explain more?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know that word. How would you define it?”
“I haven’t heard of that. Where is a good place for me to get more information?”
Being able to ask these sorts of questions when you’re having a conversation with your friends, your family, your colleagues, or total strangers, will help you in your mission to be a lifelong learner.
5. Find learning platforms, groups, and services you love
Learning opportunities are everywhere when you know how to look for them. Every new interaction or experience can be an educational moment.
But what about those moments when you actively want to learn something? You want to improve your French before your trip to Paris or learn basic coding to become a better designer.
Fortunately, there are many free or affordable education platforms, apps, YouTube channels, and websites out there to help you learn virtually any skill under the sun.
And lucky for you, we’ve already covered a lot of these in other articles. Here are some resources to check out that will show you some of the best online learning platforms out there:
If you want a rich and fulfilling life, then you want to be a continual learner. Keep the spark of curiosity alive and seek out opportunities to learn new things. It’s what makes life worth living.