My parents always emphasized the importance of education. They pushed me to excel through primary and secondary school and to continue my education through college and grad school. After grad school, I even considered applying for a few Ph.D. programs, but after a while, I realized that if I was truly committed to lifelong learning, my education didn’t all need to come from what one might consider “traditional sources.”
For many months as my graduation date approached I pondered this question: Is it better to know a lot about a little or a little about a lot? There are obviously pros and cons of both approaches, but for what it’s worth I chose the latter and that, as they say, has made all the difference.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a wide variety of experiences over the last 5+ years. From hiking the John Muir Trail for a month to living on a homestead in Maui to picking up everything I own and moving to Austin, Texas, I haven’t spent more than a year in one place since grad school.
I feel truly blessed to have had the variety of experiences I’ve had in this time and I believe I am a more well-rounded person as a result. So I thought I’d share my keys for absorbing the many lessons that life throws our way every day.
Keep An Open Mind. . .
Obvious, right? But I’ve heard, and sometimes shared, so many opinions that believe they are right and there is no other way around it. Indeed, I believe this is one of our most fundamental social problems in the United States today. We have too many people who think they’ve got it figured out and are unwilling to compromise.
My first key to lifelong learning is an open mind. Although I can’t fake that I’ve closed my mind to certain people and certain perspectives at times, my effort to keep an open mind has allowed me to make connections with individuals and families from diverse backgrounds, and to learn from them in the process.
. . . And An Open Heart
We often regard our mind as the container for all the knowledge we will accrue in our lives. But our physical bodies also gather and retain a significant amount of knowledge. But my main point here is not to talk about muscle memory or how Olympic athletes train their bodies to accomplish amazing feats of strength and control.
My second key to lifelong learning is an open heart. And what I mean by this is a willingness to remain open to a person’s struggles and perspective before forming judgment. This can be extremely difficult to do. When we hear things about someone from a friend or family member, our opinion of that person begins to take shape, often before we’ve even met that person.
But an open heart, to me, means giving people and places a chance before forming an opinion, and sometimes being willing to give them a second chance in order to change that opinion.
Maintain a Genuine Thirst for Knowledge
Just like “word of mouth” can be one of the most effective forms of advertising, so too can social interactions with others be one of the best ways to learn new information. I am very fortunate to have friends that are much, much smarter than me. They are an excellent source of new knowledge. But I have to remain a “sponge.”
This is why my third key to lifelong learning is a genuine thirst for knowledge. It is so easy to fall victim to our routines. We develop a level of mastery in our jobs. Preparing breakfast and coffee in the mornings can basically be done on auto-pilot. But it’s so important that we don’t live our lives going through the motions because we really never know when we might learn something that can be truly life-changing.
Travel and Accept a Variety of Viewpoints
I have been so fortunate to travel through a large percentage of the United States. And while my international travel experience is relatively limited, traveling throughout the U.S. has allowed me to meet and converse with people from many backgrounds. America is truly so diverse and I believe this is one of our greatest strengths if we truly value that diversity!
This is why my fourth key to lifelong learning is to travel and accept a variety of viewpoints. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with every viewpoint you come across. Acceptance and agreement are two very different things. But if we are going to capitalize on our diversity and create a future that is truly better for all, we have to engage in meaningful conversations with individuals from different backgrounds in order to find what works best for others, how others have formed their opinions, and where we can compromise for the betterment of our society as a whole.
Listen to NPR!
You might think this last key comes out of left field, but I never used to listen to NPR before this year. I love all kinds of music and my favorite part about driving was the opportunity to forget about where I’m coming from and where I’m going and just belt out the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing in terrible pitch.
But my fifth and final key to lifelong learning is listening to NPR because of how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve been able to engage in meaningful conversation with others as a result. As an outdoor guide, I meet new people from all over the world on a weekly basis.
My ability to connect with them largely depends on finding a subject that all parties feel comfortable contributing to. I honestly can’t count the number of times when I’ve been listening to an NPR story on a certain subject on my way to lead a tour and, lo and behold, that subject comes up as we’re walking through the forest.
As a guide and just a social being in general, it’s extremely difficult to remain interested in a subject when you feel like you have nothing to contribute. There’s no doubt in my mind that listening to NPR has improved my ability to relate and add valuable information in conversations on a wide range of subjects.
What Are Your Keys?
If you liked what you read, didn’t like what you read, or have questions about what you read, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.
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Thanks for your support!