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June 18, 2019

Are You a Lifelong Learner?

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Even now, I’m still learning from my mom.

She was in town visiting with us over the Christmas holiday. One morning, we were sitting together and she told me a story. It was one of those stories that was so good I asked her to repeat it that night to my kids.

Most of Mom’s stories are from many years ago, but this one was from 2018.

She said, “I was at church a few months ago, and during a discussion with friends someone blurted out, ‘You’re in sin if you have a lack of joy and purpose.’” She looked at me and said, “I don’t think I agree with that comment, do you? Look at Job in the Bible. I don’t think he had tons of joy, but the Scripture says he was not in sin.”

I knew this was a raw topic for her since she has had a hard few years with grief, so I just listened. But the honesty about her feelings wasn’t the main reason I had her share the story. That part came next.

She continued our discussion: “So I decided to study joy and purpose. I looked it up on Mr. Google.” (Seriously, she refers to the second largest company in the world as “Mr. Google.” Mom-isms are the best.)

Mom told us how she researched joy and purpose online, and how, after that, she went to the Richmond Public Library to read books about joy and purpose.

Her perspective was, “This is important, so I’m going to learn about it. I want more confidence in my answer, so let me go after it. I want to grow, so I need to learn.”

I sure hope my kids pick up that trait—aggressive lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning

What if we all attacked joy and purpose like Mom did? What if we all attacked all the right things in this way?

Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” That’s the mindset Mom has. She knows she’s not going to live forever, but you wouldn’t know that from the way she learns. Wisdom is a gloriously never-ending journey, and we should aim to continue to sharpen the saw till our last day.

There’s not a human alive that can’t find a skill, a knowledge area, or a character issue where he or she needs to grow.

And it’s easier today because of Mr. Google. You might have a college nearby where you can audit a class or a mentor figure you can learn from. Even if those aren’t an option for you, the Internet provides countless opportunities to learn.

You don’t have to learn the way my mom did, stopping at the library to check out books. We all learn differently, but whether it’s books or exposure to new ideas, the question is one of commitment to learning itself.

Parenting Lifelong Learners

People don’t wake up at 40 and decide to become learners. Parents need to help their children become learners.

How does that happen? Step one is to be a learner yourself, like these adults learning how to do the floss dance. There are better things to learn than the floss dance, but it’s a start. If you’re intellectually lazy and proud rather than curious and humble, your kids may well end up the same.

Step two is to encourage curiosity in your kids. Give them exposure to new ideas and activities. Don’t simply answer their questions, let them figure it out on their own.

Finally, embrace the role of teacher of your children. Encourage them to be lifelong learners by letting them learn from you.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses told the people, “These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Teach them to your children.” There’s a pattern that God has set up that parents are to teach their kids about the most important things (and the least important things) in life.

Lifelong Learners at the Office

When I take on a new CEO client in my executive coaching practice, one of the first things I do is to have that executive identify an area of needed growth. It could be a behavior, a knowledge area, a skill, or a character trait, but he’s got to pick at least one.

Most CEOs are in charge in every room they walk into. When you’re always the one who has the answer, it is almost impossible to see where you need to learn. But it is absolutely vital. Without continual learning, you become conceited, and you plateau in leadership abilities. So it hurts you internally and externally.

It’s okay to stay in the same role, but it’s not okay to stop learning. It’s okay to slow down or move into a retirement phase of life, but it’s not okay to stop learning. Henry Ford, who I think knew a thing or two about being a CEO, said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

Conclusion

I value lifelong learning in large part because my mom did. I’m hoping my kids value it because I did.

There’s a verse in the book of Proverbs that reads, “Do you see a person who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” It’s better to admit what you don’t know than to think you know it all.

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