Monday Mornings with Madison


As summer begins to wind down and children head back to school, we are reminded of the sounds, smells and sights of school. A bouquet of sharpened pencils. The sound of zipping new backpacks. The crinkle of brown paper lunch bags. The anticipation of seeing old friends and meeting new teachers. Most importantly, we remember the challenge of tackling new subjects and expanding our minds. Literature. Creative writing. Geometry. Biology. Geography. 

Although for most of us the days of classrooms and chalkboards are long past, it is important for the process of learning to continue. Learning expands one’s viewpoint. It provides new knowledge to help to improve daily life. The act of learning can also be a source of enjoyment (assuming bad teachers or sub-standard schools didn’t squash the joy of learning). Also, as Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”  But, besides being a remedy for aging, being a lifelong learner is important if for no other reason than to keep abreast of change. Given the increasingly rapid pace of change in the world, every person who works needs to continually learn just to stay current and relevant.

But in a busy world, it can be a challenge to fit in time to learn anything beyond what is essential. For many, the only things learned are those that are required.  Some see anything beyond that as frivolous or a waste. Even those who love learning and see the need for lifelong learning, may find it hard to fit knowledge acquisition into everyday life.

Here are some tips to being a lifelong learner!

1) Carry a book at all times 
It may take a week or month to finish, but always be reading something. Strive to have a book with you wherever you go. The Kindle, Nook and other e-readers makes it easier than ever to always have a book handy, thus ensuring you can read whenever the opportunity presents. Waiting for a prescription to be filled at the pharmacy? Read. Riding an elevator to the 55th floor? Read. Taking a 10-minute coffee break. Read. Riding a bus or train to work? Read. (That also helps avoid making eye contact with any weirdos.) Waiting in line to pay at the grocery store? Read. Waiting for a table at a restaurant? Read. Sitting in traffic on the highway? Don’t read (that would be dangerous)…. but listen to a book on tape. By making the most of the in-between time and wasted bits of time in your daily routine, you probably can read a book in a week or two. That’s 25-50 books a year!

2) Track your learning interests
Write ideas for new topics to explore.  Note what inspired you to want to learn more about that topic. It might be that seeing NASA retire the Space Shuttle program this summer made you want to learn more about space travel. Maybe a planned vacation to Italy makes you want to learn Italian so you can order your espressos like a Roman. Perhaps you saw the play Romeo and Juliet at the theater and now you want to read the entire collective works of William Shakespeare. When something peaks your interest, jot it down. Then, next time you’re considering downloading a book to your e-reader or buying a magazine at the news stand, let your journal provide inspiration and direction.

3) Learn from others
Spend time with people who are learning new things, not just people who are smart. If you surround yourself with those who are reading and expanding their minds, you are bound to learn more. They will probably share some of their knowledge with you. And their habit of investing their time in learning new skills may also rub off on you! This is certainly a lot more fun way to learn than just by reading.

5) Learn and then do
If you are trying to learn a new skill, it is imperative to implement what you are learning. Skill-based learning is useless unless applied. Reading a book on baking desserts isn’t the same thing as baking a soufflé.  Studying how to read music is important, but ultimately you much pick up a bass guitar or sit in front of a piano and practice hitting the notes in order to make music. Reading about best practices in blogging is good, but it is just as important to actually write and post in order to become a good blogger. When knowledge can be applied, it should be put it into practice.

6) Learn and then teach
Anyone who has ever taught a class knows that no subject is ever as well-understood and when it is explained to others. If there is an outlet to communicate ideas to others, use it. It will help solidify that learning.  Blog about a topic. Deliver a webinar on the subject. Discuss it with a colleague or friend.

7) Subscribe to sources of information
Subscribe to sources of new information. Make sure the sources are reliable and have substance. Blogs. Magazines. E-newsletters. Newscasts. These are all great sources for learning. Keep a file of valuable information and articles you want to read and keep those readily available for when you have the time (like an airplane ride).

8) Work for an employer that encourages learning
Seek to work at a place that encourages continual learning. Some companies will allow employees to attend conferences in order to help them expand their skills. Those in jobs that don’t provide opportunities intellectual growth should consider switching to one that does. The best companies will invest in the development of their staff. It is a ‘fringe benefit’ that is beneficial to both the employee and the company.

9) Tackle a completely new project
Set out to do something that is completely new to you. Research the best way to do it. Take a course or watch someone who already knows how to do it. Forced learning is both fun and challenging. The more difficult the task may seem, the better it is to try it. For example, people who are technologically-challenged should try to follow the instruction on setting up a computer.

10) Learn what is useful
It is good to learn, but it is really good to learn something useful. For example, a salesperson who learns how to use social media to network with potential customers will not only know more, but they may find that they make more connections and ultimately sell more because of what they learned. Meeting a situation that uses new knowledge is also a source of pride. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is beneficial, but knowledge that then results in greater opportunities for success is the ultimate reward and encouragement to keep learning!

“The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant.” Plato

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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