three women at a coffee shop

The Secret Sauce to Lifelong Learning

What creates lifelong learners? Is it our parents? Is it our teachers? Is it something only some are born with? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I have some thoughts to share about how I’ve disrupted my views on lifelong learning, education and how B- work when paired with learning seemed to be a gamechanger for me.

I view lifelong learning as the mindset that I am always a student. A student who sees my life as a constant and competent teacher meant to guide me to spend my time in a purpose-driven, intentional way and how to use my innate gifts for impact.

For many years I misunderstood lifelong learning to be simply the ability to be taught at any age. And without much challenge, the educational systems allowed that misunderstanding to continue. We are led to believe that school knows what we need; we blindly follow the curriculums and grade-level tracks believing they were created with our humanity, community and effectiveness in mind. Then when we struggle to act or adapt post high-school, we can attach that struggle and pain to our own worthiness. We may think we are lazy, not smart enough or we even believe we were slighted in some way by an individual teacher or administrator. It’s so easy to blame humans instead of blaming the broken or outdated systems.

What I’ve found in my own life is that when I focus on things that interest me and I keep showing up to improve and learn, I enjoy the state of not knowing. The excitement from learning and the value my experience brings makes me want to continue working and doing B- work. When I am able to use my strengths and gifts with more mastery, I feel engaged as a learner, teacher and leader. This brings so much joy, freedom and gratitude into my life. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Learning is a vulnerable and courageous process by design. There is uncertainty, setback and even pain from dealing with unintended consequences. That’s all part of the process.

I want to share some additional thoughts and ideas if you are interested in looking at learning as a lifelong commitment with taking B- action towards using your life as your greatest teacher. 

Decide to be a learner and do the work. 

Learning is not a one-size fits all shirt; when it comes to what’s most valuable to learn, who is your best teacher or how you need to learn, we all have different needs and desires. We must make a conscious choice to be the driver of our learning, we choose who we learn from and how we learn best.

Rarely does a single person or system make a lifelong learners of us. We need to light that spark for ourselves and own the work that keeps that flicker burning. This is the most important B- work we can do. Once we decide we are learners and start engaging in the world from that perspective, I promise, teachers will show up.

Focus your attention on continuous improvement … not gold stars.

Missy’s blog mentioned perpetual beta or development mode. Another friend uses PDSA – Plan, Do, Study and Act, Adapt or Abandon as her continuous improvement process for measuring learning and improvement vs. meeting a standard – i.e. chasing grades or seeking approval. If lifelong learning is your goal, pace yourself for the long-haul and be prepared to learn more from the process of learning than from the actual teachers and lessons you think you are seeking.

This is where learning and real life intersect and is something we are almost never taught in traditional public schools. Learning is a process of continuous improvement not a contest to be won.

Build mastery in core relational skills

To prepare for this piece, I asked ten members of my rural Wisconsin community “What three fundamental lessons would you want a high-school senior to graduate with.” Their answers were diverse yet a number of key themes stood out. Here are the four key themes:

1. Emotional Intelligence (EI) and/or Thought Processing Tools

a.   What is my PERCEPTION of what happened or of my thinking?

b.   What do I FEEL because of what happened or of my thinking?

c.   What could I GET based on what I do?

d.   What can I DO because of how I feel?

e.   How will I ACT based on what I want to get?

2. Understand Growth Mindset

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015)

3. Communication Skills

a.   Asking for help

b.   Being clear and asking for clarity

c.    Transforming conflict

d.   Saying no.

e.   Taking accountability

4. Develop Disciplined Practices of Self-Care

a.   Sleep – value it and find ways to fit it in

b.   Read – for pleasure and as a way to connect with others

c.    Exercise – learn how your body connects to movement and do it as much as possible

d.   Eat nutritious foods

e.   Financial management

I very much appreciate the wonderful words of wisdom these souls shared based on their real life experiences. I’ll end with four final thoughts from their feedback; they aren’t necessarily skills you can master, yet, these nuggets came through consistently in their own unique way and I hope they stick with you to motivate you to continue your own B- work as a courageous and lifelong learner.

· Find your people – ‘fitting in’ is not friendship – be yourself

· Life is short – enjoy it

· You don’t know as much as you think you do AND you can do more than you believe

· Try new things – be a joiner – you can’t know what you haven’t explored 

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Julie Stephenson

Julie is one of the founders of Compounding Courage, a company that provides personal growth and leadership development programs. CLICK HERE to learn more.