As you may have already figured out, lifelong learning means that we recognize and appreciate that learning does not stop when we leave school. With the rapid advances that technology makes, our international relationships, and global economies, the ability to learn and continue to seek knowledge are essential aspects of life today. Lifelong learning is part of self-leadership; it is a commitment by self-leaders to seek knowledge continuously.
Employers demonstrate their own appreciation for lifelong learning when they write up a job posting that includes equivalencies, with statements like, “A university degree or equivalent is required.” This demonstrates that while qualifications are valued, so is the learning that comes away from school.
If you commit to lifelong learning, you will keep your finger on the pulse of things that are changing and developing in your environment and around the world. This doesn’t mean that you are restricted in what you learn, either. No matter what your field of work or study is, your value and your understanding of the world increases as you learn about all kinds of subjects. Geography, geology, anthropology, music, art, sports, history, languages, business, technology, agriculture, and cooking will all enrich what you know, whether you work in a broad area such as science, or a narrower one such as micro-brewed beer.
In his book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes how people become successful at what they do through the value of practice. He proposes the theory that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something, whether it is a sport, music, or academic field. Human nature is for people to look at successful people and say, “Wow, she sure lucked out,” or, “He did that so easily.” These statements are short-sighted as we know that success and mastery do not normally come easily: they require attention, learning, and plenty of practice.
Self-leadership does not mean that you can create absolutely anything for yourself. Although it might seem like a nice ideal, it just isn’t realistic. Most of us do not wield the power to change economies, influence politics, stop weather disasters. We do, however, have the ability to choose our behavior and to lead ourselves.
A learning plan is very specific, although you can incorporate it into your goal and vision documents. It might be also written in the back of your journal, held in a computer file, or displayed as a poster you hang in your basement. Whatever form it takes, it should be meaningful to you, looked at regularly, and flexible enough to reflect your evolving life and goals.
For example, if you finish a two year college program and start your first full time position, you might create a learning plan that includes finishing a degree related to the college program. Or, you may want to attend a workshop twice a year that helps keep you up to date in the field.
However, if your career takes you in other directions, you will have to decide whether you want to alter your learning plan or see it through to the end. Depending on what you are doing, you may enjoy – and benefit – from changes to the plan, so be open to it. You also might decide that your learning is going to come from travelling to different countries, meeting new people, and exploring new cultures. Doing so might require that you are flexible about where, when, and with whom you travel.