lifelong learning

A client of mine runs a very successful business. He graduated from high school and then got involved in the family business shortly after that. The demands of the company prevented him from finishing college. At a relatively young age, he was put in charge of the business. Since he started directing the business, it has become profitable and expanded significantly.

When I first began working with him, I could tell he was bothered by his lack of education. However, even at that point, he had already begun to educate himself by attending seminars, reading and studying on his own, and even hiring people with expertise to coach him.

Fortunately, my client has used resources available to him after his formal education to give him the knowledge and tools to become successful. He did not let the lack of a college degree get in the way of his success. He also did not use the fact that he did not go to college as an excuse for failure.

I am not against formal education. In fact, I have both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to earn each of them.

However, in our culture, the value of higher education, at times, is overvalued. It is marketed as the ultimate requirement for success. It is often pointed out, particularly by university studies, that to be successful you must get a college degree. This point of view is supported by data that shows the average person with a college degree is financially better off than those without that degree. So, having the degree can be a good thing.

The problem, though, is that a college degree and formal education is often viewed as the end of a person’s education. In fact, I would submit to you that a much better predictor of success in life is not the degrees that someone has earned but whether or not they have become a lifelong learner.

What is a lifelong learner? It is a person who intentionally takes steps to continue to educate themselves for the rest of their life, even after their formal schooling has ended. It is a person who continues to read and intentionally study topics that interest them or that will improve their job skills. It is someone who does not frame who they are based on what they were formally educated in or the job they have now. It is a person who realizes that they have to take personal responsibility to continue to educate themselves after they get out of school.

A college education is important for most people (although not all, as our culture seems to suggest.) But, if you want to reach your potential and have a rich life, it cannot be the end of your personal learning. You must systematically continue to educate yourself for the rest of your life. If you do, you will open up many doors to happiness and success. You will also be prepared when major life-change events occur that force you to make significant adjustments in your life and work.

My editor, who also maintains my website, has no formal training in web design or marketing. His twenty published books have sold more than a quarter-million copies in ten languages around the world. All this with only a general associate’s degree. Years ago, he was asked to leave a management position. Instead of sulking, he quickly set up his own operation and began to learn and implement what he needed to for success.

Winston Churchill, several years after he finished military school, heard someone talk about ethics. He asked, “What are ethics?” He had never been exposed to a course in ethics during his college years. Finding no one in Bangalore, India, who could instruct him, Churchill ordered a wide array of books. This reading gave him the philosophical and moral compass that allowed him to lead the world in the fight against Nazism.

Brian Tracy, who I worked with in the early 1990s, introduced me to the concept of becoming a lifelong learner. He stated – and I agree with him – that anyone who reads one book per month for two years on a particular subject area will gain the equivalent of a master’s degree in that subject.

Do not let the lack of a college education hold you back. Similarly, do not let the fact that you have a college education convince you that you have all the education you need. Pick an area of personal interest or a subject that is relative to your current career – or the career you would like to have – and start to learn everything you can.

Be intentional about it. Go to the library and tell the librarian what you want to study. Check out one book per month on the subject for two years, and you will be an expert in that area. Repeat this process over and over and you will be amazed at the richness of your life and the opportunities that you will be prepared for in the future.