There’s a catch phrase these days that I’d like to talk about. It’s a phrase that permeates education, personal development, professional growth and career goal building. Everyone states that they possess this particular trait, this ideology. Everyone says that they’re a “life long learner”. The fact of that matter is that many of these people gave up thinking a very long time ago.
My background is in management, training and education. I’ve worked as a corporate trainer for a huge, multinational company and I’ve been a substitute teacher. I’ve managed teams of 10-20 individuals and helped manage their learning plans. Over and over again, I heard the same things from the same people; “I’m a life long learner”. And over and over again, I almost had to laugh. These were the same people who were committing the same mistakes over and over again. These were the same people who refused coaching advice, who refused to acknowledge their own responsibility when mistakes were made, who always had a reason to explain why they weren’t able to get things done, over and over again.
So what exactly IS life long learning and what does it look like? Well, life long learning is NOT about completing all of your mandated professional development work. Going to a conference here and there and listening to someone talk about how to be better at something is not life long learning. When someone has to drag you kicking and screaming or offer you a day off work in order for you to attend training, you’re not a life long learner.
Life long learning is about being active in your own learning. When you ask a co-worker to show you a process or a skill so that you can master it yourself, THAT’S life long learning. When you sign up for a course on a skill set that’s well outside your comfort zone just because you think it might be useful or interesting, THAT’S life long learning. Life long learning is about purposeful learning, no forced learning. Let me explain what I mean.
Let’s say I offered you an opportunity to learn something new. Let’s imagine for a second that I told you that you could have the year off work to go to school and get a degree in a whole new program. Here are the caveats. You will get to retain your job as well as your pay grade. The program that you take cannot in any way connect to your current career and in fact cannot help you either get a job or improve your current financial situation. You have to pass your course and if you don’t, you’ll receive a drop in your current pay or will even lose your job. What would you do?
A life long learner would say yes. If you wouldn’t say yes, you’re not a life long learner. Now some of you might suggest that you have roles and responsibilities that would prohibit you from agreeing. I mean, you’ve got kids and a house and a mortgage and it would be irresponsible of you to make such a commitment. That’s fine. But that means you’re not a life long learner. A life long learner would jump at this opportunity. They would see it as the ultimate opportunity to better their self. They would know that they would be willing to commit their self to the project and as such would have no problem achieving a passing grade. Remember, you get to pick the program. So you don’t need to pick molecular biology. You can pick a course that you at least have SOME semblance of understanding and at least meet the general entrance requirements.
I had this discussion with a friend of mine today and he said he was definitely NOT. But as we dug further we realized that he in fact WAS a life long learner. That’s, in my mind, one of the major differences between life long learners and those that aren’t. Life long learners are too busy bettering themselves and living their lives to bother with silly buzz words.
So if you feel like learning something, please, by all means, go do it. But stop telling every interviewer that you’re a life long learner. Stop putting it on resumes and social media profiles.
Stop talking about it and start doing it.