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Once we hit the 30s, most of us stop investing in learning new things, and in ourselves. Here’s what you gain when you learn something new.
Let’s start with two questions. Are you 30+? When did you last learn something new?
Some of you may respond with all your wisdom by saying “everyday” as there is learning in every experience, and every day is a new beginning. Indeed that’s true. You can learn from people, observations, interactions, reading, mistakes, emotions, thoughts, actions, events, conversations, social media (Facebook, Twitter, et al.), books, food, movies and life itself.
It all depends on your thirst for learning, your ability to assimilate and absorb the lessons from everyday experiences and internalize these learnings. Some of you may respond with silence.
Let me now modify the question: Are you 30+? When did you last learn something new ‘formally’?
The vast majority would respond with silence. This was my response too last year. Looking back at my own life, after I completed my management education at IIMB way back in 2006, I’ve not really formally learned anything new!
Here’s the thing. For many of us who are 30+, you are somewhat settled into things and an everyday way of life. Life pretty much revolves around work career and family/friends. There’s really no time for anything else – especially if you are a woman or a working woman or a working mother! Being a working mother myself, I was no different. However, the silence bothered me for a long time and I decided to take action.
So here’s what I did. One, I enrolled for a paid professional technical certification exam. This meant intensive reading, learning something new and a tough examination to crack. Thankfully, I cleared it and that enhanced my knowledge and resume.
That done, I registered for a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Social Media Analytics. Being online and self-paced with only an end date to meet, this was again a great learning experience for me. The good part was that it also had an online assessment and I was awarded a certificate at the end of the course.
Lastly, I took up a structured course on “Creativity”. And I loved it! The whole practice of ‘formal learning’ has been a wonderful personal experience over the past few months [apart from the fact that it also inspired this post!]
So what did I learn from all these experiences?
1. You learn because you really want to learn – Up until you are 30, you mostly learn because you have to learn and because you don’t really have a choice. But for most of us after 30, formal learning actually becomes a matter of true personal choice. So you can learn what you love and what you really want to learn. There is immense joy and great personal satisfaction in learning a subject you are deeply passionate about.
One of my closest friends wanted to learn a musical instrument formally for years but it just never happened. Now in her mid-30’s, she is well settled in her career and life and decided to take this up. So she enrolled into one of the best music institutes in the world to pursue her quest for this learning. At this phase of life, you can afford to fund your own learning and you may be able to afford the best-in-class teachers and best-in-class institutes.
Looking back at my own life, I can definitely say that learning from the masters in any field is truly unique and an unparalleled experience. And if you can afford it, then it is worth your time and money!
2. There are so many things to learn – Whenever I speak to my peers and friends well in their 30s about formal learning, many of them ask me, “But what to learn?” followed by “How to learn” and Where is the time?”.
I had these questions too. But as I discovered over the past few months there are just so many things you can learn ‘formally’ based on your personal interest, even after you turn 30.
Let me list down things you can learn (apart from the things you need to learn for your career/work) – Cooking, Driving, Painting, Photography, Doing make-up, Puppet-Making, Pottery, Baking, Dancing, A musical instrument, A sport, Yoga, Aerobics, Calligraphy, Sketching, Caricature, Writing, Programming, Story-Telling, Marketing, Social Media, Public Speaking, Communication, Personal Grooming, Management, Magic, New Languages, Designing, Technology.
You name it, and you can learn it – both offline/online. For e.g, 10 years back who would have thought that the average Indian could learn dance from Madhuri Dixit? Today, you can from her online dance school Dance With Madhuri.
Another childhood friend of mine has always loved art and paintings but never got around to take this up seriously. Now that she is well into her 40s, has teenage boys who are independent and is the Vice President of an international bank, she dedicates her week-ends to her art-work. She has a home tutor who teaches and guides her in her learning process. When I recently saw some of her paintings I was blown over! Each one of them was a true masterpiece.
3. There is value in formal learning – The best part of ‘formal learning’ is you actually learn within a stipulated time-frame. So your knowledge base expands and your comprehension of old and new things is significantly increased. Of course, you can informally learn lot of things, and I don’t discount it at all. But for many of us in this phase of life, the challenge is that we start with great gusto and are just not able to keep up with the informal/self-learning for an extended period of time even if we are deeply passionate about the subject.
So if you learn formally you are more focused and do make/take out the time. The icing on the cake is that if you are awarded a certificate of course completion, that is definitely a feather in your cap.
Now, I know that value is personal and subjective, and to each his/her own. But there is something else that I do know for sure – Formal learning can add value to your resume, to others perception of you and most importantly, to your own perception of yourself. All three matter and do make a difference in the long run.
4. Learning provides opportunities for building new friendships and networking – In your 30s, I can’t decide which is harder – making friends or keeping friends. Both have their issues and challenges, and many of us let go of friendships and after a point we wonder who our friends really are!
One of the best things about formal learning in your 30s is that you get to meet and interact with new people who have an interest in a common subject. So you can build new friendships and networks due to a common passion.
Last but not least, you feel good when you learn something new. Like the runner’s high, there is a ‘learner’s high’ – I speak from personal experience here. You just feel happy, energetic, positive and really really good when you learn something new.
After my first innings of my learning high last year, I have made a formal list of things I want to learn in the future, and I am pleasantly surprised to find the list size is increasing by the day! Honestly, I am fine if I learn one thing at a time or even one thing a year. But what I know for sure is this – I do want to be a lifelong learner.
And if this post inspired even one reader to learn something new, then that would be the best return gift in writing this! Happy Learning. Learn, Laugh, Love – It is one life to live!
Pic credit: Trystonette (Used under a CC license)