Learners Inherit the Future

Lifelong Learners Do These 11 Things

Alvin Toffler

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

The shelf life of knowledge and skills…

keeps getting shorter and shorter in the world today. On average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.  As the Internet of Things (IoT) is built out in the world’s infrastructures, IBM predicts human knowledge will double every 12 hours.

Lifelong learning isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity, it’s a priceless professional development plan. Here are just a few reasons why.

If you continue learning, you stay relevant and you’re more interesting. And the more you learn, the more interesting you become. Learning is a tremendous asset in growing a marriage, parenting, building work relationships and friendships, and rising strong to become a more courageous leader. As a learner, you bring something of value into every one of your connections. So, lifelong learning becomes essential to building meaningful relationships, staying relevant, living a life that matters and living a legacy worth leaving.

Lifelong learning gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The more you understand, the more prepared you are to deal with life’s challenges. If you spend time growing spiritually, developing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and learning how to bounce back from adversity, you will be more resilient. This means you can reduce stress, improve your health and achieve greater professional and personal fulfillment.

Why is lifelong learning important? Whether at home or at work, solving meaningful problems requires creativity and the ability to assimilate diverse points of view quickly. If personal growth and learning are a lifestyle, you will be better equipped to make a more significant contribution.

If you want to enrich your story you will need to step out of your comfort zone. And if you want to create a lifestyle of lifelong learning, then it is time to set some personal and professional goals. Here are 11 suggestions to borrow from:

1.  Engage in Restless Curiosity

Curiosity—the desire to know and understand the world around us is a powerful motivator for learning. For some, their world of interest is specialized and narrow; for others, it’s vast and abundant.

The fact is, curiosity invites you to step out of your comfort zone. Having personal development goals and a professional development plan helps cultivate a spirit of curiosity. And doing so is key to ongoing professional development and lifelong learning. Invitations to learn are everywhere. You can ignore them, resist them or explore them with wonder. If you are intentional about looking for and accepting the invitations, you will see what others don’t see. Once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have—the gift of never-ending personal development and growth .

2. Believe It’s Never Too Late to Start Something

Some people think that after a certain age, it’s over. They are too old to start something new and be successful. We believe this is the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone; it’s choosing comfort over courage.

It’s an understatement to say, “The world is changing dramatically.” If you are in search of personal fulfillment and professional success you must stay relevant, you must stay active and sharp and you are never too old to learn. In fact, humility counsels, “Success is a journey, not a destination. You never fully arrive.” Consider these examples:

  • Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken with his famous fried chicken recipe when he was 65 years old.

  • Socrates, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, understood he could still learn and started learning music in his 60s.

  • Nola Ochs became the oldest American college graduate when she received a bachelor’s degree in 2007 at age 95. She didn’t stop there ­– she went on to pursue a Master’s degree as well.

  • Fauja Sing established a marathon record for age 90-plus of 5 hours 40 minutes at the age of 92. He began running seriously at the age of 89.

3. Know Your Knowledge Gaps

It’s important to know what we don’t know. Lifelong learners are savvy individuals who have the self-awareness and attentiveness to recognize where there are gaps in their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Avid learners are the opposite of “know-it-alls.” They know they don’t have all the answers. They are less interested in being right and far more interested in getting it right. Through personal reflection, critical self-assessment, goal-setting and execution, they admit there are gaps and then find ways to close those gaps.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” 

Eric Hoffer

4. Leverage Time to Work on Personal and Professional Development

Lifelong learners create growth opportunities. Instead of spending an excessive amount of time on the couch watching TV, playing video games, or absorbed in social media, they capitalize on and prioritize their time. They use the time to research, read, listen to podcasts, watch TedTalks, take online courses and engage in learning conversations.

Lifelong learners take stock of how and what they want to change in their professional lives. They regularly assess the skills they want to develop and behaviors they want to change or eliminate. And to grow professionally, lifetime learners want feedback so they can be accountable to change.

Every minute you waste is a minute lost, and the compound effect of this loss leads to a declining and flatlining life, not an epic one.

5. Self-motivated

More and more, the world rewards people who can manage their own learning activities. With the Internet and computer applications galore—think online courses, videos, blogs, journals, games, podcasts and infographics. These tools are readily available and there for the taking. As the future unfolds, a lot of our learning will require self-motivation and self-direction. Both are inspired by curiosity and are fueled by courage, initiative and discipline. Lifelong learners recognize this. As with fitness and wellness, learning isn’t a program, it’s a way of life, a journey of curiosity with no end.

6. Challenge Yourself with Specific Goals

No one doubts the power of precise and ambitious goals. They increase our performance and raise the bar on what we accomplish.

Lifelong learners seek knowledge and skills for their own sake; they don’t require outside pressure from leaders, employers, mentors, coaches or teachers in their lives to keep improving. They’re not intimidated to learn independently and interdependently.

Learners keep asking new questions and pursuing new things they are interested in. Then, rather than wish they could learn to speak a new language, intellectually contribute to a challenging conversation on a timely topic or get more creative in the kitchen, for example, they move, they dig in and start learning.  As a result, lifelong learners are skilled at setting goals to expand their depth and breadth of knowledge in important dimensions of their lives.

7. Choose Courage Over Comfort

Learning anything new is typically an experience of doing it poorly at first, which is a bummer because no one likes to feel incompetent. If you try something new, you will, most likely, get your ass kicked at first. You will be outside your comfort zone, which is, by definition, uncomfortable, right?  But daring to try, experimentation, productive failure, learning to be agile and thinking on your feet are the ways we stretch, develop, learn and even unlearn to get better.

There is no growth without vulnerability, and vulnerability requires courage. Each time you step out of your comfort zone, it is a learned practice of discomfort. You will get better at it because each time puts another weld on the bar of courage, builds resilience and teaches you something new.

Lifelong learners love the process, including the obstacles and messy parts of the process. They understand that failure comes with the territory. They see trial and error as normal, not mistakes of shame or failure. Embracing this perspective enables you to become more comfortable being uncomfortable.

8. Read Broad and Often

Whatever it is you want to learn, there is likely at least one decent book addressing it and offering a roadmap for learning more.

Reading is a great way to keep your brain active and engaged. Everything you read makes you more interesting and a better conversationalist. It fills your head with information you can draw upon to face many of life’s unexpected challenges. Reading expands your vocabulary, improves your memory, focus and concentration, and strengthens your critical thinking skills.

The more you read, the better you’ll write. Just as musicians and artists influence one another and borrow from tried and tested techniques established by prodigies old and new, writers learn to write well by reading the works of others.

But not all lifelong learners are bookworms. If you’re not a big reader or your lifestyle is too busy to pull over and open a book, there’s always audible. It allows you to listen and learn whenever or wherever. And then, there’s Google. Type in a subject, and you know what happens. You tap into a well of knowledge that is broad and deep. Technology and Artificial Intelligence give us access to articles, magazines, newspapers, broadcasts, podcasts and documentaries that synthesize the best thinking globally.

Here’s the bottom line, reading and listening are forms of education and entertainment that will enrich your life and transform the way you see and interact in the world.

“When you stop bringing something new and fresh to the game, the game is over.”

9. Surround Yourself with Other Lifelong Learners

People who genuinely love to learn frequently seek out others with similar inclinations. Whether it is through books clubs, mastermind groups or personal friendships, surrounding yourself with people who have an insatiable appetite for knowledge establishes a lifestyle of lifelong learning.

When you forge strong friendships with like-minded individuals, you create a context for mutual influence, understanding and discovery. Engaging in meaningful conversations like this can be a real test of your knowledge. When you have to teach, explain or describe an idea, it tells you a lot about the depth of your understanding. To teach it is to know it is an adage for a reason.

10.  Ask for help and be Coachable

There is a ridiculous misconception in the hearts and minds of many of us, a belief that we think we need to have the right answers and that leaders, especially, are supposed to know everything. That’s complete B.S. because it’s just not possible. Lifelong learners are confident and humble in knowing what they do know and what they do not know. They understand the power of seeking insights from various sources and the value of collective genius.

Today, we have the potential to network with some of the most brilliant thinkers in the world, many of whom are willing to engage if we dare to reach out and ask with a spirit of humility, curiosity and collaboration.

Lifelong learners are coachable. They understand that we are never more vulnerable to arrogance, complacency, indifference and inflexibility than when we are riding the wave of success. They seek advice and really care about the answers. That is, they don’t “yeah but…” their advice-givers. They accept feedback through a self-critical, self-correcting lens that makes them willing to dig in and do the hard work of change.

Again, this not episodic; it’s a lifestyle, a way of being.

11.  Know When to Stay Quiet

We are amazed at the number of “tellers” at large in this world. You engage in a conversation with people like this, and their primary way of communicating is to tell, tell, tell. They work very hard, often with limiting degrees of success, at being interesting. The fact that they rarely ask questions and open up space for others to contribute suggests that they aren’t very interested.

We have a term for these people. They’re called askholes.

We earned PH.Ds over 25 years ago. That means we used to know something. The fact is, the best thing we received from graduate school was not a diploma or some letters that follow our name. It was a passion for learning and the research skills to grow our knowledge and stay relevant in a world that is changing by the nanosecond.

How about you? What have you learned in the last three weeks that will enrich your story?

If you are like us, resignation, fear of being wrong and comfort can keep you from experimenting and exploring new concepts and life lessons. 

We encourage you to stay the course and learn like crazy. Life-long learning is a priceless passion to master, yet it is only one of six important life dimensions for leading and living EPIC.

Grow Resilience  |  Do Brave Work  |  Lead & Live EPIC

Lifelong Learning is one of 6 life dimensions we explore in our new online course CRUSH FEAR. We’ll guide you through 8 life-changing modules designed to help you thrive in work and in life.


  • Udemy: Access over 150,000 courses (taught in over 65 languages) in a wide range of subjects, including business, finance, IT, office productivity, personal development, design, marketing, photography, health, music, teaching and academics.
  • Akimbo Highly interactive, powerful, efficient and proven seminars for freelancers and creatives. Learn to tell a story, create a podcast, build a business or find your voice.
  • Coursera  Access to academic courses—potentially leading to a University degree—for less than the cost of attending in-person. Topics include subjects like arts and humanities, math and logic, I.T., languages and beyond.
  • EdX An online higher education platform with less variety but more rigor than Coursera. If you’re looking for challenging online courses with interactive exercises, EdX is for you.
  • OpenSesame Open-sourced courses designed for entrepreneurs. Coursera and EdX offer courses from more prestigious institutions, but Open Sesame provides far more options for native Spanish speakers.
  • CourseBuffet Not sure which online class to take? CourseBuffet lets you find and compare free online courses across platforms.
  • Highbrow An email subscription service that brings 10-day courses to your inbox every morning. Each lesson is broken down into 5-minute bite-sized segments to make sure you can read them with your morning coffee.
  • Ted Talks Thirty years of curation and advanced technology give you recommendations on thousands of 20-minute talks for a global community of thought leaders.
  • Khan Academy An incredible resource for visual lifelong learners. Their mission? To provide a world-class education to anyone anywhere.
  • Ted Ideas Ted-like essays on creativity, leadership, innovation and global issues.