When I was in my late 30s I was debating whether to go back to school for a master’s degree. In an afternoon of weighing the costs and benefits, I got to thinking about how we learn, and when we learn the most. Plotting “knowledge” on an imaginary vertical axis, and age along the horizontal axis, I came up with a gradual upward-trending slope.
Some periods of learning are more intense than others. The first couple of years your life are almost 100% learning. High school and college are big bumps for most people. After college, my hunch, sadly, is that most people don’t actively keep learning. Their curve flattens or even goes down a little as they forget some of the things they learned or as they become more averse to change and new experiences.
I thought about my own life and realized that I had had some periods after college when my learning curve had actually gone up. It happened when I took courses in oil painting and photography and when started a new job. The slope didn’t spike upward, but it did incrementally go up. So far, no great insights.
Then I went down and looked at the years when I had been in genuine learning situations, and I realized these were happy times in my life. The light bulb went on. I am happiest when I am learning.
I’ve rebooted several times since that realization – going back to school for advanced degrees twice, taking up college teaching in my 60s. Every time, the experience has been a time of excitement and happiness.
For me, life is best when my learning curve is headed up. This has become one of my life principles – keep learning. It’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth I’ve been able to discover. I’ll never stop trying to learn. I wish the same for you.