I am a life long learner. I am not sure how this trait was instilled in me during my younger years, but it’s there. I am always fascinated by new thoughts, ideas, and trends, even if some confound me. Even if I don’t see the benefits right away, I still appreciate new thoughts on old subjects. With the way technology continues to impact our lives, it’s a great time to be a “student”. And I continue to be amazed at where the learning comes from, since most of it comes from places that I wouldn’t typically expect.
Where do you learn? Maybe a better question is…do you consider yourself to be a lifetime learner? What do you do every day to support this ambition? Can you honestly say that you work at it? I can tell you that I honestly work at it. Some of it is driven by my work, which requires me to constantly research latest trends and issues. But even in my spare time, I am always reading something interesting, watching diverse points of view on cable channels, and talking to folks that aren’t like me.
We all have plenty of friends and colleagues that look and act like us. True, there can be learning from these friends and associates, but it is probably incremental. A few years ago, I started a business which I later successfully sold. Until then, I had been in corporate America and had many resources at my disposal. Frankly, anything support or resource that I needed was usually just a phone call away. Good news – it was easy to get the resources needed to get my job done. Bad news – I lived in a bubble. When I went out on my own as an entrepreneur, I had the opportunity to meet some of the smartest, coolest, nicest people that I had ever worked with. (To be sure, there are many good folks in corporate America.) But there is something different when you are working with other independent business owners who want to help you “beat the man”, no matter who “the man” is. Many very talented people are out there and all share a common goal. We are more than happy to help each other. I feel part of a community that I have never felt before and it is very satisfying.
I point this out for other reasons though. Much of the learning that I gained from working with these fine folks came from people that I probably would have never met or interacted with if I would have stayed in the corporate world. Some of the best learning that I have received has come from Millennials who took me under their wing to teach me about LinkedIn, digital marketing, social media, website development, and on. Others are contemporaries of mine that have willingly shared their experiences with me so that I do not make the same mistakes. One such conversation saved me $15,000 when I started my current business.
I cannot tell you how much I have learned as a business owner. I was pretty well educated, both formally and through work experience, when I became a business owner. But you learn so much more when it’s all on the line. You ask more questions, you meet more people, you listen more intently. You shed your facade of experience and stature, because you know you must, if you really want to learn. My new business associates and friends do not necessarily share my political views or hobbies. Some are married with kids like me, and some are not. Some are men, some are women. Most are younger than me and some are my age (or close enough).
Demographics don’t matter when you are helping someone else. The key is to broaden your horizons and experience life through another’s point of view. That’s where the real learning takes place and where you get the joy of helping someone else achieve their goals and dreams. I try to help others as much as I can, in order to pay back the extraordinary help that others have given me on this journey. No one keeps score, because we are all ready to help each other, but I hope to give back as much as I have received.
Take a hard look at where you learn. Are you pushing yourself to learn as much as you possibly can? Are you working at it? Are you seeking out others that don’t look, act, and think like you?
It has been said that real learning begins at the edge of your comfort zone. I can attest that’s true. How about you?