Do you remember the first time you got to choose a subject to study in school? One of the great joys of growing up is the freedom to direct our own time and learning, to pursue the subjects that interest us most. But as we grow older, it becomes harder to learn for the pure enjoyment of it. We have more responsibilities, for one thing, and less time for experimenting freely. We have a hard enough time cramming in all the things we have to do without following new flights of fancy. Our whims get shunted to the bottom of our to-do lists, or we put them off for an indeterminate “someday”—a vacation, retirement—only to find that when “someday” arrives, we don’t know where to begin.
Not only that, but the stakes feel higher as we get older. It’s embarrassing to feel like a beginner when we’re expected to be poised and polished adults. We get comfortable with the knowledge we have and accept that we can’t do everything.
It’s true that most of us will never have time to learn everything that interests us in a lifetime. There are too many wonderful, fascinating things to learn in the world for any human to explore them all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t study some of those skills and subjects that interest us most! So how can we stay curious and make time for learning in our lives?
Practice having a beginner’s mindset
As adults, we’ve accumulated years’ worth of general knowledge and experience, not to mention particular expertise we may have built. We’re well-practiced at navigating life’s daily requirements, and sometimes we may have the perception that we’ve learned all we need to know. But staying curious benefits us. If we’re too certain of our expertise, we may close our minds to new perspectives that expand our understanding. If we think we’re done learning, we may miss out on new skills and ideas that inspire us or improve our lives.
A beginner’s mindset reminds us that there’s always more to learn, no matter how competent and expert we may be. Acknowledging that we’ll never know everything can be humbling, but it’s also an opportunity for awe and amazement at the vastness (and limitations) of human knowledge and experience. Having a beginner’s mindset lets us engage with the world anew, over and over again.
Let yourself mess up
Of course, feeling like a beginner can be uncomfortable, especially when we’re out of practice. Why bother floundering around at something new, getting things wrong and feeling incompetent, when we can get by just fine as we are? Discovering a new subject can be daunting when we’re standing at the bottom of the mountain of knowledge, looking up at the distant peak.
When you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, it’s time to call on your beginner’s mindset again. Being a beginner is not just an invitation to learn new things—it’s also a license to experiment and make mistakes. Remind yourself that learning takes time and patience, and it’s okay if you’re not an instant expert.
Learning can be fun, gratifying, and eye-opening—but that doesn’t mean we’ll always feel like doing it. Disciplining ourselves to learn something new is hard, and we’ve all got plenty going on in our lives without adding to our plates.
The trick is to build in time for learning so that we don’t push it off to an indistinct horizon. It’s important to prioritize the things you want to accomplish: be selective about what really matters to you, and don’t try to overload yourself with multiple new projects at once. Once you’ve identified your priority, make a date with yourself—or with a teacher or a like-minded group, if you prefer learning with others. Schedule a regular time on your calendar for learning about your new skill or interest, with milestones you can celebrate and look forward to. And tell a friend about your goal so you can check in with them now and then.
Are you starting to learn something new this fall? Let us know in the comments below!