What is the must-have, can’t-do-without-it, number one trait to be a lifelong learner?
When I started researching and planning for this blog, I drafted a post about the main qualities of a lifelong learner. Without hesitation I plunked curiosity at the top of the list. That’s easy, right?
Then I kept researching and writing and talking to friends and thinking and wondering and….well…yes, I overthink a lot of things…but the curiosity trait started to lose some of its luster and persuasive power.
What’s Wrong with Curiosity?
Consider two examples: a toddler asking why 7,000 times a day and a grown adult asking a question to Siri 7,000 times a day. You can ask questions at any age and stage of life. You can seek answers to problems – and most of us do daily (thank you Google) – to fill any number of gaps in our general knowledge. Everyone from toddlers to adults asks questions.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing.
Nothing is wrong with asking questions. Nothing is bad about getting answers or filling in gaps of knowledge.
But curiosity in this vein is reactive. It is a question in response to a situation that life has handed us. It is curiosity born of necessity, boredom, or environment.
Curiosity is necessary.
Curiosity is good.
Curiosity is part of a lifestyle geared toward continual learning.
But, I would argue, it is not the most important trait to develop.
What other traits come to mind when you consider learning as a life journey? What traits come to mind when you consider other people who seem to be continually changing or growing or thinking about something new? What traits come to mind when you consider your own movement towards a learning lifestyle?
I think of someone who is a good listener, analytical, empathetic, flexible, and dynamic.
Yes please! Sign me up for some of those!
But still, not the number one trait.
The Number One Trait of a Lifelong Learner
What happens after a question is asked and answered, either in toddler form or in the Adult/Alexa form? One of two things: information is accepted as it is given or another question emerges.
If another question emerges, then we’re moving closer to our answer. If not just one question follows but several other questions, and if those questions require digging a little further, and if a person opts to pursue those answers, then we have arrived.
Intentionality is the number one trait of a lifelong learner. It is proactive.
You don’t have to intentionally pursue every question you’ve ever asked in your life, but as you develop your growth mindset (cue education buzzword!) there will be more areas that trigger your deliberate involvement.
When you choose to pursue complex and nuanced answers through reading, experiencing, traveling, talking, volunteering, or however you find it best to chase the answers to your questions, it begins to shape your life.
It will inevitably lead to more such topics and considerations. Soon you will find yourself with bulging bookshelves, an entire shelf of holds at the library, airline ticket alerts in your email, and an uncontrollable urge to be involved with everything related to that topic.
Multiply that by every other topic that catches your interest.
Being curious alone is not enough, though it is necessary. Being intentional about pursuing answers beyond a clickbait response is what takes a curious person on the road to learning broadly and deeply and throughout life.
Intentionality is moving from a reactive questioning posture to proactive learning engagement.
You can ask a lot of questions and not be a lifelong learner.
You cannot be a lifelong learner without purposing to actively engage deep and wide with a question or issue or topic.
Be intentional. It’s a lifestyle.
How to Be Intentional
I almost left the post there. A good gut-punch ending. But it does immediately beg the question: “how can a person be intentional about the questions they are asking or the topic they are studying?”
Read, travel, listen, ask, volunteer, donate, explore, challenge, build, plan, share, join, journal, think, and repeat.
I’ve found that when I’m placed in a book or environment or circumstance that contradicts or questions a long-held belief or value, that’s when I learn best. I’m forced to engage with the issue, whether mentally, physically, spiritually, or otherwise. In the end, I finish with a more nuanced perspective or a different value or a changed point-of-view or the same belief with firmer footing. I’ve changed.
And so, I hope some of the posts on Living the Learning Life get you excited to engage with the world around you wherever you find yourself – I hope inspiration or encouragement is a part of it – but I mostly hope that the content will challenge and support you to learn and grow.