I do not know from when or where the phrase, life long learner originated, but I do know that I fall into that category. As a public school teacher of fourth graders, my students are always astounded when I say, “Like you, I do not know everything. But I am willing to learn.”
I like to take advantage of the experts in my community, those stalwart volunteers, who have retired from their field of expertise and yet, are still willing to share their knowledge. Though they do not intend to flaunt their proficiency and mastery of a particular topic, I always feel a little small, and at the same time, extremely grateful in their presence.
Guest speakers such as fire fighters, archaeologists, and ski instructors have frequented my classroom and as often as possible, I like taking my students out of the classroom and on field trips.
Whether learning inside or outside the classroom a certain amount of humility, vulnerability, trust and openness is required. Consequently, when I readied my students for a recent field trip to a local state park, I explained to them that they would be learning from the experts. Foresters, rangers and biologists would be teaching them about the plant and animal population of our area. I reminded them that although they may know a little bit about wildlife and trees, they do not know everything.
Consequently, this was the third time I’ve taken students on this particular field trip, yet I still put on the mindset of a novice. Putting on the attitude of a greenhorn assures that I will have better success with listening. Having a beginner’s mind is empowering because a beginner can let go of arrogant thoughts and make room for the information being presented. When I acquiesce to the fact that I don’t know everything, then I’m ready to learn something.
Taking on the role of a lifelong learner also requires the courage to feel some uncertainty and awkwardness. Sometimes my answers are wrong or I make a mistake. But, it is better to learn from my errors rather than to be ashamed of them.
Why bother to be a lifelong learner? Being a lifelong learner keeps us humble enough to remember that we don’t know everything and smart enough to remember to learn from the experts.