In a conversation about musical performance, Tony Bennett told Katie Couric one sentence, spoken to him by Pablo Casals, changed his life and compelled him to never stop learning: “At any given moment you can learn.” (Katie Couric, The Best Advice I Ever Got, pg. 255)
It’s a short, simple sentence, really. But if you dwell on what it really means, you’ll suddenly come to a moment when your heart swells and your eyes light up and your mind fills with endless possibilities. All too often, though, despite realizing how full of wonder life can really be, we find ourselves back in our hum-drum lackluster way of life within a matter of days, hours, or even minutes. At the end of the day, we feel spent yet unaccomplished even though we tidied the house and took care of the family and went to work, because rather than being involved in life, we’re just watching it pass us by. Don’t. Let. That. Happen.
This isn’t about earning a master’s degree or climbing Mount Everest or changing the world. It doesn’t take hours a day or a bunch of money or extensive planning. It just takes awareness and follow-through—being aware of the opportunities to learn, many of which will stand directly in front of you, and then seizing those opportunities, even the really, really small ones.
Not sure what I’m talking about? Consider this scenario:
Your whole department receives an email that contains a link to an article that someone found “interesting” and “worth sharing.” You click on the link and start skimming the article. In doing so, you encounter a word you’re not really familiar with, but you get the gist of its meaning from the surrounding context. You don’t actually finish looking at the article because it doesn’t directly relate to your job description, and you never think about that article again.
Or worse, you don’t even click on the link in the first place.
Now compare it to this one:
Your whole department receives an email that contains a link to an article that someone found “interesting” and “worth sharing.” You click on the link and start reading the article. In doing so, you encounter a word you’re not really familiar with, so you quickly type it into Google to get the definition (even though you get the gist of the meaning, you’d like to be able to add it to your word bank and use it in a conversation). You finish reading the article and take a few minutes to think about what you can take away from it. Even though it’s not directly related to your job description, you are able to better understand some of the challenges a few of your co-workers face on a regular basis and you feel a bit more connected to them. Later, while winding down for the night, you remember the new word you learned and use it in a conversation with your significant other, who raises one eyebrow inquisitively. You give a little grin and feel satisfied with having learned something new.
That’s all there is to it—be aware enough, be present enough to identify learning opportunities and make the most of them, regardless of how big or small they may be. Those learning experiences will continue to build on one another and the benefits will be noticeable across the board. After all, a word you learn at work isn’t going to stay tied to your desk or trapped in your computer. Even things you learn that are rather limited in use, such as how to get the gunk out of a window track, will encourage your mind to think outside the box in all situations, not just with household chores. And things you learn more for a purely-for-my-enjoyment reason, such as what kind of wildflower covers the field behind your house in a purple carpet every spring, will heighten your appreciation for your surroundings, animate and inanimate creations alike.
Additional benefits to deliberate learning are that it keeps our mind sharp and young, it sets a good example for our children, it promotes self-worth and meaningful involvement in activities, and it helps us develop new skills, among so many other benefits.
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